Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is also known as Korean, Asian or Chinese ginseng. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Indian ginseng (Ashwaganda root) are different herbs, as can be seen from the Latin names and should not be confused with the true ginseng.
Ginseng is traditionally used as a tonic to revitalise the energy. It is used during recuperation from disease and as a preventative measure, to build resistance, adapt to stress and promote health and longevity. Its effect is on the total mind-body unit rather than specific organs or systems. The biologically active ingredients are a complex mixture of triterpene saponins, known as ginsenosides – at least 30 of these have been isolated so far. The individual ginsenosides may work in opposition for example one ginsenoside (Rb1) works to suppress the central nervous system and another ginsenoside (Rg1) works to stimulate the central nervous system. These opposing actions may contribute to the adaptogenic effect of ginseng (the ability to adapt to the body’s needs) and its ability to balance and enhance bodily function by changing to the body’s needs at any particular time. Ginseng is very safe herb with no know side effects and a low toxicity profile.
Research studies have investigated ginseng preventative and curative effects.
- Adaptogenic effects – increases physical endurance and causes physiological changes that can assist the body to cope with stress.
- Cancer prevention – one Korean study showed impressive results in reducing the risk of cancer, but more studies are needed.
- Diabetes – improves blood sugar control resulting from increased activity attributed to ginseng.
- General wellbeing – studies showed an improvement in the feelings of wellbeing in subjects using ginseng for 12 weeks.
- Herpes infection – a double blind study of men and women who suffered from recurrent herpes infections showed that ginseng reduced the frequency by about 50%.
- Immune stimulation – may improve immunity to colds and other infections.
- Mental function – improves the ability to think abstractly, memory, attention, concentration and ability to cope and to complete detailed tasks.
- Sports performance- studies show mixed results. Ginseng improves aerobic capacity in individuals who didn’t exercise regularly, but showed no improvement in those who did exercise regularly. One study showed that ginseng improved aerobic capacity in highly trained athletes, while another showed only a slight benefit.
Studies have shown the beneficial effects of ginseng in the following:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Erectile dysfunction in impotent men
- Improved blood circulation and a sense of well being in people with coronary heart disease and angina.
- Improved brain-eye co-ordination and performance in healthy volunteers.
- Improved cell-mediated immune function in healthy volunteers and generally improved immune function.
- Improved functioning in severe chronic respiratory disease and macrophages (white blood cells) found in lung tissue in chronic bronchitis.
- Improved low energy states.
- Improved physical and mental performance.
- Improved quality of life for people with high levels of stress.
- Long term immune-enhancing effect on HIV patients.
- Lowered blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Lowered blood sugar levels in people newly diagnosed with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.
- Male infertility
- Post menopausal symptoms
Hence the idea and the name ‘cure all’!
Ginseng is a safe adaptogenic herb that can be used in times of stress, recuperation, infection and fatigue. It has been used for thousands of years by people in Asia and more and more people in Western cultures are using the herbs for improving health and wellbeing.