Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) having used for centuries in the Far East has several ingredients with beneficial effects on health. It has a history of over 4000 years and has been used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine. It is available as tea, culinary ingredient and nutrient supplement (e.g. powder capsule or extract). Due to its beneficial effects, it is one of the most popular herbs.
It is crucial to mention that Panax ginseng (or Asian ginseng, Chinese ginseng or Korean ginseng) should not be confused with other types of ginseng (American ginseng [Panax quinquefolius L.] and Siberian ginseng [Eleutherococcus senticosus]) which are not equal with Panax ginseng, regarding the ingredients.
It is a perennial herb in the Apiaceae family that is indigenous primarily in East-Asian mountains (China, Korea, Russia). It grows slowly and well in shade. Its root contains the most valuable ingredients; therefore this part is processed and used. Chinese ’zsensen’ (人参) name of the ginseng root derives from its man-shaped form. The meaning of the Latin name of ’panax’ in Asian ginseng is ’curing everything’. It refers to the wide range of its beneficial properties on health.
The first written text in 196 about Ginseng used as an herb took place in Shen-Nung pharmacopoeia in China. Afterwards, Li Shizhen described ginseng as a ’unique tonic’ in the Compendium of Materia Medica herb defining book in 1596. At the beginning, it was not used as a widespread cure; it was rather an herb for patients suffering from chronic diseases and convalescents.
The production of Ginseng started in the 16th century in Chinese and Korean areas.
What Panax ginseng contains
The ideal concentration of the ingredients in the root develops by the 6th or 7th year of the plant, so its use may start after that period. Its crucial effects depend on minerals, vitamins, oils and on the concentration of ginsengoids, panaxons, polysaccharides and sapoins. The core agent of ginseng is responsible for most of the beneficial effects on health. Its vitamin content of A, E, B1, B2, B6, B12 and C is also paramount. In addition, it is also a source of several minerals (e.g. folic acid, manganese and zinc).
Beneficial effects of ginseng
Helps to overcome the symptoms of stress and improves mood
The placebo-controlled trial took place in Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Centre in Great-Britain with the participation of 30 volunteers. They were included in a three-round treatment. One half of the group got Ginseng while the others got placebo. The trial was carried out to obtain data on the effects of ginseng on mood and mental functions. Results found that ginseng intake of 200 mg for 8 days mitigated mood problems. The dose of 400 mg for 8 days improved the participants’ state of rest.
Improves memory and brain functions
Ginseng stimulates brain cells, therefore improves concentration and cognitive activity. A study carried out at the Clinical Research Institution, Department of Neurology in South-Korea delved into the effectiveness of Ginseng regarding the cognitive performance of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Results show that the daily consumption of Panax ginseng root for 12 weeks may improve the mental performance of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Participants showed improvement after the ginseng treatment. On top of all that, beneficial effects were maintained for 3 months. After the elimination of the treatment, improvement decreased at the level of control group with placebo.
It suggests that Ginseng may become a crucial factor in the natural treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, but further researches are necessary to prove that. A preliminary study also found that ginseng-ginkgo biloba combination helps in the natural treatment for ADHD.
Enhances immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties
A thought-provoking Korean study looked into the beneficial effects of ginseng among children with chemotherapy treatment or stem cell transplantation due to any kind of malicious cancerous disease. The research included 19 children who were given 60 mg of Korean red ginseng per day for a year. Blood samples were collected on a semi-annual basis. As a result of the treatment, cytokines i.e. signalling molecules that play an important role in the immune response responsible for the transmission of brain signals and control of cell growth, showed a significant decrease, which was a significant difference compared to the control group values. This study revealed that Korean red ginseng is able to stabilize the amount of cytokines involved in cancerous processes after chemotherapy.
Enhances potency and improves sexual problems
The consumption of powdered Korean red ginseng improves sexual excitement and male erectile dysfunctions. A systematic review was carried out in 2008, which included a total of 28 randomized clinical trials evaluating the efficiency of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. The study provided evidence of the use of red ginseng, but researchers believe that stricter studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions.
Among 28 findings, six reported an improvement in erection when red ginseng was used compared to placebo. Four trials tested the effect of red ginseng on sexual function compared to placebo, and the positive effects of red ginseng have been demonstrated in each one.
Helps achieving healthy blood glucose level Several studies found that ginseng reduces blood glucose levels among patients with type 2 diabetes. According to a study by the University Of Maryland University Of Medicine, people with type 2 diabetes who had drink with high sugar content together with ginseng observed lower blood glucose rise.
Another study in the United Kingdom’s Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit found that Panax ginseng causes an increase in blood glucose level an hour after glucose consumption, confirming that Ginseng has glucoregulating properties.
Regarding type 2 diabetes, the problem is that the body does not respond to insulin. According to a study, Korean red ginseng improved insulin sensitivity, which further explains the ability of Ginseng to improve blood glucose levels.
Good to know
Ginseng is a so-called adaptogenic plant, which means it is able to help combating the extreme physical and psychological effects of the body and is therefore often used against stress. At the same time, it is also important that it should not be taken for up to 10 weeks, afterwards, a break is necessary.
Soowon Kang and Hyeyoung Min (2012): Ginseng, the ‘Immunity Boost’: The Effects of Panax ginseng on Immune System. J Ginseng Res. 2012 Oct; 36(4): 354–368. doi: 10.5142/jgr.2012.36.4.354
Nguyen Huu Tung, Takuhiro Uto, Osamu Morinaga, Young Ho Kim, Yukihiro Shoyama (2012): Pharmacological Effects of Ginseng on Liver Functions and Diseases: A Minireview. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2012, Article ID 173297, 7 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/173297
Choi J, Kim TH, Choi TY, Lee MS (2013) Ginseng for Health Care: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials in Korean Literature. PLOS ONE 8(4): e59978. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0059978
Elena Jovanovski, Alexandra Jenkins, Andre G. Dias, Valentina Peeva, John Sievenpiper, John Thor Arnason, Dario Rahelic, Robert G. Josse, Vladimir Vuksan (2010): Effects of Korean Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Mayer) and Its Isolated Ginsenosides and Polysaccharides on Arterial Stiffness in Healthy Individuals, American Journal of Hypertension, Volume 23, Issue 5, 1 May 2010, Pages 469–472, https://doi.org/10.1038/ajh.2010.5
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