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What is Toxicodendron vernicifluum?

Also known as Rhus vernicifluum or the Chinese Lacquer Tree, Toxicodendron vernicifluum is one of the latest botanical extracts to pop up in sporting supplements, raising questions from many people in the industry. The tree is best known for production of sap that is prized as a decorative lacquer, and it has a history of medicinal use.  But here's where it gets weird - Toxicodendron vernicifluum is a powerful toxin. What is this ingredient doing in your test booster?

Where does Toxicodendron vernicifluum come from?

Toxicodendron vernicifluum is native to China and the Indian subcontinent, and grows throughout Asia. It is cultivated for its sap in China, Japan and Korea.

Toxicodendron vernicifluum Benefits

Toxicodendron vernicifluum has a history of use in Chinese traditional medicine to stop bleeding and rid the body of parasites. Like many traditional botanical remedies, it has caught the eye of western science and researchers have begun to explore the potential benefits of this plant, isolating a number of known and novel chemicals.

Toxicodendron vernicifluum can suppress inflammation (1). This property has not been explored thoroughly, but researchers recently discovered that this effect is neuroprotective, and may help fight the progress of degenerative disease. In addition, Toxicodendron contains natural chemicals that can stop cells from dividing, which means it may have potential in the treatment of cancer (2). Research has shown that extracts from this plant may play a role in the treatment of fibrosis (3) and other conditions caused by overgrowth of connective tissue (4). Finally, many of the chemicals produced by the plant are strong antioxidants, and have been shown to prevent the formation of advanced glycosylation end products (AGEs). AGEs are produced in the body when sugars bind to proteins, and they are thought to contribute to degeneration in conditions like diabetes and atherosclerosis (6).

Toxicodendron vernicifluum Benefits for Bodybuilding

The reason Toxicodendron vernicifluum has interested supplement manufacturers is the presence of a chemical called butein (2). In experiments performed on human cells, butein has been shown to strongly inhibit aromatase, the enzyme that converts androgens like testosterone, into oestrogens (5).

Toxicodendron vernicifluum Side Effects, Negatives & Cons

While we know Toxicodendron vernicifluum contains butein, and butein can inhibit aromatase in laboratory-grown cell lines derived from humans, there is no direct research showing that using Toxicodendron vernicifluum extract leads to an increase in testosterone levels.

On top of this, there is significant concern over the safety of this plant. Toxicodendron vernicifluum is closely related to, and produces the same irritating chemical as poison ivy, called Urushiol. Urushiol is an irritant to the skin and lungs and extremely toxic when ingested. We know a bit about the effects because it was used as part of a ritual known as 'Sokushinbutsu', which was practiced by an extreme Buddhist sect in Japan. This practice has been described as 'self mummification'. In the final and fatal stages of this ritual, tea made from Toxicodendron vernicifluum was drunk to induce vomiting and diarrhoea, purging the body of fluid. This tea also rendered the flesh too toxic for consumption by insects, and coated the digestive system in a sticky sap with preservative properties. The practitioner was then left to die, or buriwed alive, and in most cases the body would naturally mummify. Unsurprisingly, this practice, and tea made from Toxicodendron vernicifluum has been made illegal in Japan.

We can only assume Toxicodendron vernicifluum extracts that are being used in supplements are free from urushiol.

Toxicodendron vernicifluum Dosage & Timing

There is no established dose for Toxicodendron vernicifluum as a supplement, and extracts are likely to vary in concentrations of butein and other active agents.

Toxicodendron vernicifluum Supplements

Gaspari has pioneered the use of this botanical extract in their controversial test booster Nova-X. Butein has shown good potential as an aromatase inhibitor, so it will be interesting to see who else jumps on the Toxicodendron vernicifluum bandwagon.

Stacking Toxicodendron vernicifluum

Because Toxicodendron vernicifluum acts as an aromatase inhibitor, it goes best with a testosterone booster. Another plant based supplement like tribulus is a good choice, as is mucuna pruriens, which is paired with Toxicodendron in Nova-X

(1)Cho N, Choi JH, Yang H, Jeong EJ, Lee KY, Kim YC, Sung SH. Neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoids isolated from Rhus verniciflua in neuronal HT22 and microglial BV2 cell lines. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Jun;50(6):1940-5.
(2)Kim KH, Moon E, Choi SU, Pang C, Kim SY, Lee KR. Identification of cytotoxic and anti-inflammatory constituents from the bark of Toxicodendron vernicifluum (Stokes) F.A. Barkley. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Mar 13;162:231-7.
(3)Ai J, Nie J, He J, Guo Q, Li M, Lei Y, Liu Y, Zhou Z, Zhu F, Liang M, Cheng Y, Hou FF. GQ5 Hinders Renal Fibrosis in Obstructive Nephropathy by Selectively Inhibiting TGF-β-Induced Smad3 Phosphorylation. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 Nov 12.
(4)He JB, Luo J, Zhang L, Yan YM, Cheng YX. Sesquiterpenoids with new carbon skeletons from the resin of Toxicodendron vernicifluum as new types of extracellular matrix inhibitors. Org Lett. 2013 Jul 19;15(14):3602-5.
(5) Wang Y, Chan FL, Chen S, Leung LK. The plant polyphenol butein inhibits testosterone-induced proliferation in breast cancer cells expressing aromatase. Life Sci. 2005 May 20;77(1):39-51.
(6) Eun Ha Lee, Dae-Geun Song), Joo Young Lee), Cheol-Ho Pan), Byung Hun Um), Sang Hoon Jung. Inhibitory Effect of the Compounds Isolated from Rhus verniciflua on Aldose Reductase and Advanced Glycation Endproducts. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin Vol. 31 (2008) No. 8 P 1626-1630.

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