Can Suma Fight Cancer and Boost Testosterone?

man bodybuilding
John Lund/Marc Romanelli/Blend Images/Getty Images

Suma (Pfaffia paniculata) is a plant used in herbal medicine. Sometimes referred to as Brazilian ginseng, it's said to act as an adaptogen (a type of herb said to increase your resistance to the negative effects of chronic stress). Also thought to stimulate the immune system, suma is used in treatment of a number of common health conditions.

Typically sourced from the root of the plant, suma extract contains a variety of substances that may influence health.

These include saponins, a type of chemical found to lower cholesterol levels and improve immune function. Suma root also contains triterpenoids, a class of compounds found to offer anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects in preliminary studies.

Uses for Suma

In alternative medicine, suma is sometimes said to help with the following health problems:

  • arthritis 
  • diabetes 
  • fatigue
  • heart disease 
  • memory impairment 
  • menopausal symptoms

Suma is also said to possess pain-relieving properties.

In addition, suma is used to enhance libido and improve sexual function, as well as increase strength and boost athletic performance.

Some proponents claim that suma can also help fight some forms of cancer.

Research on Suma

Here's a look at some of the available science behind suma and its possible health benefits:

1)  Testosterone

Suma is often touted as a natural approach to increasing testosterone levels. A male hormone that plays a major role in many bodily functions, testosterone is known to decrease in production as you age.

Natural remedies such as suma are sometimes used in an attempt to restore testosterone levels and achieve benefits like enhanced sexual function, increased lean muscle mass, and improved athletic performance.

So far, research on suma's potential to increase testosterone levels is very limited. However, a study published in the Journal of Reproduction and Development in 2003 found that male mice fed suma-powder-enriched water for about a month experienced an increase in testosterone levels.

In female mice, meanwhile, the suma-powder-enriched water appeared to increase levels of progesterone (a female hormone known to decline in production as you age).

2)  Cancer

Several preliminary studies indicate that suma may possess anti-cancer properties.

For example, a study published in Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology in 2009 found that suma may protect against breast cancer. In tests on tumor cells taken from a woman with metastatic breast cancer, researchers observed that suma may target and kill breast cancer cells.

Furthermore, a preliminary published in Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology in 2010 found that suma may help fight the development of liver cancer. In tests on mice, scientists observed that suma helped inhibit cancer development in part by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).

It should be noted that further research is needed before suma can be recommended for the prevention or treatment of any type of cancer.


Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety and potential side effects of suma. However, there's some concern that taking suma in excess doses may trigger adverse effects like nausea.

Alternatives to Suma

If you're looking for an adaptogen, a number of herbs may also help your body cope with chronic stress. These herbs include rhodiola, ashwagandha, and Panax ginseng.

Additionally, taking up mind-body techniques like meditation, yoga, and tai chi can go a long way in alleviating stress and staving off stress-related health issues.

Where to Find Suma

Sold in some natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in herbal supplements, suma is widely available for purchase online.


Carneiro CS, Costa-Pinto FA, da Silva AP, Pinello KC, da Silva TC, Matsuzaki P, Nagamine MK, Górniak SL, Haraguchi M, Akisue G, Dagli ML. "Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng) methanolic extract reduces angiogenesis in mice." Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2007 Aug;58(6):427-31.

da Silva TC, Cogliati B, da Silva AP, Fukumasu H, Akisue G, Nagamine MK, Matsuzaki P, Haraguchi M, Górniak SL, Dagli ML. "Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng) roots decrease proliferation and increase apoptosis but do not affect cell communication in murine hepatocarcinogenesis." Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2010 Mar;62(2):145-55.

da Silva TC, Paula da Silva A, Akisue G, Luis Avanzo J, Kazumi Nagamine M, Fukumasu H, Matsuzaki P, César Raspantini P, Haraguchi M, Lima Górniak S, Dagli ML. "Inhibitory effects of Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng) on preneoplastic and neoplastic lesions in a mouse hepatocarcinogenesis model." Cancer Lett. 2005 Aug 26;226(2):107-13.

Li J, Jadhav AN, Khan IA. "Triterpenoids from Brazilian ginseng, Pfaffia paniculata." Planta Med. 2010 Apr;76(6):635-9. 

Matsuzaki P, Akisue G, Salgado Oloris SC, Górniak SL, Zaidan Dagli ML. "Effect of Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng) on the Ehrlich tumor in its ascitic form." Life Sci. 2003 Dec 19;74(5):573-9.

Nagamine MK, da Silva TC, Matsuzaki P, Pinello KC, Cogliati B, Pizzo CR, Akisue G, Haraguchi M, Górniak SL, Sinhorini IL, Rao KV, Barbuto JA, Dagli ML. "Cytotoxic effects of butanolic extract from Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng) on cultured human breast cancer cell line MCF-7." Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2009 Jan;61(1):75-82.

Oshima M, Gu Y. "Pfaffia paniculata-induced changes in plasma estradiol-17beta, progesterone and testosterone levels in mice." J Reprod Dev. 2003 Apr;49(2):175-80.

Watanabe T, Watanabe M, Watanabe Y, Hotta C. "Effects of oral administration of Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng) on incidence of spontaneous leukemia in AKR/J mice." Cancer Detect Prev. 2000;24(2):173-8.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading