When I was growing up, Jujubes were one of my favorite candies to snack on at the movies. I had no idea, then, that the actual jujube plant was so powerfully nutritious and therapeutic. (I just liked the candy.) Now I know better. Jujube is densely packed with nutrients—so much so that jujube has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, as a natural remedy to treat insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, and pain.
The jujube plant has potent natural therapeutic value, in promoting sleep and relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety, boosting healthy digestion, protecting the heart and the brain, and offering protection against cancer. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on under the skin of this powerfully healthful plant.
What is jujube?
This small, shrub-like plant is native to areas of Asia and Australia, as well as Southern Europe and parts of the southern United States. Zizyphus jujuba—commonly known as jujube—has an edible fruit that is similar to a date. Sweet and fiber-rich, the jujube fruit is packed with nutritional value, a good source of vitamin A and C, B vitamins, minerals including iron, phosphorus, and calcium, and healthful fatty acids.
Jujube has been employed for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, including as a sedative, an anxiety reliever, and a digestive aid.
The nutrient-rich fruit and seeds of the jujube plant are used in supplement form, both on its own and in combination with other natural, therapeutic ingredients.
How does jujube work?
Rich in vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and other health-promoting organic compounds, jujube can have broad benefits for sleep, mood, general health, and protection against disease. Here are some of the specific ways jujube benefits health, according to scientific research:
As an antioxidant. Jujube contains potent supplies of several antioxidants, including vitamins C, B, and A. Antioxidants help repair and restrain cell damage, and reduce harmful oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Jujube’s antioxidant powers may offer widespread benefits and protections, including for the liver and the cardiovascular system.
As an anti-inflammatory. Scientists have identified several important phytochemicals, known as saponins, in jujube. These natural plant chemicals have powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities, and scientific research shows they have a beneficial effect on the immune system. Jujube also contains flavonoids and polysaccharides, phytochemical compounds that scientists believe also play important roles in strengthening the immune system. The plant’s ability to reduce inflammation is likely the source of jujube’s pain-relieving effects.
As a sedative. Two types of phytochemicals in jujube, saponins and flavonoids, trigger changes to neurotransmitters, including GABA and serotonin, which can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. At least one of the saponins in jujube, jujuboside A, helps to quiet activity in the hippocampus region of the brain. And jujube contains a flavonoid compound, spinosin, which appears to trigger sleepiness through its effects on serotonin. These are some of the explanations scientists have identified to-date for jujube’s sedative effects.
As an anxiolytic. The same saponin and flavonoid compounds that work to relax and promote sleep also appear to provide jujube’s anti-anxiety effects.
As a digestive aid. The natural compounds in jujube appear to increase motility in the intestinal system.
As a blood-sugar reducer. Jujube can lower blood sugar, making it potentially useful in protection against and treatment for diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Some scientists think jujube’s blood-sugar-lowering abilities come from its high concentrations of vitamin A, which can improve insulin sensitivity. Other research points to the positive effects of jujube on adiponectin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose and other metabolic markers.
Benefits of jujube
For sleep. I often recommend jujube as a supplement for my patients with insomnia or other sleep issues. I find jujube especially effective for people whose insomnia and other sleep problems are related to stress and anxiety. One of the strongest benefits of jujube is its ability to calm the mind, quiet neural activity, and help induce and sustain sleep. Scientific studies show jujube extends sleep time in mice. Both flavonoids and saponins—bioactive compounds found in jujube—have also been shown to increase sleep time. Other research indicates that one of the flavonoids in jujube can increase time spent in slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, the two most restorative stages of sleep.
For anxiety and stress. For many people, sleep problems and anxiety go hand-in-hand. The same bioactive compounds in jujube that help to improve sleep can also relieve anxiety—with or without a sleep problem. The effects that jujube has on GABA and serotonin, two important neurotransmitters for mood and relaxation, are sources of the plant’s anxiolytic powers.
For healthy digestion. Jujube has been used for thousands of years to treat gastrointestinal problems, including bloating, stomach pain, and constipation. Research shows jujube can reduce gastric acid, and also help to protect against and treat stomach ulcers. Research also shows jujube is highly effective in improving chronic constipation.
For metabolic health. Jujube can be effective in lowering blood sugar, making it a potentially useful natural therapy for protecting against and treating diabetes and other blood sugar-related disorders, such as metabolic syndrome. Research has also identified jujube as having anti-obesity effects, with an ability to inhibit fat accumulation in the body.
For cardiovascular health. Jujube’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities may deliver broad benefits and protections to the heart and cardiovascular system. The saponins found in jujube can help to lower cholesterol. In scientific research, jujube has been shown to increase levels of healthy HDL cholesterol without increasing the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Studies have also shown jujube capable of reducing triglyceride levels, and concentrations of C-reactive protein. Jujube may offer protection against arteriosclerosis, the build-up of substances in arteries that impairs healthy blood flow.
For brain protection. Research shows jujube may offer a number of protective benefits to the brain, including protection to neural cells against damage and deterioration, help in repairing memory and improve learning, and guarding against cognitive impairment. New research indicates jujube may be able to block dysfunctional activity in the brain that is a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
For immune health. Jujube is recognized as a strong potential supporter for the immune system, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress that weaken immune function and make us more vulnerable to disease. Several of the compounds found naturally in jujube—including saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides—have been identified as the agents behind jujube’s immune-support.
For cancer protection. There is a lot of scientific interest in jujube’s cancer-fighting properties. Many of the bioactive compounds found in jujube, including saponins, flavonoids, antioxidants, polysaccharides, and triterpenoids, have been shown to have the ability to slow the growth of, and kill, some types of cancer cells. Increasingly, scientists are examining jujube as a potential preventative therapy and treatment for cancer.
Jujube: What to Know
Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.
The appropriate dose of jujube will depend on an individual’s age, weight, and health, as well as the conditions you are seeking to treat. Jujube may be used on its own and also may be found in supplements in combination with other natural medicines. In general, it is recommended that users begin with the lowest suggested dose, and gradually increase as needed.
Possible side effects of jujube
Jujube is generally well tolerated by healthy adults.
The following people should consult with a physician before using a jujube supplement:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- People with diabetes. Jujube can lower blood sugar. People with diabetes or blood sugar problems should consult with their doctor before using jujube.
- People with latex allergy. If you are allergic to latex you may also be allergic to jujube. People with a latex allergy should avoid using jujube.
- Surgery patients. Jujube’s effect on blood sugar may impede blood sugar control during and also after surgery. Jujube can also slow down the body’s central nervous system, as do anesthesia and other medications used in surgery. It’s recommended that people stop using jujube at least two weeks before planned surgery.
These are commonly used medications and supplements that have scientifically-identified interactions with jujube. People who take these or any other medications and supplements should consult with a physician before beginning to use jujube as a supplement.
Interactions with medications
Medications for diabetes. Jujube can lower blood sugar. In combination with diabetes medications used to lower blood sugar, use of jujube may lead to blood sugar dropping too low. Medications for diabetes include: glimepiride, glyburide, insulin, metformin, pioglitazone, rosiglitazone, chloropropamide, glipizide, tolbutamide and others.
Sedative medications. Because jujube can have sedative effects, using it at the same time as sedative medications may lead to excessive sleepiness.
Medications that are affected by the liver. Jujube may interfere with the effectiveness of some medications that are broken down and changed by the liver. If you take medications affected by the liver, talk with your doctor before using jujube. (If you’re not sure whether your medication is changed by the liver, talk to your doc!)
Phenacetin. Using jujube may speed up the body’s process of breaking down phenacetin, and may decrease the effectiveness of this medication.
Interactions with other herbs and supplements
Herbs and supplements that lower blood pressure. Because jujube can lower blood sugar, using it in combination with other herbs and supplements that also lower blood sugar may lead to blood sugar dropping too low. Herbs and supplements that can lower blood sugar include:
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Bitter melon
- Devil’s claw
- Guar gum
- Horse chestnut
- Panax ginseng
- Siberian ginseng
Herbs and supplements with sedative effects. Using jujube along with other herbs and supplements that work as sedatives may lead to excessive sleepiness. Herbs and supplements that can have sedative effects include:
- California poppy
- Jamaican dogwood
- St John’s wort
This plant, with its sweet-tasting fruit, is a powerhouse nutrient and disease protector, which can also provide daily benefits for sleep, mood, and performance.
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., DABSM
The Sleep Doctor™