Polygala Tenuifolia (Yuan Zhi) is an herb used for millennia in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Polygala Tenuifolia as a nootropic is anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and anxiolytic.
It was traditionally used to improve memory, and for colds and mild respiratory problems.
Polygala Tenuifolia is one of the 50 top herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Polygala Tenuifolia as a nootropic is:
- Neuroprotective: Polygala Tenuifolia is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Helping to protect from Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other age-related cognitive disorders.
- Neuroplasticity: Polygala Tenuifolia promotes the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. Increased BDNF results it improved learning and memory.[i]
- Antidepressant: Polygala Tenuifolia extract acts as an MAOI which promotes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. And it inhibits the release of cortisol providing anti-anxiety benefits.[ii]
Table of Contents
Polygala Tenuifolia is an herb belonging to the Milkwort family. It’s root -known as Polygalae Radix has been used for over 2000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The active components found in Polygala Tenuifolia include saponins, ginsenosides, oligosaccharides, ketones, alkaloids, polysaccharides, and flavonoids.[iii]
In Chinese, it is called “Yuan Zhi” and has traditionally been used for memory and to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. In Korean traditional medicine, it is used as an anti-psychotic because it is a serotonin and dopamine receptor antagonist[iv]
Polygala Tenuifolia is officially listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia Commission, 2015.
The rhizome of Polygala Tenuifolia is used in making cough medicine and for respiratory disorders because it helps clear air passages.[v]
Polygala Tenuifolia has also been used traditionally to reduce inflammation, learning and memory, dementia, anxiety, energy, and cancer.[vi]
In 2014, a study conducted at the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing found Polygala Tenuifolia extract worked as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (AChE) which increases acetylcholine activity in the brain.
The researchers also found Polygala Tenuifolia extract acted as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) which increases dopamine and norepinephrine use in the brain. Inhibiting both of these enzymes resulted in improved learning and memory.[vii]
How does Polygala Tenuifolia work in the brain?
Polygala Tenuifolia boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.
- Polygala Tenuifolia for learning and memory. Studies show Polygala Tenuifolia supports dopamine and norepinephrine signaling, upregulates acetylcholine and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and boosts synaptic transmission in the hippocampus for better learning and memory.[viii]
A study conducted at Seoul National University wanted to find out if Polygala Tenuifolia extract (BT-11) could enhance memory in healthy humans.
Participants received capsules of BT-11 or a placebo 3-times per day for 4 weeks. The study found those supplementing with BT-11 showed significant increases in working memory but not the placebo group.[ix]
- Polygala Tenuifolia for depression. In animal studies, the compound 3,6′-disinapoyl sucrose (DISS) found in Polygala Tenuifolia has been shown to inhibit both MAO-A and MAO-B, reduces cortisol release, and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity (which causes oxidative stress).
The reduction of cortisol, oxidative stress, and increased dopamine and norepinephrine release acts has consistently been shown to act as an anti-depressant.[x]
How things go bad
Neurotransmitter dysfunction, oxidative stress, increased cortisol, and inflammation often results in:
↑ Increased depression
↓ Memory loss
Supplementing with Polygala Tenuifolia has been shown in multiple clinical studies as well as user reports to relieve anxiety and depression, improve memory, support healthy sleep, and avoid neurodegenerative disease.
Polygala Tenuifolia benefits
Polygala Tenuifolia is one of the most frequently mentioned herbs in the Zhong Hua Yi Dian (“Encyclopedia of Traditional Chinese Medicine“) for memory disorders and improvement.[xi]
Polygala Tenuifolia acts as an MOA inhibitor which increases dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain.
This ancient Chinese herb helps reduce cortisol, inhibits inflammation, and regulates glutamate AMPA receptors.
Polygala Tenuifolia extract has been shown to reduce the proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-1β (IL-1β), IL-6, and IL-8 levels in the hippocampus. Which has been shown in animal studies to have a significant effects on learning and memory.
Polygala Tenuifolia boosts the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), increase synaptic plasticity, and decrease the accumulation of amyloid β-protein implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease.
It has also been found to increase dopamine neurons and improve motor impairment in Parkinson’s Disease.[xii]
Neurohackers consistently report Polygala Tenuifolia is a potent anxiolytic and reduces anxiety quickly especially when used sublingually.
How does Polygala Tenuifolia feel?
Neurohackers report that when using Polygala Tenuifolia as a nootropic helps them say bye to melancholia and hello to happiness.
Others report feeling calmer and more focused the first day they used Polygala Tenuifolia. For some it can take a week or two to feel the full benefit of this supplement.
Some say it provides a nice but small mood boost and they prefer it over St. John’s wort.
Polygala Tenuifolia seems to be effective for Seasonal Affective Mood Disorder (SAD).
The calming benefit of Polygala Tenuifolia is more pronounced and happens quicker when used sublingually.
“Within less than a minute it felt like the Divine hand came down and grabbed all the negativity and replaced it with serenity and a strong not giving a f**k feeling”.
Used sublingually, some say using Polygala Tenuifolia was more effective for sleep than any other nootropic they’ve tried.
Polygala Tenuifolia is a game-changer for some because it gives them the mental space to become the observer and be more mindful. Making it easier to recognize and mitigate negative thought patterns.
Like any nootropic supplement, Polygala Tenuifolia will not work for everyone.
But if you are fortunate and it works for you, it may help you feel again, music may sound better, and you’ll feel human again.
Polygala Tenuifolia Clinical Research
Most of the clinical studies with Polygala Tenuifolia are animal studies. The very few with humans have been conducted primarily with the elderly for improving working memory and cognition. And for improving sleep.
Polygala Tenuifolia for sleep
The active component found in Polygala Tenuifolia that provides it sedative effective is Senegenin.[xiii]
A study conducted in China using mice found the Tenuifolin found in Polygala Tenuifolia increased non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). Mimicking natural sleep patterns.
The researchers found the sleep-enhancing effects of this herbal extract were due to decreased norepinephrine, and increased GABA and acetylcholine levels in brain regions involved with sleep. [xiv]
Polygala Tenuifolia improves memory
Polygala Tenuifolia has been used for centuries as a sedative. And more recent research shown its effectiveness for improving memory in animal studies and in healthy humans.
So, researchers in South Korea wanted to find out if Polygala Tenuifolia extract could also benefit memory in elderly humans.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using the Polygala Tenuifolia extract BT-11 was conducted with approx. 50 elderly people.
The researchers found that supplementing with Polygala Tenuifolia extract (BT-11) significantly improved short-term memory and recall in elderly people.
And the research team concluded “BT-11 could enhance some cognitive functions including memory in elderly humans. And may be used as a nutraceutical for disease prevention and/or treatment”. [xv]
Polygala Tenuifolia Recommended Dosage
The recommended adult dosage for Polygala Tenuifolia extract is 100 – 300 mg up to 3-times per day.
Supplementing with Polygala Tenuifolia at the adult dose has also been found to be safe in children and young people up to 19 years of age.[xvi]
Polygala Tenuifolia Side Effects
Polygala Tenuifolia is considered non-toxic and safe to use a nootropic supplement.
Polygala Tenuifolia may cause vomiting, diarrhea, and mild indigestion in some people.
Type of Polygala Tenuifolia to Buy
Polygala Tenuifolia extract is available in capsules, tubs of powder, and as a tincture for sublingual use.
Users consistently report they experience the benefits of Polygala Tenuifolia faster and it’s more powerful when used sublingually.
I recommend Polygala Tenuifolia sold by Nootropics Depot in capsules or powder form
Nootropic Expert® Recommendation
Polygala Tenuifolia extract 100 – 300 mg up to 3-times per day.
I recommend using Polygala Tenuifolia extract as a nootropic supplement.
Your body does not make Polygala Tenuifolia on its own. So, to get its benefits you must take it as a supplement.
Polygala Tenuifolia is especially helpful for those dealing with anxiety and stress.
Polygala Tenuifolia is reported to work well for those suffering from insomnia.
This ancient Chinese herb helps relieve the symptoms of depression by acting as an MAOI and acetylcholine levels. And reducing the proinflammatory cytokines often found elevated in those with depression.
And Polygala Tenuifolia has been found to help with learning and memory particularly with older neurohackers.
Polygala Tenuifolia extract is water soluble so can be taken at any time with a glass of water.[xvii]
Many report you will feel the benefits of using Polygala Tenuifolia if you take it sublingually.
I recommend Polygala Tenuifolia capsules or powder offered by Nootropics Depot – Polygala Tenuifolia
[i] Xue W, Hu JF, Yuan YH, et al. “Polygalasaponin XXXII from Polygala tenuifolia root improves hippocampal-dependent learning and memory.” Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2009;30(9):1211-1219. (source)
[ii] Hu, Y., Liu, M., Liu, P., Guo, D. H., Wei, R. B., & Rahman, K. (2011). “Possible mechanism of the antidepressant effect of 3,6'-disinapoyl sucrose from Polygala tenuifolia Willd.” The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology, 63(6), 869–874. (source)
[iii] Jiang, N., Wei, S., Zhang, Y., He, W., Pei, H., Huang, H., Wang, Q., & Liu, X. (2021). Protective Effects and Mechanism of Radix Polygalae Against Neurological Diseases as Well as Effective Substance. Frontiers in psychiatry, 12, 688703. (source)
[iv] Chung, I. W., Moore, N. A., Oh, W. K., O'Neill, M. F., Ahn, J. S., Park, J. B., Kang, U. G., & Kim, Y. S. (2002). Behavioural pharmacology of polygalasaponins indicates potential antipsychotic efficacy. Pharmacology, biochemistry, and behavior, 71(1-2), 191–195. (Source)
[v] Rubin B. K. (2006). The pharmacologic approach to airway clearance: mucoactive agents. Paediatric respiratory reviews, 7 Suppl 1, S215–S219. (Source)
[vi] Lacaille-Dubois, M. A., Delaude, C., & Mitaine-Offer, A. C. (2020). A review on the phytopharmacological studies of the genus Polygala. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 249, 112417. (Source)
[vii] Li, Z., Liu, Y., Wang, L., Liu, X., Chang, Q., Guo, Z., Liao, Y., Pan, R., & Fan, T. P. (2014). Memory-Enhancing Effects of the Crude Extract of Polygala tenuifolia on Aged Mice. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2014, 392324. (Source)
[viii] Xue, W., Hu, Jf., Yuan, Yh. et al. “Polygalasaponin XXXII from Polygala tenuifolia root improves hippocampal-dependent learning and memory.” Acta Pharmacol Sin 30, 1211–1219 (2009). (source)
[ix] Lee, J. Y., Kim, K. Y., Shin, K. Y., Won, B. Y., Jung, H. Y., & Suh, Y. H. (2009). “Effects of BT-11 on memory in healthy humans.” Neuroscience letters, 454(2), 111–114 (source)
[x] Hu, Y., Liu, M., Liu, P., Guo, D. H., Wei, R. B., & Rahman, K. (2011). Possible mechanism of the antidepressant effect of 3,6'-disinapoyl sucrose from Polygala tenuifolia Willd. The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology, 63(6), 869–874 (source)
[xi] May, B. H., Lu, C., Lu, Y., Zhang, A. L., & Xue, C. C. (2013). “Chinese herbs for memory disorders: a review and systematic analysis of classical herbal literature.” Journal of acupuncture and meridian studies, 6(1), 2–11 (source)
[xii] Jiang N., Wei S., Zhang Y., He W., Pei H., Huang H., Wang Q., Liu X “Protective Effects and Mechanism of Radix Polygalae Against Neurological Diseases as Well as Effective Substance” Frontiers in Psychiatry 17 December 2021 (source)
[xiii] Luo, H., Sun, S. J., Wang, Y., & Wang, Y. L. (2020). Revealing the sedative-hypnotic effect of the extracts of herb pair Semen Ziziphi spinosae and Radix Polygalae and related mechanisms through experiments and metabolomics approach. BMC complementary medicine and therapies, 20(1), 206. (Source)
[xiv] Cao, Q., Jiang, Y., Cui, S. Y., Tu, P. F., Chen, Y. M., Ma, X. L., Cui, X. Y., Huang, Y. L., Ding, H., Song, J. Z., Yu, B., Sheng, Z. F., Wang, Z. J., Xu, Y. P., Yang, G., Ye, H., Hu, X., & Zhang, Y. H. (2016). Tenuifolin, a saponin derived from Radix Polygalae, exhibits sleep-enhancing effects in mice. Phytomedicine: international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 23(14), 1797–1805. (Source)
[xv] Shin, K. Y., Lee, J. Y., Won, B. Y., Jung, H. Y., Chang, K. A., Koppula, S., & Suh, Y. H. (2009). BT-11 is effective for enhancing cognitive functions in the elderly humans. Neuroscience letters, 465(2), 157–159 (Source)
[xvi] Park, C. H., Yang, P. S., Yoon, Y. S., & Ra, J. C. (2019). Study on the safety of Polygala tenuifolia Willdenow root extract powder (BT-11) in young person aged from 9 to 19 years old. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 232, 119–129. (Source)
[xvii] Yao, H., Cui, P., Xu, D., Liu, Y., Tian, Q., & Zhang, F. (2018). “A water-soluble polysaccharide from the roots of Polygala tenuifolia suppresses ovarian tumor growth and angiogenesis in vivo”. International journal of biological macromolecules, 107 (Pt A), 713–718 (source)
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And I am wondering, how does it affect in the long term, how long does the effect last, and does it decrease receptor sensitivity/density or vice versa increase receptor sensitivity or has no effect on it at all?
How much will it affect motivation, I don’t quite understand since it is an IMAO and increases dopamine and norepinephrine, but at the same time is an antagonist of dopamine receptors and serotonin…
This supplement is a dopamine and serotonin receptor antagonist, isn’t that a negative for people with Parkinson’s? I do not fully understand what this means and what advantages it has.
David Tomen says
This is a quote from the study, “P. tenuifolia root extracts and their active ingredients proved to be neuroprotective against psychotic or neurodegenerative disease models by regulating the HPA axis, regulating neurotransmitter release, increasing BDNF and NGF expression, improving neuronal synaptic plasticity, and promoting nerve cell proliferation”. And it is taken from here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.688703/full#F2
I’m taking Ginkgo, BioPQQ, COQ10 and Shilajit at the moment. What do you think about adding Polygala to this stack? I’m also thinking about adding Pterostilbene.
David Tomen says
They are not contraindicated so if they work for you I suggest keep on using what works.
Sue Moore says
Do you have a reccomendation on where to purchase a well made Polygama? You mentioned taking tincture is best.
David Tomen says
Sue, I didn’t say the tincture it best. I said users report that they get the best effects from Polygala Tenuifolia when using it sublingually. Unfortunately, I do not have a trusted source for a Polygala Tenuifolia supplement in liquid form. The only one I trust is the link I provided above.
I take Prebalin at night and in the morning i still feel it’s effects even at a low dose but need something to help me focus but without making my mind more active.
Will Polygala do that?
Also, Do you know if Polygala could cause seizures or lower the seizure threshold? I have google it but found nothing and thought you might know.
I know Prebalin does lower the seizure but will it be safe taking Polygala?
I don’t have money to see a Dr to ask him nd her probably won’t know what Polygala is.
Do you think it will be safe?
David Tomen says
Anthony, Pregabalin acts by inhibiting certain calcium channels. And as far as I can tell there is no effect on seizure threshold either. The is nothing to indicate that it would not be safe to use in your case. Just double check that with your doctor please.
Studies show Polygala Tenuifolia supports dopamine and norepinephrine signaling, upregulates acetylcholine and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and boosts synaptic transmission in the hippocampus for better learning and memory. All mechanisms of action that are different than how Pregabalin works in your brain.
Hi David, I have Polygala tenuifolia tincture 1:3 25% I would like to take it to improve my memory and to prevent Alzheimers. I suffer from insomnia so I am hoping this will help too.
With these in mind how many drops should I take and when i.e. morning, noon or night? Many thanks for all your hard work. Debbie
David Tomen says
Debbie, you need to ask the manufacturer that question. They will know the nature of their tincture and how much you need to use to be effective.
Putting Bipolar in search (leads to Centropheloxine then deadend). I did find Supps for Depression, but nothing for Bipolar.
Lastly I also have big anxiety, would Taurine help without causing bipolar probs.
Thanks again – Robert
David Tomen says
Robert, I did a Personal Consultation with a guy yesterday with Bipolar depression and came up with a 14 nootropic supplement with potential for that. Along with 6 supplements to avoid if you are Bipolar (including Centrophenoxine). You can try Taurine but keep the dose on the lower end because high dose Taurine could cause you problems.
Those lists are way too long to share here. But I’d be happy to do a consultation with you.
Hi David. I’m considering either Polygala or Saffron. My goal is to decrease anxiety and increase drive. Wellbutrin (+ small dose of Prozac and lamotrigine) may have helped in past, but not sure now and worry about long-term use of pharmaceuticals.
I may have cyclothymia (low grade bipolar) but mostly depression/anxiety/indecision.
I have about 50 strands of real saffron, perhaps I should do 10/day as trial first. Lastly, if you do recommend both…are these good to cycle? Many thanks!
David Tomen says
Robert, Saffron is one of the supplements you should avoid if you are dealing with bipolar. I just did this research for a consultation I had this morning.
Use the search function top right of the top menu and do a search for “bipolar” and you will get 4 pages of supplements to try and which ones to avoid.
Thank you! Guess I need to see specialist. I’m 80% mine is bipolar. However, it’s mostly depression. Things flip usually only when get very little sleep and the next day I feel great (sometimes maybe hypomanic). Ik ow sleep deprivation is an alternative treatment for depression -though obviously problematic. I will take your suggestion, Thank you!