What is Ginseng?
Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is the root of plants in the genus Panax, such as Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng, and Siberian ginseng, typically characterized by the presence of the active compounds ginsenosides and gintonin. Panax ginseng is not to be confused with other plants sometimes referred to as ginseng like American ginseng, Indian ginseng, Blue Cohosh, Canaigre, Codonopsis, Eleuthero, or Panax Notoginseng. These are different plants with different activity, yet are commonly referred to as different types of ginseng due to their similar adaptogenic properties.
Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as a tonic to improve energy, immunity, brain function, circulation, and overall health. Interestingly, the botanical genus name Panax, means "all-healing" in Greek, and shares the same origin as "panacea." This hints to the herb’s diverse ability to improve the health of a variety of body systems.
This slow-growing perennial plant is often classified in three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white or red. Fresh ginseng is harvested before it is 4 years old, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years of age, and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years. The Chinese ginseng plant contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin, both of which complement one another to provide its incredible health benefits.
What is Ginseng Used for?
Ginseng is a diverse herbal medicine with a wide range of uses. It is often used to improve energy and vitality, improve mental & physical stamina and performance, fight fatigue, improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction, strengthen the immune system, and regulate blood sugar levels, and it is often praised for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Ginseng Health Benefits
Ginseng has been praised as a top medicinal herb in Asia for thousands of years, and it has numerous health benefits.
May Enhance Cognitive Functioning
One of the ginseng’s most treasured Chinese ginseng benefits qualities is its ability to improve brain functions like memory, behavior and mood. This has long been recognized in traditional Chinese medicine, and in more recent years, has been verified by extensive scientific research.
Several test-tube and animal studies show that components in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals. One study followed 30 healthy people who consumed 200 mg of Panax ginseng daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, they showed improvement in mental health, social functioning and mood.
Another study examined how single doses of either 200 or 400 mg of Panax ginseng affected mental performance, mental fatigue and blood sugar levels in 30 healthy adults before and after a 10-minute mental test. The 200-mg dose, as opposed to the 400-mg dose, was more effective at improving mental performance and fatigue during the test. A third study found that taking 400 mg of Panax ginseng daily for eight days improved calmness and math skills.
May Boost Energy and Combat Fatigue
Ginseng has also been used traditionally to improve energy and fight fatigue. Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue.
One four-week study explored the effects of giving 1 or 2 grams of Panax ginseng or a placebo to 90 people with chronic fatigue. Those given Panax ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue, as well as reductions in oxidative stress, than those taking the placebo.
Furthermore, a review of over 155 studies suggested that ginseng supplements may not only help reduce fatigue but also enhance physical activity.
Due to the variety of benefits for the brain and energy supporting effects, our team included Panax Ginseng in our Brain Flow Tonic, a one of a kind herbal nootropic formula.
May Strengthen the Immune System
Ginseng has also been used traditionally to strengthen the immune system, and several studies seem to verify this use of the herb. One study followed 39 people who were recovering from surgery for stomach issues, treating them with 5,400 mg of ginseng daily for two years. Interestingly, these people had significant improvements in immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms.
Furthermore, a study suggested that people who take ginseng could have up to a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and up to a 38% higher survival rate compared to those not taking it.
May Act as a Powerful Adaptogen
Ginseng is known to be a powerful adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are a select group of herbs that support the body’s natural ability to deal with stress. They are called adaptogens because these herbs aid our bodies in adapting and responding to, or recovering from, both short-term and long-term physical or mental stress. Typically, adaptogenic herbs are also known to have a beneficial effect on the immune system as well. Research on adaptogens shows that they can combat fatigue, enhance mental and physical performance, and can ease depression and anxiety.
Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands—all of which are involved in the stress response. When we experience stress, whether physical or mental, our bodies go through what is called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer due to a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we can attain equilibrium and move through it.
Fights the Cold and Flu
Ginseng has been well researched for its ability to boost the immune system, which makes it useful for helping the body fight off infection and disease. Numerous studies suggest that ginseng may dramatically reduce your risk of getting a cold or flu. Two studies found that ginseng reduced the risk of getting a cold. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 323 people, those who took 400 mg of ginseng daily for 4 months had fewer colds. When they did get a cold, it was shorter and less severe than the colds of people who only took a placebo.
Supports Heart Health
Preliminary studies suggest that ginseng may improve the symptoms of heart disease in people. It also may decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. The effect that ginseng has on blood pressure is complicated and research is mixed. Some studies suggest it lowers blood pressure while others found that it causes blood pressure to rise. This has led researchers to question if ginseng increases blood pressure at usual doses, but lowers it when doses are higher. Until more conclusive research emerges, it is recommended not to take ginseng if you have high blood pressure unless approved by your doctor.
May Help to Treat Candida and Other Fungal Infections
A lesser known property of ginseng is its use as an antifungal agent. In one study the antifungal effects of ginsenosides were investigated and showed fungicidal (fungi-killing) effects toward the pathogenic fungi tested—the primary of which was Candida albicans. The results suggest that ginsenosides may exert antifungal activity by disrupting the structure of the fungal cell membrane. The study indicated that ginsenosides have considerable antifungal activity, deserving further investigation for clinical applications.
For this reason, our Zuma Nutrition team included Panax Ginseng as one of the ingredients in our Candida Cleanse Tonic.
May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Although American ginseng has been studied more than Asian ginseng for its effect on diabetes, research shows that both types of ginsengs may lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. However, in a few studies it appeared that Asian ginseng raised blood sugar levels. Some researchers believe that the ginsenosides in American ginseng might lower blood sugar while different ginsenosides in Asian ginseng could raise blood sugar levels. Until more conclusive research emerges, it is recommended not to take Asian ginseng if you have diabetes unless approved by your doctor.
May Boost Libido
Ginseng is widely believed to boost sexual performance. In animal studies, ginseng has been shown to increase sperm production, sexual activity, and sexual performance. A study in 60 men found that ginseng increased sex drive and decreased erection problems. Another study of 46 men has also shown an increase in sperm count as well as motility. Furthermore, in one study of 45 men, those who took 900 mg of Korean ginseng 3 times per day for 8 weeks had less trouble getting an erection than those who took placebo.
May Help Reduce Menopausal Symptoms
Studies on ginseng’s use for menopausal symptoms are limited, but some research suggests that it may help to reduce menopausal symptoms. Two well-designed studies evaluating red Korean ginseng suggest it may relieve some of the symptoms of menopause, improving sense of well-being and mood, particularly feelings of depression.
Ginseng Has Potent Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Another factor contributing to ginseng’s health benefits is the beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells.
For example, one test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity is in skin cells from people with eczema. The results are promising in humans, as well. Another study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes take 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days. The men then had levels of certain inflammatory markers tested after performing an exercise test. These levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing.
A larger study followed 71 postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then measured. Researchers concluded that red ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities.
What are the Active Compounds in Ginseng?
The roots and rhizomes of ginseng contain many active compounds and physiologically important constituents. These include ginseng saponins (ginsenosides), gintonin, ginseng oils and phytosterol, carbohydrates and sugars, organic acids, nitrogenous substances, amino acids and peptides, vitamins and minerals, and certain enzymes that have been isolated and characterized. Among these, ginseng saponins, known as ginsenosides, are proven to be the principal and most active constituents, responsible for most of the medicinal activities of ginseng.
The ginseng root contains 2–3% ginsenosides of which Rg1, Rc, Rd, Re, Rb1, Rb2, and Rb0 are considered the most important. Each ginsenoside may have different effects in pharmacology and mechanisms due to their different chemical structures.
Is Ginseng Safe?
Ginseng has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries and it is a safe and effective herbal medicine for most people. However, there are some precautions and potential side effects to consider.
Some people suggest ginseng should only be used short-term (up to 6 months). Though ginseng has been used as a daily medicinal tonic in China for centuries, many modern researchers are unsure of the long-term effect of daily ginseng use. The opinion, therefore, is mixed on whether to consume ginseng daily for long periods of time, as more research on long-term effects is still needed. Many also say that ginseng should not be taken continuously; and that if taking for long periods, one should consult a trained herbal prescriber and take periodic breaks.
Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) is one of the ginseng’s most common side effects. Some other potential side effects include breast pain, increased heart rate, high or low blood pressure, headache, loss of appetite, and digestive problems.
Evidence suggests that ginseng might affect blood sugar. Often this is a positive effect and is even used for people with diabetes, however, if you have diabetes, it is recommended to consult your health care provider before using ginseng.
People with an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Crohn disease, should also avoid taking ginseng, or should ask their doctors before using this herbal medicine, as ginseng may boost an already overactive immune system.
There are some uncertainties about whether ginseng may interact negatively with certain medications, such as calcium channel blockers and other high blood pressure medications, as well as statin medications and some antidepressants. Therefore, if you’re taking medication, consult your health care provider first before using ginseng.
Ginseng may also be unsafe when taken orally during pregnancy. One of the chemicals in ginseng has been found to cause birth defects in animals, and little is known about the effect of ginseng on infants. It is also recommended not to take ginseng while breastfeeding due to lack of safety research.
Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng), sometimes referred to as Chinese Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, or Siberian Ginseng depending on where it is grown, is an incredible herbal medicine that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. The root of the ginseng plant contains active compounds ginsenosides and gintonin, known to have numerous health benefits and great medicinal value.
Panax ginseng is not to be confused with other plants sometimes referred to as ginseng like American ginseng, Indian ginseng, Blue Cohosh, Canaigre, Codonopsis, Eleuthero, or Panax Notoginseng. These are different plants with different activity, yet are commonly referred to as different types of ginseng due to their similar adaptogenic properties.
The ginseng plant is typically classified in three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white or red. Fresh ginseng is harvested before it is 4 years old, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years of age, and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years.
Ginseng is often praised for its ability to improve energy and brain function, strengthen the immune system, and for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Some of the main potential health benefits of this potent medicinal root include: enhancing cognitive functioning, boosting energy and combatting fatigue, strengthening the immune system, acting as a powerful adaptogen and reducing stress, preventing the cold and flu, improving heart health, boosting libido and improving symptoms of erectile dysfunction, as well as reducing menopausal symptoms. Ginseng also has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A lesser known benefit of ginseng is its use as a potent antifungal agent. Research shows that ginsenosides have fungicidal effects on various fungi, including the common Candida albicans yeast that is the source of most yeast infections. For this reason, ginseng is one of the primary herbs in our Candida Cleanse tonic.
The roots and rhizomes of ginseng contain many active compounds and physiologically important constituents. These include ginseng saponins (ginsenosides), gintonin, ginseng oils and phytosterol, carbohydrates and sugars, organic acids, nitrogenous substances, amino acids and peptides, vitamins and minerals, and certain enzymes that have been isolated and characterized. Among these, ginsenosides are proven to be the principal and most active constituents, responsible for most of the medicinal activities of ginseng.
If you are looking for an herbal ally to help address low-energy, brain fog, fatigue, immunity, or simply to improve your overall health, ginseng is certainly worth a try. It has been used as an effective medicine for centuries, and modern research confirms it has incredible health benefits.