Suma, also known as Brazilian ginseng, hebanthe paniculata, and hebanthe eriantha, is a plant native to tropical countries in the Amazon rainforest region like Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
The plant’s root has been used by indigenous tribes for centuries. In folk medicine, it is commonly referred to as “para tudo,” meaning “for everything,” and used for a wealth of purposes, such as to relieve stress, fight disease, and serve as an aphrodisiac (
Yet, despite its long history of use, scientific evidence backing its purported benefits is limited.
This article reviews the health claims made about suma root, as well as the science behind them.
Suma root is sourced from the Pfaffia paniculata plant, which belongs to the Amaranthaceae family of flowering plants. Although it’s commonly referred to as Brazilian ginseng, this root isn’t related to Asian or American ginseng, both of which belong to the Araliaceae family (
Suma root contains pfaffic acid and saponin pfaffosides. These two compounds are praised for their anti-cancer properties and largely responsible for the great research and commercial interest in suma root (
Other herbal supplements commonly marketed as Brazilian ginseng, including Pfaffia glomerata, contain some of the same health-boosting nutrients as suma root but neither pfaffic acid nor pfaffosides (
Suma root is also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, certain B vitamins, vitamins A, E, and K, and germanium — a trace element praised for its immune-strengthening properties (4).
Additionally, the root is rich in polyphenols and alkaloids. These two types of antioxidant compounds are believed to prevent cell damage and protect your body from a range of diseases (
Suma root has a long history of use. To this day, the herbal remedy is utilized for a variety of purposes, including boosting energy levels and reducing stress, pain, inflammation, and anxiety (
The root is also believed to be a potent aphrodisiac and commonly praised for its ability to help lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol (
Interestingly, based on its nutrients, suma root may have stronger immune-boosting and cancer-fighting properties than Asian ginseng, although no studies currently confirm this (
In its simplest form, suma root can be purchased as a powder that you can mix with a beverage of your choice.
Other available forms include powdered capsules, teas, and liquid extracts.
Available in various forms, suma root is an herbal remedy that contains a range of beneficial nutrients and plant compounds. These compounds are believed to be the driving factors behind its many purported health benefits.
Suma root is touted to offer a wide range of health benefits, but only a few of these are currently backed by science.
May act as an adaptogen
Suma root is considered an adaptogen, which can be defined as an herbal pharmaceutical that boosts your body’s ability to adapt to and avoid damage caused by physical, chemical, or biological stressors.
Examples of stressors include environmental pollution, climate change, radiation, and infectious diseases. Adaptogens are believed to better equip your body to deal with these stressors without harming any of its normal functions (
Adaptogens are thought to do so by acting on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis — also known as your central stress response system — thereby regulating the stress response of your body’s cells (
As such, researchers believe that adaptogens could potentially be used to control or prevent a wide range of diseases in which stress plays a major role, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and irritable bowel disease (IBD) (
However, as promising as this may sound, more research is needed to confirm the adaptogenic properties and purported disease-fighting benefits of suma root.
May have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
Suma root contains polyphenols and alkaloids, two compounds renowned for their antioxidant properties (
Antioxidants are beneficial compounds that help neutralize unstable free radicals. If allowed to build up in your body, free radicals can cause cell damage and ultimately contribute to a variety of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (
The polyphenols in suma root are further praised for their anti-inflammatory properties. This is important because inflammation is another factor believed to be the root cause of many chronic diseases (
These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are why suma root is commonly thought to boost overall health and reduce disease risk. However, despite these promising benefits, more research linking its regular consumption to reduced disease risk is needed.
May offer protection against cancer
Test-tube and animal research suggests that the pfaffic acid and saponin pfaffosides from suma root may help kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading (
Moreover, the root’s adaptogenic properties suggest that this herbal remedy may help activate immune cells in the body. In turn, this may prevent the growth of cancerous cells, as well as promote their removal from the body (
A few studies further suggest that adaptogens may complement cancer drugs. It’s speculated that they can enhance the cancer-killing effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy while reducing common cancer treatment side-effects like fatigue (
For instance, research in mice suggests that adaptogens may help prevent the development of resistance to cancer drug treatments, thus prolonging the animal’s life (
In addition, animal research suggests that suma root may help kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading (
However, human studies are currently lacking. Therefore, more research is needed to confirm suma root’s anti-cancer benefits in humans.
May improve fertility
For centuries, suma root has been used as an herbal aphrodisiac. However, little scientific evidence backs this use.
One older animal study suggests that extract from the root may increase sexual activity and ejaculation in sexually sluggish or impotent male rats (
Another study notes that these extracts may increase levels of sex hormones, such as estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone, in male and female mice (
These sex hormones play an important role in libido, ovulation, sperm production, and erectile function. As such, increased levels of these hormones may be linked to improved fertility (
However, no studies confirm these effects in humans, and more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Other potential benefits
Research has also linked suma root with the following health benefits:
- May benefit people with sickle cell disease. Test-tube research suggests that suma root extract may improve the shape of red blood cells, which are commonly misshapen in people with sickle cell disease (
- May improve digestion. Animal studies suggest that the root may help reduce gut damage and markers of inflammation in rats with inflammation of the colon (
As is the case with many of the health claims surrounding the root, more research is needed to confirm these benefits in humans.
Suma root is touted to protect against many chronic diseases, including cancer. It’s also praised for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, and fertility-enhancing properties. Yet, more human research is needed to support these claims.
Suma root manufacturers or sellers generally recommend drinking 2 daily cups of suma root tea or consuming 500–1,500 mg of dried root capsules 2–3 times per day.
Alternatively, it’s commonly encouraged to dissolve 1–2 grams of powdered suma root or 1–2 mL of the root extract in a beverage of your choice up to 3 times daily.
However, not enough research confirms the effectiveness or safety of these dosage recommendations. Moreover, despite having been used as a traditional herbal remedy for centuries, there are no recent studies on the root’s possible side effects or overall safety.
Because of this, if you’re interested in giving the root a try, seek guidance from your healthcare provider before doing so.
Children, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those currently taking medications may benefit from avoiding suma root until more is known about how it may interact with medications, as well as its overall safety.
There’s not enough scientific information available to make strong recommendations regarding the effective dosages or safety of this remedy. If you still want to give it a try, make sure to consult your healthcare provider first.
Suma root is an herbal remedy that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It’s claimed to offer various health benefits, such as boosting libido and protecting from stress, cancer, and a range of chronic diseases.
However, there’s currently little scientific evidence backing any of these claims, especially in humans. Moreover, little is known regarding which dosages, if any, are most effective and safe.
Thus, it may be best to avoid its use until more studies can prove its safety and effectiveness in humans. If you’re still interested in giving suma root a try, be sure to seek advice from your healthcare provider before doing so.