Is ginseng good for your health?

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Is ginseng good for your health?

Anyone with a strong interest in herbal medicine may want to consider ginseng.  Ginseng is the root of plants in the botanical genus known as Panax and been used since ancient times in traditional Chinese medicine. Panax ginseng is one of several types of ginseng commonly used in herbal medicine.  The two most popular types are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Each type contains a different concentration of active compounds and each has different effects on the body. According to Chinese medicine, each type of ginseng is thought to have unique healing properties. For example, Panax ginseng is said to have “warming” properties thought to aid circulation.

The name “panax” means “all healing” in Greek, which reflects the belief that it can heal all aspects of the body. While there may be benefits some individuals will experience from using ginseng, at this time, there is insufficient quantity and quality of scientific research to conclusively support this touted herbal’s many health claims.

What health benefits does ginseng offer?

During ancient times is when ginseng’s proposed health benefits were noticed. Panax ginseng was used to increase energy and stamina and to give the immune system a boost. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular modern uses for ginseng and what the current research says about it:

·      Glycemic control

There is a growing trend to use herbal medicines as an attempt at reducing the burden of diabetes, despite conclusive evidence to support their effectiveness. However, both Asian ginseng and American ginseng have been shown to modestly yet significantly reduce fasting blood glucose compared to a control in people with or without diabetes. And in one small study, American ginseng specifically, added to conventional treatment has been shown to significantly reduce hemoglobin A1c and fasting blood glucose in those with type 2 diabetes.

Due to the small size and short duration of the study, longer and larger randomized controlled trials are needed before it can be recommended widely to using for treating type 2 diabetes.

·      Cancer

In a large meta-analysis of nine scientific studies, the data indicates a significant 16% reduction of cancer risk in those who consumed ginseng. In addition, extensive preclinical and epidemiological studies have also shown an association between ginseng and reduced cancer risk. Additional large scale clinical trials are needed to demonstrate dosing and exact effectiveness of ginseng and cancer risk.

·      Cognition

Panax ginseng may improve cognitive performance during prolonged periods of mental activity, according to a 2005 study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology. In a clinical trial involving 30 healthy young adults, researchers found that those who were given Panax ginseng were less likely to experience mental fatigue while taking a test (compared to those given a placebo).

In addition, a 2000 study in Psychopharmacology showed that a combination of Panax ginseng and gingko biloba may help enhance memory in healthy, middle-aged adults.

The increase in cognition is thought to be due to lower blood glucose levels and a temporary reduction in fatigue.

·      Sexual function

By looking at a ginseng it is no surprise this phallic shaped root is thought of as an aphrodisiac. A Chinese emperor, widely thought to be the father of Chinese medicine, believed that the closer the resemblance to the human form the more potent the root. Some research indicates that ginseng can significantly improve erectile dysfunction and satisfaction in men.

What dosage is considered safe?

There is no single recommended dose for ginseng. What is known is that taking ginseng is generally safe and has minimal side effects.  However, if you are taking diabetes medications or anticoagulants, you should discuss potential medication interactions with your doctor before taking ginseng. Some evidence suggests that using ginseng for an extended period of time can reduce its effectiveness in the body and should therefore be taken in two or three week cycles with a one or two week break in between.