Ginseng is used as an adaptogenic (for stress), an anti-fatigue agent, an anti-stress agent, and a tonic.
Ginseng has been used medicinally in Asia for more than 5000 years. It is known as the ruler of tonic herbs. It is also known as “root of man.”
This perennial plant is indigenous to China and is cultivated in many countries.
Ginseng: Part Used
Major Chemical Compounds
• Triterpenoid saponins, especially ginsenosides.
Ginseng: Clinical Uses
Ginseng is approved by the German Commission E and the World Health Organization for use as an adaptogenic (for stress), an anti-fatigue agent, an anti-stress agent, and a tonic. In Germany, ginseng may be labeled as an aid to convalescence and a tonic to treat fatigue, reduced work capacity, and poor concentration.
Mechanism of Action
Triterpenoid saponins are believed to help the body build vitality, resist stress, and overcome disease. Ginseng inhibits platelet aggregation by inhibiting thromboxane A2 production. Ginsenosides may act on the pituitary gland, not the adrenal glands. The pituitary secretes corticosteroids indirectly through the release of adrenocorticotrophic hormone and also stimulates nerve fibers in the cerebral cortex. Ginseng may lower blood glucose levels.
The dosage depends on the ginsenoside content and should start at the lowest level possible. Use a standardized product. The typical dosage of product containing 5 percent ginsenosides is 200 mg taken one to three times daily. For long-term use, the patient should take ginseng in cycles of 15 to 20 days on and then 2 weeks off.
Studies using standardized extracts report no side effects. One older study reported hypertension, euphoria, nervousness, insomnia, skin eruptions, and morning diarrhea. Women taking ginseng may experience breast tenderness and may need to reduce the dosage. An estrogenizing effect was noted in studies of male animals. Ginseng may elevate the international normalized ratio.
• Ginseng is contraindicated in patients with hypertension.
Ginseng should not be taken with insulin, sulphonylureas, or biguanides. Taking ginseng with phenelzine sulphate or a monoamine oxidase inhibitor may cause headache, tremulousness, or manic episodes. Taking it with estrogens or corticosteroids may have additive effects. Ginseng may intensify or interfere with digoxin. It may alter bleeding time when taken with anticoagulants).
Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding
Use of ginseng during pregnancy and breast-feeding is controversial.
Summary of Studies
Hallstrom etal. (1982). This double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled, 2-week study included 12 nurses who were changing shifts from day to night. Results: Taking 1 to 2 grams of Korean ginseng produced higher scores of competence, mood, and physical performance compared with placebo. Ginseng lowered blood glucose levels.
D’Angelo et al. (1986). This double-blind, crossover study of university students showed that ginseng increased psychomotor function and well-being.
Wesnes et al. (2000). A double-blind, placebo-controlled, 14-week, parallel group multicenter trial of two dosing regimens of capsules containing standardized extracts of Ginkgo biloba (GK501) and Panax ginseng (G115) 100 mg in 256 healthy subjects showed that the combination extracts improved working and long-term memory in a 12-week period, including a 2-week washout period.
• Ginseng may cause high blood pressure, nervousness, insomnia, skin eruptions, and morning diarrhea.
• Women taking ginseng may experience breast tenderness. If you develop this side effect, reduce the dosage.
• Ginseng may increase the risk of bleeding.
• Don’t take ginseng if you have high blood pressure.
• Don’t use ginseng if you take phenelzine sulphate, an MAO inhibitor (a type of anti-depressant), estrogen (as in hormone replacement therapy), a corticosteroid, digoxin, an anticoagulant (blood thinner), insulin, or an oral antidiabetic medication.
• Use of ginseng is controversial during pregnancy or breast-feeding. Talk with your health-care practitioner.
Chicken Ginseng Soup
Try adding 1 ounce of Panax ginseng to a pot of chicken soup. It is great during the winter when stress is high.