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Sun, March 1, 2009
Ginseng May Help Treat a Variety of Ailments
Ginseng is a common ingredient in many energy drinks, but its proponents claim it has a number of benefits besides increasing alertness and stamina.1 The plain term “ginseng” refers to Panax ginseng (also known as Asian ginseng, Chinese ginseng, or Korean ginseng).2 Panax ginseng, the most widely used form, should not be confused with American ginseng or Siberian ginseng because these other types possess different medicinal properties.3

Panax, the generic name for ginseng, is derived from Panakos, which is Greek for “a panacea”, which is likely in reference to the near reverence the Chinese have for the herb who consider it a sovereign remedy for many diseases.4 The word gingseng itself is said to mean “the wonder of the world.”5 Ginseng has been grown in the cool climates of East Asia for thousand of years.6 The herbal supplement form of ginseng is derived from the root of the ginseng plant. Proponents of ginseng claim that it is beneficial for such uses as:7
  • Increasing resistance to physical and emotional stress
  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Improving mental clarity and function (including memory)
  • Improving health and well-being
  • Slowing the aging process
  • Improving digestion
  • Reducing fatigue
  • Increasing energy
  • Lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) levels
Ginseng has also been used to treat specific conditions, such as:
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung infections from cystic fibrosis
  • Cancer
  • Anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Asthma
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Menopausal hot flashes
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine supports the continued research on Asian ginseng so that we may better understand its full uses. In fact, they have recent funded research on the use of Asian ginseng for chronic lung infection, Alzheimer’s disease, and impaired glucose intolerance.8

Ginseng consists of numerous active compounds, and some people believe the combinations of these compounds are responsible for ginseng’s effects.9 Some of the compounds have been found to stimulate the immune system, which may help the body stave off infection or cancer.10 It’s also thought that ginseng may help to lower blood pressure through various mechanisms (including increasing insulin production and increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin).11 In addition, ginseng may also stimulate blood flow, which can result in improved libido and sexual stamina because of changes in the central nervous system and gonadal tissues.12

In China, ginseng is so well-regarded it’s considered a cure-all treatment.13 Many Chinese also believe that daily consumption of ginseng tea leads to a long life.14

Ginseng is often classified as an “adaptogen,”15 a term used by herbalists to describe herbs thought to increase the body’s resistance to physical and emotional stress.16 (Refer to our articles on roseroot and astragalus in our May 2008 and January 2009 issues of CoSozo Living for more information on herbs that can benefit the body.) However, studies conducted so far have been unable to conclusively support or refute the effectiveness of ginseng.17

As with any medication or supplement, there are potential side effects, including:18
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breast pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vertigo
  • Mood swings
Ginseng does not have a recommended scientific dose. It’s usually consumed in 100-milligram to 200-milligram capsules once or twice a day.19 Dosing instructions may vary depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation. Dried ginseng root can be found in capsule, tablet, extract, and tea form. Ginseng should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight.

If you decide to give a ginseng regimen a try, make sure that you first consult with a physician. While you are taking ginseng, remember to discuss any new developments in your body’s response with your doctor. With a little bit of preparation and caution, you too can enjoy the many benefits of ginseng.

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