Synonyms: Hebanthe paniculata, Gomphrena paniculata, G. eriantha, Iresine erianthos, I. paniculata, I. tenuis, Pfaffia eriantha, Xeraea paniculata
Common names: Suma, Brazilian ginseng, pfaffia, para toda, corango-acu
Part Used: Root
Nutritionally, suma root contains 19 different amino acids, a large number of electrolytes, trace minerals, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, B1, B2, E, K, and pantothenic acid. Its high germanium content probably accounts for its properties as an oxygenator at the cellular level; its high iron content may account for its traditional use for anemia. The root also contains novel phytochemicals including saponins, pfaffic acids, glycosides, and nortriterpenes.
Suma has also been called "the Russian secret," as it has been taken by Russian Olympic athletes for many years and has been reported to increase muscle-building and endurance without the side effects associated with steroids. This action is attributed to an anabolic-type phytochemical called beta-ecdysterone and three novel ecdysteroid glycosides that are found in high amounts in suma. Suma is such a rich source of beta-ecdysterone that it is the subject of a Japanese patent for the extraction methods employed to obtain it from suma root (approximately 2.5 g of beta-ecdysterone can be extracted from 400 g of powdered suma root-or .63%). These same Japanese researchers filed a U.S. patent in 1998 for a proprietary extract of suma (which extracted the ecdysterone and beta-ecdysterone); it claimed (through various in vivo and in vitro studies) that their compound maintained health, enhanced the immune system, and had a tonic and an anti-allergenic effect. A French company also filed a U.S. patent on the topical use of these ecdysterone chemicals, claiming that their suma ecdysterone extract strengthened the water barrier function of the skin, increased skin keratinocyte differentiation (which would be helpful for psoriasis), gave the skin a smoother, softer appearance and, also, improved hair appearance.
Suma root has a very high saponin content (up to 11%). In phytochemistry, plant saponins are well known to have a wide spectrum of activities including lowering blood cholesterol, inhibiting cancer cell growth, and acting as antifungal and antibacterial agents. They are also known as natural detergent and foaming agents. Phytochemists report that saponins can act by binding with bile acids and cholesterol. It is thought that these chemicals "clean" or purge these fatty compounds from the body (thus lowering blood cholesterol levels). One of the most famous plant saponins is digitalis, derived from the common foxglove garden plant, which has been used as a heart drug for over 100 years.
The specific saponins found in the roots of suma include a group of novel phytochemicals that scientists have named pfaffosides. These saponins have clinically demonstrated the ability to inhibit cultured tumor cell melanomas (in vitro) and help to regulate blood sugar levels (in vivo). The pfaffosides and pfaffic acid derivatives in suma were patented as antitumor compounds in several Japanese patents in the mid-1980s. In a study described in one of the patents, researchers reported that an oral dosage of 100 mg/kg (of suma saponins) given to rats was active against abdominal cancer. The other patents and Japanese research report that the pfaffic acids found in suma root had a strong in vitro activity against melanoma, liver carcinoma, and lung carcinoma cells at only 4-6 mcg of pfaffic acids. However, it should be noted that this equates to taking 400 to 600 g (about 1 pound) of natural suma root daily to achieve the therapeutic dosage of pfaffic acids reported to demonstrate toxic activity against these cancer cells. As such, it will probably be left up to the pharmaceutical companies to provide synthesized versions of these chemicals in therapeutic amounts.
Suma's main plant chemicals are: allantoin, beta-ecdysterone, beta-sitosterol, daucosterol, germanium, iron, magnesium, nortriterpenoids, pantothenic acid, pfaffic acids, pfaffosides A-F, polypodine B, saponins, silica, stigmasterol, stigmasterol-3-o-beta-d-glucoside, vitamins A, B1, B2, E, K, and zinc.