One great herbal cure comes to us in the form of ginseng. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, this powerful herb is thought to balance both yin and yang.
You will also find evidence that ginseng benefits weight loss efforts, reduces inflammation, improves brain function, increases energy, boosts immunity, and lowers blood sugar.
Other health benefits of ginseng reportedly include treating erectile dysfunction, preventing and treating cancer, treating menopausal symptoms, and improving quality of life overall.
Ginseng is a slow-growing plant with a fleshy root that can be classified according to how long it is grown. For instance, red ginseng is harvested after six or more years; white ginseng is harvested from between four and six years; and fresh ginseng is harvested before four years.
There are 11 species of ginseng; however, the most popular types include Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
In this article, we will take a closer look at ginseng health benefits, side effects, and how to take it. Let’s get started…
Benefits of Ginseng
What are the benefits of ginseng? Ginseng root health benefits are attributed to two significant compounds—gintonin and ginsenosides. Be aware that when you buy supplements, you should make sure they are standardized to contain around four percent to seven percent ginsenosides, which are a series of tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins.
Ginseng also contains polyphenolic compounds, polyacetylenes, and acidic polysaccharides.
In Greek, panax, the plant’s botanical name, means “all-healing.” In this section, we will examine the many ginseng health benefits and the ways in which ginseng heals.
1. Improves Mood and Reduces Stress
Ginseng benefits your mood and reduces stress levels, according to research. It’s considered a great remedy for promoting calmness and treating chronic stress and conditions such as depression, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue.
One study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology in 2010 found that 200 mg of ginseng would slow the reduction of mood and 400 mg of ginseng would improve calmness and enhance math skills during eight days of treatment.
Another study published in the Journal of Pharmacology Science in 2003 found that 100 mg of P. ginseng had significant anti-stress properties, and therefore could be used to treat stress-induced disorders.
2. Improves Brain Function
Ginseng also helps improve brain function, and this can have a positive effect on memory, concentration, and behavior. As a result, ginseng benefits may extend to people with Alzheimer’s disease and ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).
A study published in the journal Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders in 2008 showed that taking P. ginseng root for 12 weeks improved cognitive performance in those with Alzheimer’s disease. These improvements continued for the entire study; however, the improvements eventually declined to the level of the control group.
Another study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience in 2012 found that 4.5 g of ginseng daily demonstrated a positive effect on cognitive function and behavioral symptoms in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease.
A 12-week study suggests that Korean red ginseng benefits patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well. Another study found that Korean red ginseng improved cognitive deficit in Alzheimer’s disease that had been sustained two years after treatment, which indicates the long-term benefits of ginseng for Alzheimer’s disease.
Other studies show that components in ginseng like compound K and ginsenosides can also protect the brain against free radical damage.
3. Lowers Inflammation
Ginseng is also often used to lower inflammation due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2012 suggested that taking 60 mg of Korean red ginseng daily for one year had a stabilizing effect on the inflammatory cytokines in children with cancer after chemotherapy.
A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine in 2011 found that 100 mg of Korean red ginseng extract daily for seven days significantly lowered inflammation and improved damage already done to the brains of rats.
Another study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2013 discovered that Korean red ginseng reduced the nasal allergic inflammatory reaction in 40 mice with allergic rhinitis—a common upper-airway inflammatory disease with symptoms such as sneezing, nasal itching, and congestion.
A study published in the journal Immune Network in 2011 found that Korean red ginseng extract had decreased inflammation and boosted antioxidant activity in the skin cells of people with eczema.
4. Helps with Weight Loss
Ginseng could also help with weight loss as a natural appetite suppressant that can boost metabolism. One study published in the journal Phytomedicine in 2002 measured the anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of P. ginseng berry in adult mice.
For the study, the mice were injected with 150 mg per kilogram of body weight of ginseng berry extract for a 12-day timeframe. The mice treated with ginseng berry had started at a weight of 51 g and dropped to 45 g.
A similar study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research in 2009 suggests that P. ginseng improves the management of obesity and related metabolic syndromes.
5. Increases Energy
Ginseng has also been found to boost energy and fight fatigue. Animal studies have linked the oligopeptides and polysaccharides in ginseng with higher energy production in cells and lower oxidative stress, and this can help fight fatigue.
One four-week study published in the journal PLOS One in 2013 found that P. ginseng had led to less physical and mental fatigue and a reduction in oxidative stress. For the study, either one or two grams of ginseng or a placebo had been given to 90 chronic fatigue patients.
Another 2013 study found that American ginseng had significantly reduced fatigue levels in 364 cancer survivors experiencing fatigue who were given 2,000 mg of ginseng or a placebo.
A meta-analysis of 155 studies published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science in 2016 suggested that ginseng supplements may lower fatigue and enhance physical activity.
6. May Prevent and Treat Cancer
The anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of ginseng may also inhibit tumor growth.
A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine in 2008 found that steamed American ginseng root and steamed ginseng berry extract had anti-proliferation effects on human colorectal cancer cells, such as HCT-116 cells and SW-480 cells. The effect was 98% for HCT-116 cells and 99% for SW-480 cells.
A meta-analysis of nine studies published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2016 concluded that people taking ginseng may have a 16% lower risk of developing cancer.
Another observational study also suggested that participants taking ginseng had a reduced risk of developing specific cancers, including mouth, lip, stomach, esophagus, liver, colon, and lung cancer, compared to those who hadn’t taken ginseng.
7. Treats Erectile Dysfunction
Research also shows that powdered Korean red ginseng improves sexual arousal and treats erectile dysfunction in men. One study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology in 2007 found that 3,000 mg of Korean red ginseng daily can be an effective alternative in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
Moreover, a systematic review of 28 randomized studies published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2008 presented evidence that Korean red ginseng is effective in the treatment for erectile dysfunction.
That being said, the researchers believe more rigorous studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions. Of the 28 studies reviewed, six had reported an improvement in erectile function in patients treated with red ginseng compared to a placebo.
Another 2002 study indicated that ginseng’s ginsenoside components facilitate penile erections by directly inducing relaxation and vasodilatation of erectile tissue. The release of nitric oxide from perivascular nerves and endothelial cells are what directly affect the erectile tissue.
8. Lowers Blood Sugar
A number of studies suggest that ginseng reduces blood sugar levels in those with and without type 2 diabetes. It is the ginsenosides in ginseng that may affect insulin production and improve insulin resistance.
A 2000 study found that non-diabetic individuals who took American ginseng before or together with a high-sugar drink showed less of an increase in blood sugar levels.
Another study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2006 found that P. ginseng lowers blood sugar levels one hour after consumption when ingested without sugar, which demonstrates the glucose-regulating effects of ginseng.
A 2013 study also found that Korean red ginseng improved insulin sensitivity, and this is further evidence that ginseng can help reduce blood sugar levels and help treat type 2 diabetes.
A study published in the journal Phytomedicine in 2002 measured the anti-diabetic effects of P. ginseng berry in adult mice. At the five-day mark, ginseng extract had significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels, while at the end of the study, overall blood sugar levels were reduced by 53%.
9. Boosts the Immune System
Another benefit of ginseng is its ability to strengthen your immune system and fight off infections and disease.
Several studies show that American ginseng improves the performance of cells that play a role in immunity. Ginseng is able to regulate various immune cells, including dendritic cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, B cells, and T cells.
The antimicrobial compounds in ginseng extracts help protect against viral and bacterial infections. Research also shows that the polyacetylene compounds in ginseng are effective against bacterial infections.
In one study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2012, researchers found that ginseng reduced the number of bacteria present in the kidney, spleen, and blood of mice. In the study, ginseng extracts had also protected the mice from septic death due to inflammation.
Reports also show that ginseng can help inhibit viruses including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and rotavirus.
Research also found that ginseng had significantly reduced lung bacteria and stopped the growth of a common lung infection called cystic fibrosis. Ginseng can also treat the lung disease known as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
10. Treats Menopausal Symptoms
There are many symptoms that accompany menopause, including night sweats, hot flashes, anxiety, depressive symptoms, irritability, mood swings, weight gain, thinning hair, insomnia, and a reduced sex drive.
A systematic review of randomized studies published in the Journal of Ginseng Research in 2013 found that Korean red ginseng had effectively increased sexual arousal and general health and well-being in menopausal women. The ginseng also reduced depressive symptoms.
Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2014 suggested that Korean red ginseng may reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activity in postmenopausal women.
How Much Ginseng Should You Have?
What is the best dosage of ginseng? Researchers have found that 900 mg of P. ginseng three times daily is effective for erectile dysfunction. For premature ejaculation, an SS-Cream with P. ginseng can be applied to the penis an hour before sex and washed off right before sex.
In type 2 diabetes cases, 200 mg daily is often the effective dosage. Also, for reduction of tension, fatigue, and stress, take one gram of ginseng daily, or 500 mg twice daily.
Risks and Side Effects of Taking Ginseng
Ginseng is often safe and doesn’t produce any serious side effects; however, there are potential side effects to consider. For instance, ginseng can act like a stimulant and cause insomnia and nervousness in large doses. High doses or long-term use of ginseng may also cause stomachaches, headaches, and dizziness.
Other potential side effects include irritability, edema, bleeding, severe skin reactions, dry mouth, a reduced heart rate, delirium, seizures, convulsions, and digestive problems like diarrhea.
Since ginseng may lower blood sugar, you should not take drugs for diabetes along with ginseng without consulting your doctor first. P. ginseng may also increase symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis; therefore, it’s important to consult your doctor before taking ginseng.
People who have had organ transplants will also want to avoid ginseng since it may increase the risk of organ rejection. Those with bleeding conditions should also avoid it because it may interfere with blood clotting.
Ginseng may also interact with diabetic medications, antidepressants, blood-thinning drugs, stimulants, morphine, and antipsychotic medications. Caffeine may increase the stimulant effects of ginseng, and lead to possible sweating, a rapid heartbeat, and insomnia.
Ginseng is also not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Excessive ginseng use can lead to gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in men), genital organ bleeding, cardiovascular and renal (kidney) toxicity, allergies, affective disorder, hypertension, reproductive toxicity, and hepatotoxicity (liver damage).
Some experts suggest not taking ginseng for more than three to six months consecutively to avoid ginseng side effects. Your health practitioner may recommend you take a break from ginseng before taking it again for another few weeks or months.
Final Thoughts on Ginseng
Ginseng has been an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Many of the health benefits of ginseng are due to two significant compounds—ginsenosides and gintonin.
Ginseng not only balances yin and yang, but also benefits people with issues concerning weight loss, brain function, immunity, energy, inflammation, and high blood sugar.
When taking ginseng, it is a good idea to consult with a herbalist or traditional Chinese medicine doctor. They will also be able to recommend the best dosage of ginseng for your particular condition.
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