Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN – Ginseng has been used in Asia and North America for centuries. Many use it to improve thinking, concentration, memory and physical endurance.
It’s also utilized to help with depression, anxiety and as a chronic fatigue natural treatment. This well-known herb is known to boost the immune system, fight infections and help men with erectile dysfunction.
Native Americans once used the root as a stimulant and headache remedy, as well as a treatment for infertility, fever and indigestion.
Today, approximately 6 million Americans take advantage of the proven ginseng benefits regularly. Find out why.
What Is Ginseng?
Ginseng was originally used as an herbal medicine in ancient China. There are even written records about its properties dating back to about 100 A.D.
By the 16th century, it was so popular that control over the ginseng fields became an issue. Today, it is marketed in over 35 countries, and sales exceed $2 billion, half coming from South Korea.
That’s not all. By the year 2027, the global market is expected to reach $12.6 billion according to projections.
There are 11 species of ginseng, all belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae. The botanical name Panax means “all heal” in Greek.
The name “ginseng” is used to refer to both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng). The true ginseng plant belongs only to the Panax genus, so other species, such as Siberian ginseng and crown prince ginseng, have distinctively different functions.
The unique and beneficial compounds of the Panax species are called ginsenosides, and they’re currently under clinical research to investigate their potential for medical use. Both Asian and American ginseng contain ginsenosides, but they include different types in different amounts.
Research has varied, and some experts aren’t yet convinced that there’s enough data to label the medical capabilities of ginseng, but for centuries people have believed in its beneficial compounds and results.
While the Panax family (Asian and American) varieties are the only “true” types of ginseng due to their high levels of the active ingredient ginsenosides, there are other adaptogenic herbs that have similar properties and are also known as relatives to ginseng.
Here’s a rundown of the different types of ginseng out there:
- Asian Ginseng: Panax ginseng, also known as red ginseng and Korean ginseng, is the classic and original that has been renown for thousands of years. It is often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for those who are struggling with low qi, coldness and a yang deficiency, which can display as fatigue. This form can also help with weakness, exhaustion, type 2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction and poor memory.
- American Ginseng: Panax quinquefolius grows throughout the northern regions of North America, including New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. It has been shown to fight depression, balance blood sugar, support digestive distress caused by anxiety, improve focus and boost the immune system. In comparison, the American variety is more mild than the Asian type but still very therapeutic and usually used to treat yin deficiency instead of yang deficiency.
- Siberian Ginseng: Eleutherococcus senticosus grows wild in Russia and Asia. Also known as just eleuthero, it contains high levels of eleutherosides, which have very similar advantages to ginsenosides found in panax species of ginseng. Studies indicate that Siberian ginseng may increase VO2 max to optimize cardiovascular endurance, improve fatigue and support immunity.
- Indian Ginseng: Withania somnifera, also known as ashwagandha, is a renowned herb in Ayurveda medicine for enhancing longevity. It has some similar features to classic ginseng but also has many differences. It can be taken more on a long-term basis and has been shown to improve thyroid hormone levels (TSH, T3 and T4), relieve anxiety, balance cortisol, improve cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and improve fitness levels.
- Brazilian Ginseng: Pfaffia paniculata, also known as suma root, grows throughout the rain forests of South America and means “for everything” in Portuguese because of its diverse benefits. Suma root contains ecdysterone, which appears to support healthy levels of testosterone in men and women and may also support muscular health, reduce inflammation, fight cancer, improve sexual performance and boost endurance.
Ginseng contains various pharmacological components, including a series of tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins (ginsenosides), polyacetylenes, polyphenolic compounds and acidic polysaccharides. Due to the presence of these plant compounds, it has the following benefits:
1. Improves Mood and Reduces Stress
A controlled study done at the Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Centre in the United Kingdom involved 30 volunteers who were given three rounds of treatments of ginseng and placebo. The study was done to gather data about ginseng’s ability to improve mood and mental function.
The results found that 200 milligrams of ginseng for eight days slowed the fall in mood but also delayed the participants’ response to mental arithmetic. The 400-milligram dose improved calmness and mental arithmetic for the duration of the eight-day treatment.
Another study done at the Division of Pharmacology at the Central Drug Research Institute tested the effects of Panax ginseng on rats with chronic stress and found that it “has significant anti-stress properties and can be used for the treatment of stress-induced disorders.” The 100-milligram dose of Panax reduced the ulcer index, adrenal gland weight and plasma glucose levels — making it a powerful medicinal options for chronic stress and a great way to deal with ulcers and adrenal fatigue.
2. Improves Brain Function
Ginseng stimulates brain cells and improves concentration and cognitive activities. Evidence shows that taking Panax ginseng root daily for 12 weeks can improve mental performance in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
One study done at the Department of Neurology at the Clinical Research Institute in South Korea investigated the effectiveness of ginseng on the cognitive performance of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. After ginseng treatment, the participants showed improvements, and this upscale trend continued for three months.
After discontinuing the treatment, the improvements declined to the levels of the control group.
This suggests ginseng may work to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms and support cognitive health. Although more research on this topic is needed, one preliminary study found that a combination of American ginseng and ginkgo biloba may benefit patients with ADHD.
The study involving children ages 6–12 with ADHD symptoms showed that using a combination of omega-3 supplements and Korean red ginseng improved ADHD symptoms and cognitive function in children, including attention, memory and executive function.
3. Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
An interesting study done in Korea measured the beneficial effects of Korean red ginseng on children after chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation for advanced cancer. The study included 19 patients who received 60 milligrams of Korean red ginseng daily for one year.
Blood samples were collected every six months, and as a result of the treatment, the cytokines, or small proteins that are responsible for sending signals to the brain and regulating cell growth, decreased rapidly. It was a significant difference from the control group.
This study suggests that Korean red ginseng has a stabilizing effect of the inflammatory cytokines in children with cancer after chemotherapy.
A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine done on rats also measured the impact that Korean red ginseng has on inflammatory cytokines. After giving rats 100 milligrams of Korean red ginseng extract for seven days, it proved to significantly reduce the extent of inflammation, and it improved the damage that was already done to the brain.
Another animal study measured the herb’s anti-inflammatory effects.
Korean red ginseng was tested for its anti-allergic properties on 40 mice with allergic rhinitis, a common upper airway inflammatory disease typically seen in children and adults. The most frequent symptoms include congestion, nasal itching and sneezing.
At the end of the trial, the Korean red ginseng reduced the nasal allergic inflammatory reaction in the mice, showcasing the herb’s place among the best anti-inflammatory foods.
4. Helps with Weight Loss
Another surprising ginseng benefit is its ability to work as a natural appetite suppressant. It also boosts your metabolism and helps the body burn fat at a faster rate.
A study done at the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research in Chicago measured the anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects of Panax ginseng berry in adult mice. The mice were injected with 150 milligrams of ginseng berry extract per kilogram of body weight for 12 days.
By day five, the mice taking the extract had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels. After day 12, the glucose tolerance in the mice increased, and overall blood glucose levels decreased by 53 percent.
The treated mice showed weight loss, too, starting at 51 grams and ending the treatment at 45 grams.
A similar study done in 2009 found that Panax ginseng plays a vital role in the anti-obesity effect in mice. This suggests the clinical importance of improving the management of obesity and related metabolic syndromes with this herb.
5. Treats Sexual Dysfunction
Taking powdered Korean red ginseng seems to improve sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction in men. A 2008 systematic review included 28 randomized clinical studies that evaluated the effectiveness of red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction.
The review provided suggestive evidence for the use of the herb, but researchers believe that more rigorous studies are necessary in order to draw definitive conclusions.
Of the 28 reviewed studies, six reported an improvement of erectile function when using red ginseng compared with placebo control. Four studies tested the effects of red ginseng for sexual function using questionnaires compared with placebo, and all trials reported positive effects.
Research done in 2002 at the Department of Physiology at Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine indicates that ginseng’s ginsenoside components facilitate penile erections by directly inducing the vasodilatation and relaxation of the erectile tissue. It’s the release of nitric oxide from endothelial cells and perivascular nerves that directly affects the erectile tissue.
The university’s research also indicates that ginseng affects the central nervous system and significantly alters the activity in the brain that facilitates hormonal behavior and secretion.
6. Improves Lung Function
Ginseng treatment has significantly decreased lung bacteria, and studies involving rats have shown that it can stop the growth of cystic fibrosis, a common lung infection. In one 1997 study, rats were given ginseng injections, and after two weeks, the treated group showed a significantly improved bacterial clearance from the lungs.
Research also shows another ginseng benefit is its ability to treat a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is characterized as chronically poor airflow that typically worsens over time. According to the research, taking Panax by mouth seems to improve lung function and some symptoms of COPD.
7. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Several studies show that American ginseng lowers blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, working to improve diabetes symptoms.
One study done at the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit in the United Kingdom found that Panax causes a reduction in blood glucose levels one hour after the consumption of glucose, confirming that ginseng possesses glucoregulatory properties.
One of the primary difficulties with type 2 diabetes is that the body is not responsive enough to insulin. Another study indicates that Korean red ginseng improves insulin sensitivity, further explaining the herb’s ability to help lower blood sugar levels and aid those struggling with type 2 diabetes.
8. May Help Fight Cancer
Research has shown that ginseng possesses powerful anticancer properties because of its ability to inhibit tumor growth. Although more research is needed on this subject, reports conclude that the improvements in cell immunity involving T cells and NK cells (natural killer cells) — along with other mechanisms such as oxidative stress, apoptosis and angiogenesis — give this herb its anticancer properties.
Scientific reviews state that ginseng mitigates cancer through anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and apoptotic mechanisms to influence gene expression and stop tumor growth.
This shows thisherb may work as a natural cancer preventer. A number of studies have focused on ginseng’s particular effect on colorectal cancer as about one in 21 people in the U.S. will get colorectal cancer during his or her lifetime.
Researchers treated human colorectal cancer cells with steamed ginseng berry extract and found the anti-proliferation effects were 98 percent for HCT-116 and 99 percent for SW-480 cells. When researchers tested steamed American ginseng root, they found results comparable to that of the steamed berry extract.
9. Boosts the Immune System
Another well-researched ginseng benefit is its ability to boost the immune system — helping the body fight off infection and disease. The roots, stems and leaves have been used for maintaining immune homeostasis and enhancing resistance to illness or infection.
Several clinical studies have shown that American ginseng improves the performance of cells that play a role in immunity. It regulates each type of immune cell, including macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells and B cells.
Ginseng extracts produce antimicrobial compounds that work as a defense mechanism against bacterial and viral infections. Studies show that its polyacetylene compounds are effective against bacterial infections.
Research involving mice showed that ginseng decreased the number of bacteria present in the spleens, kidney and blood. Ginseng extracts also protected mice from septic death due to inflammation.
Reports show that this herb also has inhibitory effects on the growth of many viruses, including influenza, HIV and rotavirus.
10. Relieve Menopause Symptoms
Pesky symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depressive symptoms, vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive, weight gain, insomnia and thinning hair, tend to accompany menopause. Some evidence suggests that ginseng can help decrease the severity and occurrence of these symptoms as part of a natural menopause treatment plan.
A systematic review of randomized clinical trials found that in three different trials Korean red ginseng had the efficacy to boost sexual arousal in menopausal women, increase well-being and general health while decreasing depressive symptoms, and better improve menopause symptoms on the Kupperman index and Menopausal Rating Scale compared to the placebo group. A fourth study found no significant difference in the frequency of hot flashes between the ginseng and placebo group.
How to Add to Diet
Ginseng products are made from the root and the offshoots that are called root hairs. You can find the herb in dried, powdered, capsule and tablet forms.
It is also available in a number of combination formulas. However, be aware that Panax ginseng products aren’t always what they claim. The contents of products labeled as containing Panax can vary greatly, and some may contain little or no Panax.
Be sure to read the ingredient labels carefully, and always purchase products from a reputable and reliable company. When buying Asian ginseng, look for Korean, red or Penax ginseng. When buying the American variety, look for Panax quinquefolius.
Want to add ginseng to your daily diet? Try making your own ginseng tea.
In China, people have been drinking ginseng tea for 5,000 years. In Chinese herbal medicine, practitioners recommend that adults over 40 drink one cup every day.
Ginseng tea, just like ginseng supplements and extracts, is used to improve your mental power and memory. When making the tea, first choose the type of ginseng you want to use: American (which is better during hotter months) or Korean (better during colder months).
You can buy ginseng tea bags from your local food store, but making it yourself from the root of the plant is the most beneficial form.
- You can use the fresh root, but this may be hard to find, so using the powered or dried root works too.
- Start by peeling the root if you are using it.
- Take one tablespoon of root shavings or the powdered root, and put it into a metal tea ball or filter.
- Bring water to a boil, and then turn it off — letting the water cool for 2–3 minutes.
- Pour the water into a tea cup, and sink the tea ball or filter into the cup. Let it steep for 5 minutes or longer.
- After drinking the tea, you can even eat the shavings to optimize the effects.
Proper dosing is an important factor for ginseng use. The following ginseng doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For type 2 diabetes, the usual effective dose seems to be 200 milligrams daily.
- For erectile dysfunction, 900 milligrams of Panax three times daily is what researchers have found useful.
- For premature ejaculation, apply SS-Cream, containing Panax and other ingredients, to the penis one hour before intercourse, and wash off before intercourse.
- For stress, tension or fatigue, take 1 gram daily or 500 milligrams twice daily.
Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
The side effects from ginseng are generally mild in healthy adults. It can act as a stimulant in some people, so it may cause nervousness and insomnia (especially in large doses).
Long-term use or high doses may cause headaches, dizziness and stomachaches. Women who use it regularly may experience menstrual changes and vaginal bleeding, and there have also been some reports of allergic reactions to the herb.
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, ginseng is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
This herb may affect blood sugar levels, so people taking drugs for diabetes shouldn’t use it without talking to their health care providers first. It can interact with warfarin coumadin and some medicines for depression.
Caffeine may amplify its stimulant effects as well.
There is some concern that Panax increases symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as MS, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, so patients with those conditions should consult with their doctors before and while taking this supplement. It may also interfere with blood clotting and shouldn’t be taken by those with bleeding conditions.
People who have had organ transplants may not want to take it because it could increase the risk of organ rejection.
Ginseng may interact with female hormone-sensitive illnesses, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis and uterine fibroids, because it has estrogen-like effects.
It also may interact with the following medications:
- Medications for diabetes
- Blood-thinning medications (including warfarin coumadin)
- Antipsychotic medications
Research shows that excessive use can lead to ginseng abuse syndrome, which has been associated with:
- affective disorder
- cardiovascular and renal toxicity
- genital organ bleeding
- high blood pressure
- reproductive toxicity
To avoid side effects from this herb, some experts suggest not taking it for more than three to six months at a time. If need be, your doctor may recommend that you take a break and then begin to take it again for a few weeks or months.
- Ginseng is a plant that was originally used as an herbal medicine in ancient China. Today, it’s marketed in over 35 countries, and sales exceed $2 billion, half coming from South Korea.
- The true plant belongs only to the Panax genus, so other species, such as Siberian and crown prince, have distinctively different functions.
- This herb contains various pharmacological components, including a series of tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins (ginsenosides), polyacetylenes, polyphenolic compounds and acidic polysaccharides. It’s known for its ability to boost mood, support the immune system and cognitive health, reduce inflammation, and more.
- You can find herbal medicines like this in several forms, including powder, capsules and tea. Be careful with dosage when using the plant, as excessive use can lead to adverse effects, including vaginal bleeding, high blood pressure and altered blood sugar levels.
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