Although it is not as well-known as many of the herbs commonly used in the West, ashitaba is a green, leafy herb closely related to the carrot, and like the carrot, contrary to what some may believe, both are edible. Most people living in the Izu Peninsula and Izu Islands south of Tokyo, where the somewhat bitter herb originated, are very familiar with its culinary and medicinal usefulness. Also known as ‘tomorrow’s leaf’ due to its rapid growth and regenerative abilities, ashitaba is a very cold-tolerable plant that can easily be included in shady areas of your garden.
Both the leaves and stalks of the plant can be eaten raw, but they can also be dried, boiled or ground to make juice, and the roots can be pickled, according to the World Vegetable Center. The leaves can be dried to make teas (steeped for 15 minutes for maximum health benefits), casseroles and soups, or made into supplements.
Of all the advantages of ashitaba, one that may encompass them all is its anti-ageing capabilities, especially in the realm of cognitive abilities.
After a 2013 investigation into Angelica keiskei (AK) (the botanical name for ashitaba), the study authors concluded that “results provide experimental evidence that AK might be a useful agent in preventing deficit of learning and memory caused by AD [Alzheimer’s disease] and ageing.”
Then in February of 2019, Nature Communications published the results of a far more encompassing review addressing ashitaba’s role in bringing about autophagy, an ‘intracellular recycling’ and ‘cellular rejuvenation’ process, showing how scientists ‘identified and mechanistically characterised the conserved longevity-promoting effects of a natural anti-ageing [sic] drug.” In short:
“This facilitates the supply of recycled components for biosynthesis and thus contributes to cytoplasmic renewal and consequent cellular rejuvenation. Conversely, impairment or dysregulation of autophagic function results in age-related pathologies. Altogether, autophagy is largely associated with cytoprotection and overall health.”
Continued testing found the compound to be protective in the autophagy process, even protecting against liver damage caused by excess alcohol consumption, and more significantly slowed ageing in several types of human cells.
How Ashitaba Compounds Can ‘Clean Out Cellular Garbage’
According to an article published in the Times of Malta, a natural substance known as 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone, or DMC, in ashitaba can clean out ‘cellular garbage,’ such as aggregated proteins that can accumulate in ageing cells and cause disease.
Frank Madeo, a professor at the University of Graz’s Institute of Molecular Biosciences in Austria, says DMC can start a recycling process that’s vital for sustaining optimal health even while ageing. His team of researchers looked at various flavonoids in search of compounds that stimulate the process, and noted that fasting seems to help kick-start the ‘spring cleaning’ known as autophagy. They added:
“Many flavonoids have already been shown to have a range of beneficial effects, ranging from anti-inflammatory properties to protecting against brain degeneration and cancer. The team reasoned that they might find flavonoids that could also help prevent destructive ageing in cells.
They screened 180 compounds representing various subcategories of flavonoids, looking for candidates that might have the natural ability to “counteract age-related cell demise.”
Testing proved that ashitaba performed as well or better than other compounds, including those with a natural cell-protective capacity, such as resveratrol, found in grape skin and other deeply hued plant-based foods.
Madeo observed that it’s “always nice to find a scientific rationale for traditional medical folk tales.”
When tested on worms and fruit flies — common test subjects — researchers found that DMC treatment allowed their lifespans to increase by about 20 percent.
Traditional Ashitaba Uses and the ‘Scientific Rationale’
Traditional uses for ashitaba have encompassed numerous physical disorders but the good news is that these ancient uses are supported by modern science. Clinical studies on ashitaba and their components show it may be useful to:
|Decrease blood pressure
|Improve your heart
|Help you lose weight
||Heal wounds faster
Specifics on Study Findings on Ashitaba
Many of the above observations regarding the health benefits of ashitaba are listed below, with specifics on the studies that doctors and scientists alike refer to. For instance, an ashitaba study involving mice showed improved short and long-term memory with drug-induced memory loss.
According to a study of 15 people both healthy and overweight, ashitaba was found to reduce both the body weight and waist circumference of the study subjects after eight weeks, and the overweight people exhibited reduced stomach fat.
Ashitaba was identified as a substance that may decrease blood clotting due to a protein called fibrin. An ashitaba extract decreased levels of plasma plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PA-1), a compound that prevents the breakdown of fibrin clots (fibrinolysis).
Fighting depression is another thing ashitaba can help with. Researchers found that the compounds xanthoangelol and 4-hydroxyderricin had similar effects, noted as having ‘similar potency,’ compared to drugs that block the activity of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO), often used as antidepressants, as well as the antidepressant drug iproniazid.
Ashitaba extract protected liver cells from damage and toxicity from the use of acetaminophen, such as Tylenol. Further, ashitaba is antibacterial, which was found to reduce the growth of several species of harmful bacteria, such as the one that causes tuberculosis.
And one of the most advantageous aspects of ashitaba is its ability to reduce markers of inflammation, observed by numerous cell studies, such as in macrophages18 and in maintaining anticoagulant status.19 Juice from ashitaba also reduced DNA damage in 20 smokers in an eight-week study and protected against DNA damage from mutation-causing compounds.
Healing Aspects of Ashitaba
Healing aspects of ashitaba are due to a number of valuable antioxidant phytochemicals (which ashitaba powder increased in one study, and fresh ashitaba juice and fermented ashitaba did in another, flavonoids and carotenoids, according to a 2014 study, which listed a number of these elements and the practical ways they relate to your health, including bioavailability.
A Japanese study reported that xanthoangelol, a prominent component of the ashitaba plant, induced apoptosis in neuroblastoma cells, neuroblastoma being a “rare cancer that develops in the sympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that carries messages from the brain throughout the body.”
In an animal study, also in Japan, ashitaba roots inhibited tumour growth and metastasis, meanwhile preventing immune suppression caused by tumours in the study participants’ lungs. Several compounds found in ashitaba, including coumarins, flavones, chalcones and some that are less well-known, were found in a 2003 study to have inhibitory effects against cancer:
• Flavones have been found to inhibit breast cancer growth, as well as be anti-allergic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidation and antitumour.
• Coumarin has been identified as potentially harmful if too much is consumed, but another study indicates it has beneficial points, as well. Current Sciences notes that coumarin has been used to treat cancer even when it’s advanced or to prevent recurrence of several types of serious cancers, as well as to promote vein health.
• Regarding chalcones, which includes sobavachalcone, xanthoangelol and 4-hydroxyderricin, PharmaTutor explains:
“Chalcones are precursor compounds for flavonoids biosynthesis in plants … (and) possess a broad spectrum of biological activities including antioxidative, antibacterial, antihelmintic, amoebicidal, antiulcer, antiviral, insecticidal, antiprotozoal, anticancer, cytotoxic and immunosuppressive.”
• Ashitaba also contains powerful compounds such as chlorophyll, quercetin, lutein, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and catechin.
Ashitaba’s Diverse Effects
Listing all the little-known compounds in ashitaba and what they’re known for in terms of your health wouldn’t be complete without noting the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are mutually supportive for improving your health and helping to prevent disease. As such, these include fibre, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and vitamins A, E, B1, B2, C and K.
In addition, a 2015 study to investigate the chemical constituents of ashitaba noted numerous compounds for the first time. Accordingly, a number of beneficial effects are attributed to this Japanese herb:
|Increasing levels of adiponectin, a hormone known to decrease glucose levels and increase the breakdown of fat
|Reducing levels of the receptor PPAR-y, which influences fat cell creation, aka adipogenesis
|Programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells
|Obstructing the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) to decrease blood pressure
|Increasing glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase antioxidants, in turn reducing inflammation
|Decreasing depression by blocking monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down dopamine and serotonin
|Lowering levels of the protein plasma plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), which lowers blood clotting risks
*For more information, please go to the below website and/or conduct your own further research.