Ginseng: Snapshot


Ginseng, of either variety, helps the body better utilize oxygen, spares glycogen utilization, increases cerebral circulation, helps the adrenal glands to better conserve their stores of vitamin C, aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels, helps balance hormone levels in men and women, reduces LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels while elevating HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels, and aids in the production of DNA, RNA, interferon, and red and white blood cells.

It can improve stamina, reaction time, and concentration, which make it useful for such pursuits as studying, taking tests, long-distance driving, and meditating. It also speeds recovery time from sickness, surgery, childbirth, athletic performance, and other stressors to the body.

Botanical Name

Panax ginseng

Part Used

Root (mainly), Leaf.

Common Names

Korean Ginseng, Chinese Ginseng, Ren Shen (Chinese); Ginseng (German); ginseng (French); ginseng (Italian)

Cultivation

Panax ginseng in flowerGinseng is native to northeastern China, eastern Russia, and North Korea, but is now extremely rare in the wild. Ginseng cultivation requires great skill. It is propagated from seed in spring and needs rich, moist, but well-drained soil. The plant takes at least four years to mature. The root is then typically harvested in autumn, washed, and steamed before being dried.

Brief History

Ginseng is the most famous Chinese herb of all. It has been valued for its remarkable therapeutic benefits for about 8,000 years and was so revered that wars were fought for control of the forests in which it thrived. An Arabian physician brought ginseng back to Europe in the 9th century, yet its ability to improve stamina and resistance to stress became common knowledge in the West only in the 18th century. It was used extensively by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War to improve recovery from gunshot wounds.

The name Panax comes from the Greek pan-axos meaning all-healing. It is from the same word as panacea, which means cure-all.

Older Chinese men will buy the most expensive pieces of root that they can afford. The root is sold in balsa-wood boxes, sometimes lined with lead to “preserve the radiations emitting from the root”. Inside, the root itself is carefully wrapped in silk or tissue paper. It will be taken home, and nugget-sized pieces will be boiled in a little silver kettle designed specifically for the purpose. Or the root may be kept in brandy for years, the family eking out the precious liquid by taking it in little sips and offering a little to the most honoured guests.

Constituents

triterpenoid saponins, ginsenosides, acetylenic compounds, panaxans, sesquiterpenes

Therapeutic Properties

Adaptogenic (increases adaptation and resistance to stress). Ginseng increases plasma levels of corticosterone, exerts nootropic effect (increases cognitive function), immunomodulant (chiefly by stimulating the activity of T-lymphocytes and the interferon production), antihyperglycemic and cholesterol reducing, liver protective, platelet aggregation inhibitor, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and peripheral vasodilatory effects. All the mentioned constituents contribute to the overall effect, particularly ginsenosides and panaxanes.

Vitalist Properties

Temperature: Warming

Moisture: Dry

Therapeutic Indications

Weakness, loss of physical stamina, exhaustion, tiredness, diminished concentration, memory or psychomotor activity, chronic immune deficiency, depression, any chronic condition including ageing, infirmity or convalescence, cancer prevention and supportive treatment, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease including asthma, emphysema, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, erectile dysfunction, menopausal symptoms

Primary Use

Anxiety

Ginseng therapy may prevent the onset of nervous unrest during treatment with morphine. It has been shown to be slightly more effective than a placebo at improving sleep and mood and lessening fatigue.

Cancer

A study performed in South Korea followed 4,587 men and women aged thirty-nine years and older from 1987 to 1991. Individuals who consumed ginseng regularly were compared with similar people who did not. It was reported that in that time, those who used ginseng had a 50 percent lower incidence of death from cancer, especially lung and stomach cancer.

Experiments in China found that when ginseng therapy was combined with traditional radiation and chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer, longevity was extended by three to seventeen years. (The researchers in the study abandoned the controls in their research design when they began getting astonishing results from the treatment, so technically, their results should be regarded as potential rather than proven.)

A Korean study found that ginseng destroys lung cancer cells that are resistant to the standard chemotherapy drug cisplatin (Platinol) in cell line studies. Although ginseng therapy does not shrink melanoma tumours, it does appear to keep them from developing a blood supply for further growth. In animal studies, a compound called ginsan, found in ginseng, retarded the growth of melanoma at dosages far lower than those that might cause a toxic reaction.

Polyacetylinic alcohol, another compound found in ginseng, retards cell reproduction in tumours and increases the effectiveness of the drug mitomycin (Mutamycin) in the treatment of stomach cancer.

Ginsenosides have been found to induce cell differentiation, a prelude to natural cell death, in human leukaemia cells. Clinical studies have found that ginseng protects cells in the digestive tract from injury during radiation therapy. A study of 1,987 people concluded that regular ginseng use lowers the risk of developing many types of cancer.

Chronic fatigue and stamina

Ginseng has been shown to increase natural killer (NK) cells in those with chronic fatigue or AIDS. Regarding stamina during exercise, one study found that participants who took 200 milligrammes of a standardised 7 percent P. ginseng for three weeks experienced an increase in their heart rate and they were able to sustain aerobic exercise for a longer period. Although the results were not significant, ginseng may offer some benefit to those with fatigue or who engage in regular exercise.

Cognitive ability

In one study, conducted over a period of eight to nine weeks, a group of individuals treated with 400 milligrammes of P. ginseng daily showed significant improvement in abstract thinking. Other studies have found that treatment with ginseng improved the ability to complete a detail-oriented editing task and to perform mental arithmetic, and improved memory, attention, concentration, and the general ability to cope.

In one study, young healthy college students who took 100 milligrammes of ginseng experienced an improvement in rapid visual information processing and the speed at which they were able to subtract numbers.

In another study, using 200 milligrammes a day of ginseng also improved subtraction performance and reduced mental fatigue in young adults.

In another study, participants (aged around forty years) took 400 milligrammes of ginseng for eight weeks and had slightly improved abstract thinking and faster simple reaction times. Compared to a placebo group, there was no benefit of ginseng on concentration and memory in this study.

Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes often find that after two weeks of taking ginseng tea, their blood sugar levels go down by between 40 and 50 milligrammes per deciliter (mg/dL). Studies also have found that taking 100 or 200 milligrammes of ginseng in a capsule elevated mood and reduced fasting blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Ginseng may reduce insulin requirements and prolong the effect of injected insulin. If you have diabetes, you should take ginseng only under a physician’s supervision.

Hangover

Ginseng enhances the breakdown of alcohol in the body. In combination with other herbs, it can help reverse alcohol-induced damage to brain cells in laboratory tests.

Erectile dysfunction, infertility, and diminished sex drive

Ginseng’s traditional and best-known use as an aphrodisiac for men has been confirmed by research. Chemicals in ginseng stimulate the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus to direct the production of hormones that stimulate cell growth and healing in the sex organs. Ginseng also promotes better blood circulation within the penis.

A Korean study found that ginseng increases blood flow, and therefore erectile strength, by an average of about 30 percent. The amount needed to achieve this is 1,000 milligrammes three times a day. Ginseng also can be used to treat infertility in men. An Italian study of sixty men found that ginseng use increased testosterone levels, as well as the number and motility of sperm cells.

High blood pressure

Ginseng compounds relax the linings of blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. One study found that patients with high blood pressure who took 300 milligrammes of red ginseng three times a day experienced improved blood flow over twenty-four months. Blood pressure lowering was thought to be a result of increasing the synthesis of nitric oxide. In some cases, blood pressure may be increased in response to ginseng. People with high blood pressure should not take ginseng without first consulting a doctor.

Menopause-related problems

Ginseng reduces hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia, and depression associated with postmenopausal symptoms. In one study, women received 6 grammes of ginseng over thirty days. Laboratory studies indicate that it increases ovarian oestrogen production in early menopause. This means that it does not help women who have had their ovaries removed and that its benefits for menopausal complaints decrease with the affected woman’s age.

Stress

Depending upon the part of the ginseng plant that is used, the stress response varies. In some cases, stress will be reduced, and heartbeat will slow, and palms will be dry; in others, stress will be increased, heart rate will rise, and palms will be sweaty. Some forms of ginseng (non-ginsenoside Rg2 and Rg3) decrease the release of catecholamines (fight or flight hormones), which are usually released during stress.

In laboratory experiments, the herb has been found to increase the learning ability of animals under stress and to reduce nicotine-induced hyperactivity. It also reduces digestive upset caused by emotional stress and inhibits ulcer formation. Ginseng compounds may reduce the stress of anticipated pain.

Dosage (Divided Daily)

• Dried Extract: 300 – 1,200mg (80% Ginsenosides)

Dried Powder: 2,000 – 6,000mg

• Tincture: 1 – 6 mL (1:2)

Contraindications

Ginseng is contraindicated in acute asthma, signs of heat, excessive menstruation, or nose bleeds. Korean ginseng is best not used during acute infections.

Given that the clinical implications of the effect of Korean ginseng on blood pressure are not clear. Korean Ginseng should be avoided in hypertension.

Side effects

Concurrent use with stimulants such as caffeine and amphetamines should be avoided. Overstimulation may occur in susceptible patients, especially at higher doses.

Excessive doses of Korean ginseng can cause overstimulation, and symptoms of ginseng abuse syndrome (GAS) have been reported in independent studies. GAS is defined as hypertension together with nervousness, euphoria, insomnia, skin eruptions, and morning diarrhoea and is thought to be related to Korean ginseng’s interaction with glucocorticoid production in the body.

Korean ginseng may cause side effects related to an estrogen-like activity in women, thousand cases of mastalgia and postmenopausal bleeding have been reported.

Interactions with other drugs

Korean ginseng may interact with the monoamine oxidase inhibitor phenelzine and with warfarin. An experimental study using rats as the model found no significant interaction between warfarin and Korean Ginseng. Thus any such interaction is likely to be rare.


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 Bibliography
  1. Balch, Phyllis A. and Stacey J. Bell. Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd ed. New York, N.Y.: Avery, 2012.
  2. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs : herbal formulations for the individual patient. St. Louis, MI: Churchill Livingstone.
  3. Chevallier, A. (2000). Encyclopedia of herbal medicine (2nd American ed.). New York: DK Pub.
  4. Herbalpedia (2013)
  5. Mars, Brigitte. The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine : The Ultimate Multidisciplinary Reference to the Amazing Realm of Healing Plants, in a Quick-Study, One-Stop Guide. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Pub., 2007.

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.