Health Benefits of Ginseng
Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal supplements in the US, perhaps most well known for its traditional use of boosting memory and energy levels. However, it has many other uses. For starters, ginseng is considered an adaptogen, which means it helps your body to withstand mental and physical stress.
Delving further into the benefits first requires understanding the different typesof ginseng available. There are three major varieties, each with unique attributes, although only two are actually ginseng:
• American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius): This tan, gnarled root contains ginsenosides, which are thought to be responsible for many of its medicinal properties. Chinese medicine, which has used ginseng for thousands of years, considers American ginseng a "cool" calming tonic.1
• Asian ginseng ((Panax ginseng): Sometimes referred to as Korean ginseng, Asian ginseng also contains ginsenosides, although in different proportions than American ginseng, and is considered an adaptogenic herb. According to Chinese medicine, Asian ginseng is a "hot" stimulant.2
• Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng and does not contain ginsenosides. Its active components are called eleutherosides, which are thought to stimulate your immune system.
Like American and Asian ginseng, however, Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen that's traditionally been used to increase energy, stimulate the immune system, and increase longevity.3
What Are the Health Benefits of American Ginseng?
American ginseng cannot be used for medicinal purposes until it's at least six years old (the wrinkles around the neck of the root reveal its age). Due to overharvesting, American ginseng is endangered in the wild and quite expensive to purchase, although it's also grown on farms now as well.4
Most research to date has involved Asian ginseng, however the studies that have been done on the American variety suggest it may boost your immune system, function as an antioxidant and also benefit inflammatory conditions. It may also be useful as an all-around stress tonic. According to research published in the Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants:5
"[American] Ginseng is traditionally reputed to regularize bodily functions and relieve many ailments resulting from physiological stress. Beneficial effects are thought to be due to a non-specific influence on production and use of regulatory hormones.
As an 'adaptogen', ginseng exhibits anti-fatigue, anti-stress, and anti-aging activity, as well as general improvement of mental and physical performance, 'recognized in therapeutic claims permitted by a plethora of international regulatory constituencies."
Additional benefits include:
What Are the Health Benefits of Asian Ginseng?
If you're wondering which type of ginseng is right for you, consider this: if you're seeking an herb to calm stress-related problems, American ginseng is the "cooling" or "calming" version of the two. Asian ginseng is regarded as heating and is not generally recommended for stress relief.
Differences in levels of the eight major ginsenosides are thought to account for the plants' varying characteristics. For example, Asian ginseng contain similar quantities of the ginsenosides Rb1 and Rg1, while American ginseng has very little Rg1. Rg1 is regarded as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, fatigue fighter, enhancer of mental performance.
For comparison, Rb1 is a CNS depressant with tranquilizing and anti-psychotic properties. As written in the journal Phytochemistry:15
"Since American ginseng has a lower ratio of Rg1/Rb1, it seems to calm the CNS. In contrast, Asian ginseng appears to stimulate the CNS."
Also, while American ginseng appears promising for type 2 diabetes, the results are less clear for Asian ginseng. While some research suggests a benefit for diabetes, other studies have found it could raise blood sugar levels, so this is an area that needs further study.16 With that in mind, what else might Asian ginseng be beneficial for?
What Is Siberian Ginseng Used For?
As mentioned, Siberian ginseng is not true ginseng, although it is often confused with the herb. The main uses of Siberian ginseng are immune-system stimulation, to increase energy and vitality and also as an adaptogenic herb used during times of stress.
Siberian ginseng has also been found to have anti-viral properties, and reduced the number of herpes outbreaks among people with the herpes simplex virus type 2.27 Germany's Commission E has approved Siberian ginseng "as a tonic for invigoration and fortification in times of fatigue and debility or declining capacity for work and concentration. Ginseng was also approved for use during convalescence."28
Tips for Using Ginseng
Short-term use of ginseng is considered to be safe among adults. Asian ginseng is best taken in cycles, such as every day for two to three weeks, then taking a break for two to three weeks. In choosing a supplement, fermented ginseng may provide faster, more consistent absorption compared to non-fermented varieties. And if you choose Asian ginseng, look for the unpeeled variety (sometimes called red ginseng), as it will retain more of its bioactive compounds.
While generally safe, if taken in high doses, ginseng may lead to nervousness or insomnia. You should also use caution using ginseng if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you're taking certain medications, including:29
A nutritious herb, Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant with fleshy roots that typically grows in Northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia. While it also is believed to be a powerful natural aphrodisiac and tonic, here are the plant’s top health benefits:
1) Aiding in type 2 diabetes: Studies on American Ginseng have found that the intake of ginseng may improve blood sugar control by creating sugar-lowering effects in fasting and after-meal blood sugar levels. The effect was noticed even in average blood sugar levels over a three-month period.
2) For weight control: An extract from the ginseng berry is believed to be effective against obesity and helpful with weight control. Ginseng tea works as a natural appetite suppressant.
3) Physical/mental health stimulant: Ginseng is believed to be a good tonic that benefits one’s stamina and helps boost energy levels. It helps athletes use oxygen more effectively, and it is believed to regulate metabolism, which can increase energy levels. Consumption of ginseng can also help athletes lower their recovery time and reduce stress. In addition,ginseng tea can act as a stimulant for the brain cells and help improve concentration and thinking ability.
4) Male sexual function: Consuming ginseng tea can help men lessen the symptoms of sex related conditions like erectile dysfunction. Korean Red Ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function. However, be sure to discuss this with your doctor before taking; ginsengmay interact with other drugs or cause allergic reactions.
5) Menstrual problems: Young women who suffer from menstrual cramps and distress are advised to take American Ginseng Tea. It is also believed to lessen stomach pain associated with menstruation.