This begins a three-part look at ginseng, an ancient herb with a substantial medicinal history. The question is: does ginseng hold up to our studies these days? Here is an introduction to the major types of ginseng, as well as a look at how it may improve physical performance.
I suppose before we address that issue, we should separate ginseng into three types — an important differentiation. On the market you’ll find three varieties: American; Panax; and Siberian. Each type of ginseng contains different active ingredients, which account for the somewhat different ways they work in the body.
1. American ginseng: This variety contains “ginsenosides,” its active ingredient that is said to work to lower blood sugar, act as an estrogen, reduce cancer growth, boost immune function, improve memory, and reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
2. Panax ginseng: This variety is either Chinese or Korean ginseng, and will typically be labeled as one or the other. Its active ingredients are ginsenosides, pectin, B-vitamins, flavonoids, and panaxans. Together, they are said to work to lower blood sugar, protect brain cells, relax smooth muscle in the throat and lungs, relieve stress, stop cancer cells from growing, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, act as estrogen, and fight viral and fungal infections.
3. Siberian ginseng: Its active ingredients include eleutherosides A-M, vitamin E, and provitamins such as beta-carotene. They are said to act as antioxidants, help prevent stroke, boost the immune system, lower (or raise, if necessary) blood sugar, and help prevent blocked arteries.
Ginseng is the most-studied herb for physical performance. Panax ginseng was used most often. Major improvements in physical performance come with higher doses — above two grams a day of dried ginseng root — over periods of time longer than two months. Conversely, ginseng failed to show any benefits in physical performance when studies used lower doses for a shorter period of time.
Overall, this suggests that you’ll need a good dose each day, for a few months, before you can expect results in endurance, aerobic capacity, and other measures of your performance. Ginseng can be an important herb for people who need to exercise, but who have a condition that tires them out.
Find out more about ginseng and other herbs by reading the article, Using Herbal Medicines Safely.