Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Smilax glabra
Common Name

Glabrous greenbrier rhizome, Tu Fu Ling, China root

Clinical Summary

Smilax glabra is a plant prevalent in South Asia, the rhizome of which is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat skin infections, inflammation, urinary disorders, and cancer. In vitro and animal studies have shown that this botanical has antioxidant (1) (2), antiviral (3), renoprotective (4), immunostimulatory (5), anti-inflammatory (6) (7), hepatoprotective (16) and anticancer properties (8) (9) (10) (11) (12). But it has not been studied in clinical trials.

Smilax glabra should not be confused with Smilax officinalis, another species commonly known as sarsaparilla.

Food Sources

Smilax glabra is used in traditional Chinese foods (2).

Purported Uses
  • Arthritis
  • Dermatitis
  • Dysentery
  • Nephritis
  • Liver disease
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Cancer
Constituents
  • Phenylpropanoids
  • Flavonoids : Astilibin
  • Saponins: Smilagenin
  • Phenolic compounds: Smiglabrone A, smiglabrone B, smilachromanone, smiglastilbene, smiglactone, smiglabrol
    (5) (10) (13) (14) (17)
Mechanism of Action

The anticancer effects of smilax may be due to its ability to induce apoptosis (9) by upregulating Bax and downregulating Bcl2 genes respectively. Another possible antiproliferative mechanism is via cell cycle arrest. Studies have shown a decrease in mRNA expression of Cyclin B1 and Cdk1 (G2 regulations proteins) in carcinoma cells following administration of Smilax glabra (9).
The anti-inflammatory effects of smilax may be due to its inhibition of T-lymphocyte adhesion thereby causing a decrease in T-cell ability to express CD44 and produce TNF alpha(6).
The possible renoprotective activity of astilbin, a constituent of smilax, has been observed in a study with rat models of diabetic nephropathy (4). Inhibition of transforming factor-Beta (TGF-Beta) and connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) (both thought to induce the fibrotic process in diabetic nephropathy) was observed in HK-2 cells after astilbin exposure (4). Administration of astilbin also improved renal function (seen by significant reduction in urinary volume, urinary albumin, serum creatinine, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine clearance) and mortality in experimental rats.
In another study, Smilax glabra was shown to exert anti-cardiac hypertrophy effects by targeting inhibition of ryanodine receptor (RyR) mediated intracellular Ca(2+) release (18).

Adverse Reactions

May cause allergic reactions (15).

References
  1. Ban JY, Cho SO, Koh SB, et al. Protection of amyloid beta protein (25-35)-induced neurotoxicity by methanol extract of Smilacis chinae rhizome in cultured rat cortical neurons. J Ethnopharmacol. Jun 30 2006;106(2):230-237.
  2. Zhang Q-F, Zhang Z-R, Cheung H. Antioxidant activity of Rhizoma Smilacis Glabrae extracts and its key constituent-astilbin. Food Chemistry. 2009;115(1):297-303.
  3. Ooi LS, Wong EY, Chiu LC, et al. Antiviral and anti-proliferative glycoproteins from the rhizome of Smilax glabra Roxb (Liliaceae).Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(1):185-195.
  4. Li GS, Jiang WL, Yue XD, et al. Effect of Astilbin on Experimental Diabetic Nephropathy in vivo and in vitro. Planta Med. Jun 16 2009.
  5. Chu KT, Ng TB. Smilaxin, a novel protein with immunostimulatory, antiproliferative, and HIV-1-reverse transcriptase inhibitory activities from fresh Smilax glabra rhizomes. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Feb 3 2006;340(1):118-124.
  6. Yi HW, Lu XM, Fang F, et al. Astilbin inhibits the adhesion of T lymphocytes via decreasing TNF-alpha and its associated MMP-9 activity and CD44 expression. Int Immunopharmacol. Oct 2008;8(10):1467-1474.
  7. Man MQ, Shi Y, Man M, et al. Chinese herbal medicine (Tuhuai extract) exhibits topical anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory activity in murine disease models. Exp Dermatol. Aug 2008;17(8):681-687.
  8. Kuo YH, Hsu YW, Liaw CC, et al. Cytotoxic phenylpropanoid glycosides from the stems of Smilax china. J Nat Prod. Oct 2005;68(10):1475-1478.
  9. Xu W, Liu J, Li C, et al. Kaempferol-7-O-beta-D-glucoside (KG) isolated from Smilax china L. rhizome induces G2/M phase arrest and apoptosis on HeLa cells in a p53-independent manner. Cancer Lett. Jun 18 2008;264(2):229-240.
  10. Sa F, Gao JL, Fung KP, et al. Anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effect of Smilax glabra Roxb. extract on hepatoma cell lines. Chem Biol Interact. Jan 10 2008;171(1):1-14.
  11. Thabrew MI, Mitry RR, Morsy MA, Hughes RD. Cytotoxic effects of a decoction of Nigella sativa, Hemidesmus indicus and Smilax glabra on human hepatoma HepG2 cells. Life Sci. Aug 5 2005;77(12):1319-1330.
  12. Iddamaldeniya SS, Thabrew MI, Wickramasinghe S, et al. A long-term investigation of the anti-hepatocarcinogenic potential of an indigenous medicine comprised of Nigella sativa, Hemidesmus indicus and Smilax glabra. J Carcinog. 2006;5:11.
  13. Chen T, Li JX, Xu Q. Phenylpropanoid glycosides from Smilax glabra. Phytochemistry. Apr 2000;53(8):1051-1055.
  14. Zhou X, Xu Q, Li JX, Chen T. Structural revision of two flavanonol glycosides from Smilax glabra. Planta Med. May 2009;75(6):654-655.
  15. Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, 2nd ed. California: Art of Medicine Press; 2004.
  16. Xia D, Fan Y, Zhang P, et al. Protective effects of the flavonoid-rich fraction from rhizomes of Smilax glabra Roxb. on carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. J Membr Biol. 2013 Jun;246(6):479-85.
  17. Xu S, Shang MY, Liu GX, et al. Chemical constituents from the rhizomes of Smilax glabra and their antimicrobial activity. Molecules. 2013 May 8;18(5):5265-87.
  18. Shou Q, Pan S, Tu J, et al. Modulation effect of Smilax glabra flavonoids on ryanodine receptor mediated intracellular Ca2+ release in cardiomyoblast cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Oct 28;150(1):389-92.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Smilax glabra has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.

Smilax glabra is known as Tufuling in traditional Chinese medicine. The root has been used in combination with other herbs to treat diabetes, infection, and other skin and urinary disorders. Laboratory studies have shown that this plant has anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. However, clinical studies have not been conducted and it is not known if the same effects would occur in humans.

Purported Uses
  • Arthritis
    Anti-inflammatory activity has been observed in rat models.
  • Viral infections
    Smilax glabra demonstrated antiviral activity in vitro.
  • Inflammation
    Smilax glabra can reduce inflammation in animal models.
  • Cancer
    Antioxidant and anti-tumor effects were observed in vitro studies. However, clinical trials have not been conducted.
  • Nephropathy
    Astilbin, a compound present in Smilax glabra, has been studied in rats with diabetic nephropathy. However, clinical trials are lacking.
  • Diabetes
    An increase in glucose uptake by rat fatty tissue was observed after exposure to smilaxin, a protein isolated from Smilax glabra.
  • Immunostimulation
    Smilaxin, a protein isolated from Smilax glabra, was found to stimulate immune activity as seen by an increase in white blood cells in mice.
  • Dermatitis and Psoriasis
    An herbal mixture containing Smilax glabra can reduce skin inflammation in animals.
Side Effects

May cause allergic reactions.

E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.