The Other Geranium: Robertianum
by Anthony Roberts
Most supplement consumers are familiar with Geranium already – it’s the stuff that was initially reported to contain the stimulant methylhexaneamine (DMAA, etc…), and caused a rash of positive drug tests due to its inclusion in some very popular pre-workout formulas. And now it looks like there was never any MHA in the stuff, according to the most recent data. Health Canada has already banned the sale of the stimulant, and the nutritional industry as a whole is bracing for the banning of the most popular stimulant since ephedra, companies like MuscleTech are looking into another type of geranium: geranium robertianium, for inclusion in their pre-workout stimulants.
According to the published data, this form of geranium does not contain any stimulants of note (PMID:16607850). So why in the world would it be included in a product that’s meant to be used before a workout? One theory that’s been proposed is as follows: when MHA (incorrectly called geranium for the past few years) finally gets banned, fans of the ingredient who search online will find that geranium is still available in a stimulant product. Hence, although it adds nothing to the formula as a stimulant per se, it can be useful as an anchor to help people find the product via online searches, and make them believe that they’re getting MHA. This is actually fairly common, and you’d be surprised to know how many ingredients in proprietary blends are put there for just this purpose, i.e. because they’re popular (though potentially inferior or ineffective), and people simply “want” them in a formula.
Look at how many companies, for example, still sell products containing Creatine Ethyl Ester – a version of creatine that is both more expensive and inferior to Creatine Monohydrate. The stupid companies base their creatine formulas around this ingredient, while the smart ones simply dust their good product with it, so they get it on the label – while using primarily CrM as the bulk of the formula. Deceptive? Sort of, yeah. But in the end, the CEE-seeking consumer ends up getting a better product, albeit not one that they “want” per se.
However, a paper titled ““MitoTea”: Geranium robertianum L. decoctions decrease blood glucose levels and improve liver mitochondrial oxidative
phosphorylation in diabetic Goto–Kakizaki rats” provides some suggestion that the herb may have some application in the nutritional field above and beyond tricking consumers. Diabetic rodents were given an extract of the herb’s leaves over a four week period, and it was found to have lowered their plasma glucose levels. This means G. robertianum has potential hypoglycemic effects, which could indicate that it has certain insulin-like or insulinogenic It lowered occasional glycaema by 35%, which is pretty substantial. Popular blood-sugar control supplements include R-ala, Vanadyl, Stevia, chromium picolinate, cinnamon, etc…so while this form of geranium is in good company, it certainly represents nothing unique on the nutritional market. It also seems to me that it’s a very bad idea to lower blood sugar immediately before a workout, ergo the inclusion of Geranium robertianum in a pre-workout formula would be a decidedly mediocre idea. But this is a multifaceted herb…
And in the defense of companies who have already included it in their pre-workout formulas, this study was not available in the National Institute of Health database until recently, although it had been presented as a poster at the 16th European Bioenergetics Conference in 2010. [A prior paper explored the fact that G. robertianum has potent anti-oxidant properties along with some anti-inflammatory characteristics, although neither of those facts makes it very interesting in the world of sports nutrition (PMID:19201196)]
However, this herb does have some beneficial properties, as it was found that treatment with G. robertianum extracts improved liver mitochondrial respiratory parameters and increased oxidative phosphorylation efficiency. Oxidative phosphorylation is an energy-producing pathway expressed in the inner membrane of the mitochondria that uses the energy released by oxidation of nutrients to generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is in turn the energy pathway used to power your muscles for short, intense bursts of power.
When you overtrain, you impair your oxidative phosphorlyation pathway, and when you you’re training properly, the OP pathway is primed to efficiently produce energy. Geranium robertianium appears to improve this pathway and make it more efficient. However, Pyruvate, a supplement that has been on the market for decades, also has this same property, viz. improving the efficiency of the OP pathway. In fact, it also lowers blood sugar. The journal of the American Diabetes Association, (called, somewhat un-originally) Diabetes, in October of 2004 published a paper that was titled (and revealed): “A Possible Link Between Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Efficiency and Age-Induced Insulin Resistance.” So although it may be exciting to see a nutritional supplement that can help you make improvements in oxidative phosphorlyation efficiency, and may also help control blood sugar, it’s certainly nothing unique or new to the market.
So does this mean it’s a total bust? Not exactly, because it still may have potential application for people on a diet. I don’t want to put too much stock in this use, however, because the research is incomplete, if somewhat promising. Rodents given the G. robertianum extract, and fed an ad libitum (science-speak for “as much as they want”) diet, naturally consumed less food and water than the control group who did not receive the extract, but were also allowed to eat and drink at will.
You might suspect that the rodents, who consumed less food and water for four weeks, ended up weighing less than their gluttonous counterparts. However, this assumption is incorrect. The two groups ended up at almost the same body weight after four weeks. Check it out:
Ok…so this is the speculative part: if carbohydrate metabolism was improved (as suggested by the lowered blood sugar), and the efficiency of energy production was increased, while food consumption was lowered, but the animals ended up at the same weight, it could be possible (big if) that G. robertianum has a body recompositioning effect. It would seem very odd, given the metabolic improvements noted previously, and given a decrease in calories, something has got to be going on, and a possible explanation is some kind of anabolic effect whereby (maybe) muscle is added and fat is lost, but total body weight stays the same. That would be great, right?
However, it may simply be that the Geranium-fed rodents ate less food and gained the same amount of weight and fat as the control group, which would be catastrophic for dieters. And the rodents weren’t even regular, healthy rodents, either…so we’re not even looking at a “normal” group of rats.
So does this stuff have potential? We don’t know yet, because we don’t know if the stuff actually made the test group more muscular. It could have made them just as big and fat as the other group, but simply do so with less of a caloric intake. And we don’t know if any of these results translate to humans.
Is there potential in this herb? Sure. But to include it in a pre-workout formula is probably not the best idea. Or even a good idea.