The Health Benefits of Maral Root

This Adaptogenic Herb May Help Treat Diabetes and Obesity

Maral root in a bowl

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Maral root (Rhaponticum carthamoides) is a herbal remedy long used in alternative and folk medicine. Available as a dietary supplement, it is classified as an adaptogen (a non-scientific term used to describe herbs that reduce your resistance to stress). Maral root is widely cultivated in Eastern Europe and Russia and is named after the maral deer that feed on it. The plant is recognized by its thistle-like magenta blossom and deeply incised pointed leaves.

Often used to enhance athletic performance and build muscle mass, maral root is believed to treat a variety of health conditions. The root contains compounds thought to influence health, including antioxidants and plant-based steroids known as ecdysteroids.

Also Known As

  • Leuzea root
  • Maralu
  • Rhaponticum
  • Russian leuzea
  • Siberian leuzea

Health Benefits

By definition, adaptogens are non-toxic plants marketed for their ability to fight the harmful effects of stress, whether chemical, biological, or physiological. The concept was first introduced in 1947 and is generally regarded as pseudoscience.

With that said, the practice embraces many of the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic healing, both of which contend that stress has a direct (rather than instigating or additive) effect on health.

Maral root is thought to possess adaptogenic properties similar to ginseng root (Panax ginseng), replenishing energy reserves, increasing libido, sharpening concentration, promoting lean muscle growth, reducing body fat, improving moods, and stimulating the immune system.

Among some of the conditions maral root is believed to treat are:

  • Colds and flu
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Cancer

To date, there is little evidence to support any of these health claims. While some of the research is promising, it is generally limited by either by the small study size, the poor quality of the research, or both.

Athletic Performance

Maral root is rich in ecdysteroids, a type of plant-based steroid that helps regulates protein synthesis. Proponents believe that maral root has anabolic properties but without the adverse effects of anabolic steroids. The evidence of this lacking.

In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that the long-term use of ecdysteroid-containing supplements (including those derived from maral root) trigger hormonal imbalances inconsistent with muscle growth and increased athletic performance.

Of the 23 male athletes involved in the study, 10 had abnormally high levels of progesterone while 15 had abnormally high levels of estrogen. (Both are considered female hormones.) Only two experienced an increase in testosterone levels, albeit in tandem with steep rises in estrogen.

According to the research, these abnormalities would more likely cause long-term harm than good, including reduced testosterone production (hypogonadism), increased breast size (gynecomastia), and a reduction in male fertility.

Among women, an enlarged uterus and menstrual irregularities are major concerns.

Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

There is some evidence that maral root can benefit people with diabetes or obesity. A 2012 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that rats fed a high-fat diet containing malar root experience improved glucose tolerance, meaning that they had less fluctuation in blood sugar levels.

In addition, the lab rats had reduced triacylglycerol rates (increases of which are linked to metabolic syndrome). On the flip side, the consumption of maral root has little if any effect on high blood pressure.

According to the research, by improving glucose tolerance and reducing triacylglycerols, maral root can help diabetics achieve better glucose control and enhance weight loss in those with metabolic syndrome.

Further research is needed to establish whether the effects seen in rats can be replicated safely in humans.

Cancer

A 2018 study from the University of Lodz suggests that R. carthamoides may help fight certain types of cancers, including leukemia and lung adenocarcinoma.

According to the scientists, maral root contains compounds called caffeoylquinic acid derivatives that act as powerful antioxidants, neutralizing the free radicals that cause molecular damage to cells.

When a maral root extract was inoculated in a series of test tubes containing leukemia and lung cancer cells, it consistently killed all tested cell lines. At the same time, it appeared to enhance the effect of the TP53 gene which regulates a cell's life cycle and suppresses tumor formation.

Whether the same can be achieved in humans is doubtful given that the oral administration of maral root does not target cancer cells in the same way. Even so, the mechanism of action may one day pave the way to the development of new chemotherapy drugs.

Possible Side Effects

Maral root is generally considered safe for short-term use. While maral root causes few overt side effects, it can affect blood clotting in some. Because of this, maral root should be avoided in people with bleeding disorders. Moreover, maral root in any form should be discontinued at least two weeks prior to a scheduled surgery to avoid excessive bleeding.

Maral root may also potentially interact with blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin) and Plavix (clopidogrel). To avoid interactions, advise your doctor about any and all drugs you are taking, including prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal medications.

Due to the lack of research, it is best to avoid maral root during pregnancy and breastfeeding as well as in children.

Maral root is not intended for long-term use given its potential influence on hormones. It is unknown whether maral root can adversely affect hormonal contraceptives or hormone replacement therapies.

Dosage and Preparation

Maral root is available in capsule form as well as tinctures, powders, and dried whole root. The products can be sourced online as well as in nutritional supplements stores and certain health food shops.

There are no guidelines as to the appropriate use of malar root. As a general rule, follow the dosing instructions on the product label and never exceed the recommended dose.

Maral root tincture can be taken by mouth or added by the dropper-full to a glass of water. Maral root powder is often added to juice or a protein drink, while the whole dried root is typically steeped in hot water to make a decoction. The flavor of maral root is generally described as bland with slightly sweet and bitter notes.

Maral root is rarely found fresh in the United States and is not easily grown outside of sub-alpine regions (4,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level).

What to Look For

Maral root is a particularly tricky herb to use because it is sold in so many wild-crafted (naturally harvested) forms. Some are packaged in ziplock-style bags or sold in tinctures of varying concentrations and distillation processes.

Maral root capsules are generally the easiest to dose, although it can be hard to ascertain the quality and safety of the product. To separate the good from the bad, opt for brands that have been voluntarily tested by an independent certifying body like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Although independent certification is less common in the herbal supplements industry, larger manufacturers have started to embrace the practice.

You should also check that Rhaponticum carthamoides is printed on the product label. Products marked "maral root" may contain any one of the dozens of different Rhaponticum species grown around the world. While these alternate species could very well offer health benefits, there is even less clinical research to support their use.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. European Medicines Agency. Reflection Paper on the Adaptogenic Concept. London, England; May 8, 2008.

  2. Skala E, Rijo P, Garcia C, et al. The Essential Oils of Rhaponticum carthamoides Hairy Roots and Roots of Soil-Grown Plants: Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial, Anti-Inflammatory, and Antioxidant Activities. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016:2016:8505384. doi:10.1155/2016/8505384.


Additional Reading

  • Borrione P, Rizzo M, Quaranta F, et al. Consumption and biochemical impact of commercially available plant-derived nutritional supplements. An observational pilot-study on recreational athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):28. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-28

  • Dushkin M, Khrapova M, Kovshik G, et al. Effects of rhaponticum carthamoides versus glycyrrhiza glabra and punica granatum extracts on metabolic syndrome signs in rats. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014;14:33. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-33

  • Skała E, Synowiec E, Kowalczyk T, et al. Rhaponticum carthamoides Transformed Root Extract Has Potent Anticancer Activity in Human Leukemia and Lung Adenocarcinoma Cell Lines. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018;2018:8198652. doi:10.1155/2018/8198652