Ginseng Benefits And Information: Ginseng As A Powerful Adaptogen!
Ginseng is an herb that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. The Chinese believed that using ginseng regularly would promote longevity and improve mental and physical health. There are two related species marketed as “ginseng”: Panax ginseng (Asian Ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius(American Ginseng).
Both are perennial herbs with thick, pale yellowish-brown roots that often resemble a human body. The roots can be used to produce either white or red ginseng. The difference in color is due to the processing: white ginseng is simply dried after harvesting, while red ginseng is steamed before drying.
Ginseng is marketed primarily as an adaptogen, to improve stamina, immunity and tolerance to stress. It’s also claimed that ginseng can enhance libido and athletic performance.
The active ingredients in ginseng are triterpene glycosides known collectively as “ginsenosides.” Experiments on ginsenosides have shown they may have neuroprotective, hypoglycemic, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing effects—although human (and larger animal) clinical trials with isolated ginsenosides are lacking.
There are, however, plenty of human studies using the herb itself (dried roots or standardized extracts). Ginseng has been investigated for…
- athletic performance – studies have had mixed results, although the majority of the ones I found were negative. Ginseng supplementation did not enhance peak or graded aerobic performance—nor supramaximal exercise performance. Ginseng supplementation did, however, reduce post-workout creatine kinase levels (a measure of muscle damage) and psychomotor performance (reaction time) during graded exercise.
- immune system enhancement – ginseng gets more positive marks for boosting immunity, particularly with respect to upper respiratory illness. For example, one standardized extract of American ginseng, marketed as “Cold-fX”, was reported to decrease the risk and severity of colds. Although some methodological issues were raised, Cold-fX was given a moderately positive review by the normally skeptical U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter. Although other studies have shown ginseng is little help for exercise-induced immune suppression, it may potentiate the immune response to vaccines in both humans and animals.
- erectile dysfunction (ED) – ginseng (especially Korean Red Ginseng) appears to be helpful for treating ED. This may be due to the fact that ginsenosides can induce nitric-oxide mediated vasodilation.
- glycemic control – two studies on Korean red ginseng and American ginseng suggest that the herb can reduce post-prandial glycemia in Type 2 diabetics. Results with other ginseng preparations have been variable, however, and may be due to differences in lthe amounts of various ginsenosides.
- cancer – while cell culture studies suggest ginsenosides may have anti-cancer activities, there are no credible human studies.Thus, it’s premature to suggest that ginseng can treat or prevent this disease. Nonetheless, it may help reduce fatigue and improve quality of life in cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment.
- mood and menopausal support – ginseng may also have modest effects on menopausal symptoms. In one study, women taking 6g of Korean Red Ginseng/day for 30 days improved their scores on tests for fatigue, insomnia and depression. Women taking a standardized ginseng extract also experienced improvement on tests measuring quality of life.
Ginseng is available in capsules, tablets, tinctures and teas. To be effective, a ginseng product should be standardized for ginsenosides.
The most potent teas are made from wild mountain root ginseng known as jilin root or ji lin shen.
People searching for products may also encounter “Siberian ginseng.” Despite the name, this is an unrelated species, Eleutherococcus senticosus (aka “Eleuthero”).
Although there’s some overlap in their effects, it’s important to note that the studies cited above apply to Asian and American ginsengs only.
While ginseng is generally a safe herb to take, some people find that higher doses cause agitation, insomnia or diarrhea. People with medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes should talk to their medical providers before using ginseng to treat these conditions. Ginseng may also interfere with blood-thinning medications such as warfarin.
Looking to experiment with ginseng? The Paradise Herbs brand Panax Ginseng is standardized for ginsenosides and is available from our recommended online retailer, BodyBuilding.com.