Ginseng, an “adaptogen,” is revered all over the world for its abilities as an immune booster, mind enhancer, protector of the heart and its functions, and veritable stress reliever. Herbalists call ginseng a “normalizing” or “restorative” agent and suggest it automatically goes wherever the body needs support.
Chinese ginseng, American ginseng, Asian ginseng, Korean ginseng, red ginseng
Ginseng is the most studied herb for human physical performance. Yet most people don’t know there are several species in this family of plants (the Araliaceae family), and some are better than others. When you hear the word ginseng, people usually mean panax ginseng, also known as Chinese ginseng or Korean ginseng. The root of this herb is used for its medicinal purposes.
Ginseng is most frequently used by people who are feeling fatigued, rundown, worn out, or under stress to elevate mood and protect the mind and body. Athletes may include this herb in their regimens to help delay mental and physical fatigue.
No deficiency conditions are known to exist.
Research indicates that Panax Ginseng may be useful in the treatment of:
Ginseng is the most famous Chinese herb to date; it has been used in China for over 7,000 years and is known as the herb panax, which translates as “cure all.” This herb has come to symbolize health, strength, and long life for many. It is called an “adaptogen,” which basically means it may help the body adapt to whatever life throws at it, changing to fit each person’s specific needs.
Because ginseng may help increase the absorption of oxygen, increase circulation, and fine-tune the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and thus support energy levels, it may help active people improve physical and mental performance, especially during intense training sessions. Surprisingly, although normal amounts may stimulate the body and help relieve fatigue, excess amounts have the opposite effect — basically that of sedation.
As a “universal remedy,” the list of what ginseng may help with is a long one. The first is ginseng’s potential ability to help boost the immune system. Studies have shown that long-term use of ginseng may inhibit the natural age-related decline in immunity and protect against infectious diseases by helping the body fight free radicals and reducing the harmful effects of stress on the body.
Second, ginseng may help fight cancer. It is believed by some experts to help inhibit the growth of existing tumors by reducing the effects of stress on the organs, stimulating the immune system, and fighting free radicals. Studies show that ginseng may also help protect against the damage caused by radiation exposure by not only helping restore and fortify the body after exposure but also by helping the damaged systems heal.
By helping reduce total cholesterol and raise good cholesterol (HDL), ginseng may help protect the heart. In addition, hospitals in China have used ginseng to help restore blood pressure to acceptable levels and normalize heat function after stressful events, such as a heart attack.
The next category is ginseng’s potential to increase mental power. Ginseng is believed to directly affect the brain and its ability to function. Studies have shown it may help delay the onset of mental and physical fatigue by boosting immune function and strengthening the central nervous system.
Finally, ginseng has been shown to help improve the body’s resistance to stress by balancing our natural “stress hormones.” In studies around the world, ginseng has been shown to help the body cope with extreme physical and mental stress.
As the popularity of ginseng grows, the list of effects is sure to grow as well. Currently, there are studies in progress to determine if ginseng may promote sexual desire or treat the adverse symptoms of menopause.
Ingested by many athletes to improve both stamina and enhance recovery from injuries, ginseng has been suggested to potentially have a positive effect on the anabolic (muscle-building) hormones. However, one recent study published found that doesn’t appear to be the case. Eight male college students were given either water or ginseng after exercising. Blood samples were taken immediately after exercise and then at four different times two hours after exercise. The researchers found that human growth hormone, testosterone, cortisol, and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) were not significantly different between the control and ginseng groups.
Today, our bodies are forced to endure excessive stress, environmental toxins, poor nutrition, and many other hazards. So it is not surprising that we are looking for something to help enhance balance and build resistance to this stress. This much is certain: with the trends toward nutritional options for improving health and optimizing performance, we’ll continue to hear a lot more about herbs such as ginseng.
Ginseng can be found in capsules. Amounts reported are between 250 mg and 500 mg of ginseng extract per day.
Although amounts of the raw herb are often dependent on age or what it’s being used for, the average use reported is 1/8 oz of the raw root in 3 cups of water. Simply add the root to the water, and boil until the liquid is reduced to one cup. Cool and then drink one cup per day. Soup is another traditional way of consuming ginseng in China. One gram of dried root is simply added to a portion of soup. (Any soup will do.) Or the root can also be eaten directly — slice the root in half-inch thick slices and then eat one or two slices per day.
Because of the growing interest in ginseng, it can now be found in gum, candy, tea, and even soft drinks. However, many of these products contain little or no ginseng and therefore have little or no benefit.
Ginseng can be taken throughout the day with or without food. However, it may have stimulating properties, and therefore, use is not recommended later in the day. Because of this potential stimulation, some experts believe ginseng shouldn’t be used with other stimulants, such as caffeine.
Herbalists report that the quality of the herb is much more important than the quantity. The best ginseng sold is reportedly called Korean red ginseng because it is regulated by the Korean government. (No other ginseng is regulated.)
The actual potency of the root is measured by the amount of a substance called “ginsenoside” that is found in ginseng. Some of the highest quality ginseng contains four to seven percent ginsenoside. The easiest way for an average person to find a quality product is to look for those that contain the “whole root.” Often, but not always, the more pricey ginseng tends to be the most potent, and therefore, less is needed to get results.
No synergists have been noted.
Because ginseng may help balance blood-sugar levels, diabetics, especially those who use insulin, may want to check with their physicians before using this herb.
Prolonged use of ginseng may lead to high blood pressure. Ginseng is not recommended for people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.
If pregnant or breast feeding, panax ginseng is not recommended.
Chinese doctors advise against taking ginseng while you have a fever, cold, or flu. However, they do recommend using ginseng after the illness to help recover.
Ginseng may decrease the effects of the blood-thinning medication Warfarin.
Excessive amounts of ginseng may cause insomnia, bloody noses, headaches, nervousness, diarrhea, skin eruptions, and vomiting.