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Although it has been used to treat a wide range of diseases in its native areas of China, gynostemma has been studied most for its effects on the cardiovascular system (the heart and blood vessels) . Gynostemma may have a direct strengthening effect on the heart, possibly causing the heart to beat more powerfully. It may also have a number of secondary cardiovascular effects, such as reducing the stickiness of blood components called platelets. Created in the bone marrow, platelets circulate in the blood. In a process called "platelet aggregation", they stick to injured tissue, beginning the blood clotting process and promoting wound healing. Gynostemma's potential reduction in platelet aggregation may help to reduce the build up of plaques in blood vessels. Plaques are accumulations of fats and blood cells that may lead to heart attacks or strokes if blood flow becomes restricted. In addition, gynostemma has been shown in laboratory studies to widen blood vessels梐 n effect that may both lower blood pressure and reduce the workload on the heart. Some evidence suggests that gynostemma also contains chemicals that may lower cholesterol levels in the blood. All of these potential effects need more human studies to prove or disprove them.
Because it is an antioxidant, gynostemma may also have potential as an anticancer and immune-stimulating agent. Antioxidants are thought to protect body cells from damage caused by a chemical process called oxidation, which produces oxygen free radicals, natural chemicals that may also suppress immune function. As shown in laboratory studies of human cancer cells, gynostemma may disrupt normal cell division in cancer cells, thereby preventing or delaying the onset of cancer and possibly destroying existing cancerous tumors. This anticancer effect has also been seen in early results from a few animal studies. Separate animal studies show that gynostemma may also help to regulate the immune system. When it was given to animals with either deficient or overactive immune systems, gynostemma appeared to return immune function to levels that are more normal. The antioxidant effects of gynostemma may also protect the liver from some of the damage caused by certain drugs or chemicals or by chronic alcohol abuse. In animal studies, gynostemma has interfered with the development of liver fibrosis the formation of scar-like fibers in the liver. Because the non-functioning fibers crowd out active liver tissue, liver function decreases gradually as the amount of fibrous tissue increases. Gynostemma抯 possible antioxidant effects also need further study before it can be recommended for any of these uses.
Note: In August 2004, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a scientific advisory warning that little evidence was found for the effectiveness of antioxidant vitamin supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease. While acknowledging the benefits of antioxidants, the scientists who prepared the AHA recommendation advise getting natural antioxidants from foods rather than from supplements. Additionally, some evidence from animal studies suggests that very high doses of antioxidants such as those in gynostemma may actually increase damage from oxidation. Therefore, doses of supplemental antioxidants should be no higher than recommended by the manufacturer of the product,