In my previous article, I discussed the impact of ginseng on sexual health. In this article, I focus on the holistic health aspect of ginseng.
Ginseng, Brain support
Studies have found that ginseng improves brain cells and improves concentration and cognitive activities. For instance, one study by Lee et al.(2008) found that taking Panax ginseng root daily for 12 weeks can improve mental performance in people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, the study also found that when the participants stopped taking the ginseng, there was no improvement. This means that for brain support, patients have no option but to take it regularly.
Another recent study by Lee et al.(2020) found that a combination of American ginseng and Biloba help Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) patients. This is a condition that affects people’s behavior. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating, and may act on impulse. The study examined children ages 6–12 with ADHD symptoms and found that if such patients combined omega-3 supplements and Korean red ginseng they improved cognitive function in children, including attention, memory, and executive function.
Some test tubes and animal studies (Rausch et al. 2006; Smith et al, 2014; Oh et al. 2016) also found that some ingredients in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals.
Human studies have also confirmed the impact of ginseng on health. For instance, Ellis et al.(2002) used 200 mg of Panax ginseng on 30 healthy volunteers for four weeks and found there was an improvement in mental health, social functioning, and mood.
Fast forward, Reay et al.( 2005) study confirmed this exposition of using 200mg as opposed to increasing the dosage to 400mg and found similar health benefits in improving mental performance and fatigue. Scientists are examing how 200mg of ginseng appears to be superior juxtaposed to 400mg. However, a similar study by Reay et al.(2010) found that taking 400 mg of Panax ginseng daily for eight days improved calmness and math skills.
Ginseng, Immune Health
Studies have found that taking ginseng supports the immune system. Additionally, the immune systems of cancer patients after chemotherapy have benefited from taking ginseng. One earlier study by Kim et al.(1998) used 39 participants who underwent surgery for stomach cancer, treating them with 5,400 mg of ginseng daily for two years. The study found that ginseng improved their immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms.
Another study examined the impact of red ginseng extract on immune system markers in people with advanced stomach cancer undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy for three months. The study found red ginseng extract had better immune system markers than those in the control or placebo group.
Also, Boo et al.(2007) found cancer patients on ginsengmay have a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and up to a 38% higher survival rate as opposed to those who do not use it.
For those concerned about the side effects of vaccination, it appears ginseng could help. One previous study by Scaglione et al.(1996) found that taking ginseng extract could enhance the effect of vaccinations against diseases like influenza. In this study, a total of 227 volunteers who visited 3 private practices in Milan received daily oral capsule doses of either placebo or 100 mg of standardized ginseng extract.
Though, ginseng studies appear interesting and convincing in those diagnosed with cancers. one study believes that we still need more research to evaluate the efficacy of ginseng in boosting resistance to infections in healthy people(Block et al. 2003).
Ginseng, Cancer support
Wang et al.(2016) study found that Ginseng consumption is likely to reduce your risk of some cancers. This is due to the presence of a compound called Ginsenosides which reduces inflammation and provides antioxidant protection (Wong et al. 2015; Jin et al.2016). The same researchers also noted that the cell cycle is the process by which cells normally grow and divide. This allows Ginsenosides to support the cycle by averting abnormal cell production and growth. In the case of Jin et al.(2016), they found that those who consumed ginseng cut down their chance of getting cancer by 16%.
An earlier observational study by Yun and Choi(1995) also agrees that consuming ginseng averts some cancers such as lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, liver, and lung cancer, than those who do not take it.
Wong et al.(2015) also agree that for those on cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and others, consuming Ginsenghelps to improve quality of life(QOL) by dealing with the side effects of mainstream cancer treatment.
Though it appears fascinating to use ginseng to avert the side effects of conventional cancer treatment, Unlu et al.(2016) note that we still have a long way to go. This notwithstanding, Wang and Yuan(2008) used steamed American ginseng root to treat human colorectal cancer cells and found the anti-proliferation effects were 98 percent for HCT-116 and 99 percent for SW-480 cells. When they tested steamed American ginseng root, they found results same effect as that of the steamed berry extract.
Ginseng, Blood Sugar
(Luo and Luo. 2009; Shishtar et al. 2014) reported that many studies have demonstrated the effect of American ginseng on blood sugar. These same researchers also showed the potential of ginseng in averting blood sugar. For instance, Reay et al.(2006)found that Panax ginseng causes a reduction in blood glucose levels one hour after the consumption of glucose, confirming that ginseng possesses glucoregulatory properties.
Interestingly, Luo and Luo. (2009), reported that American and Asian ginseng support pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues. They further noted that ginseng extracts give antioxidant protection which in turn cut down the free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes.
Vuksan et al.(2008) examined an integrative approach of using 6 grams of Korean red ginseng, with conventional anti-diabetic medication or diet, in 19 people with type 2 diabetes.
They found that the participants had good blood sugar control in the 12-week study. They also had an 11% decrease in blood sugar levels, a 38% decrease in fasting insulin, and a 33% increase in insulin sensitivity. This means that the integrative approach appears very effective in managing diabetics.
Gao et al.(2013) agree that for those battling the situation where they are not responding to insulin or type diabetes. Korean red ginseng improves insulin sensitivity. This means that Korean ginseng can reduce blood sugar levels and support type 2 diabetes.
Vuksan et al.(2000) study also found that American ginseng may support blood sugar levels in 10 healthy people after they under underwent gary drink test. The study by Trinh et al.(2007) rather took a different perspective and examined fermented red ginseng and found that it is more effective at blood sugar control. This process is produced using live bacteria that transform the ginsenosides into a more easily absorbed and potent form(Vuksan et al. 2000).
This was also confirmed by Oh et al.(2014) who found 2.7grams of fermented red ginseng daily consumption to be more effective at lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin levels after a test meal, juxtaposed to a placebo.
Ginseng, an effective Antioxidant
One study by Park et al.(2013) found that ginseng is loaded with helpful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This was contained in one study by Lee et al.(2012) which found that Korean red ginseng used on children after chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation for advanced cancer found the cytokines or small proteins that are responsible for sending signals to the brain and regulating cell growth, decreased rapidly. It was a significant difference from the control group. This study means that Korean red ginseng has a stabilizing effect on the inflammatory cytokines in children with cancer after chemotherapy. The study included 19 patients who received 60 milligrams of Korean red ginseng daily for one year.
Other test-tube studies(Lee and Lau, 2011; Dong et al.2013) also found that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells. For instance, Hong and Lyu, ( 2011) test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract cut down inflammation and enhanced antioxidant activity in skin cells of people with eczema.
One may be wondering, is this not a test-tube study? Well, Jung et al.(2011) found interesting findings in humans, as well. This study investigated 18 young male athletes who took 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days. The participant’s inflammatory markers were further tested after exercise. The result found these markers were significantly reduced than in the placebo group, which lasted for 3 days after the test. Though the placebo group was given a different medicinal herb, others believe that the findings are not justifiable.
Justifiable or not, one larger study by Seo et al.(2014) monitored 71 postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Their Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then tested. They found that red ginseng averts oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities.
Finally, another study by Jung et al.(2013) examined Korean red ginseng to asses its anti-allergic properties on 40 mice with allergic rhinitis, a common upper airway inflammatory disease typically seen in children and adults. The most frequent symptoms include congestion, nasal itching, and sneezing. They found that the Korean red ginseng reduced the nasal allergic inflammatory reaction in the mice, demonstrating the herb’s place among the best anti-inflammatory foods.
Ginseng, Weight Loss
Xie et al.(2002) study tested the anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects of Panax ginseng berry in adult mice. The mice were injected with 150 milligrams of ginseng berry extract per kilogram of body weight for 12 days. The interesting thing is that by the fifth day, the mice consuming the extract experienced lower fasting blood glucose levels drastically. On day 12, the glucose tolerance in the mice increased, and overall blood glucose levels decreased by 53 percent. The treated mice also demonstrated weight loss addition, from 51 grams, and to 45 grams.
Another same study by Mollah et al.(2009) found that Panax ginseng plays a significant role in the anti-obesity effect in mice. This should help Medical Practitioners in their clinical management of obesity and other metabolic syndromes using ginseng.
Ginseng, Lungs infection
One old study by Song et al.(1997) found that consuming ginseng drastically reduced lung bacteria, and studies involving rats have found that it can stop the growth of cystic fibrosis, a common lung infection.
In this study, rats were given ginseng injections, and after two weeks, the treated group demonstrated a drastic bacterial treatment from the lungs.
Fast forward, another study by Shergis et al.(2014) found that Panax ginseng treats a lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is characterized as chronically poor airflow that typically worsens over time.
Axe, J(2021) attests that the side effects of ginseng are generally mild in healthy adults. It can act as a stimulant in some people, so it may cause nervousness and insomnia (especially in large doses).
“Long-term use or high doses may cause headaches, dizziness, and stomachaches. Women who use it regularly may experience menstrual changes and vaginal bleeding, and there have also been some reports of allergic reactions to the herb”.
He also agrees that due to the lack of evidence about its safety, ginseng is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Axe has this to say: “This herb may affect blood sugar levels, so people taking drugs for diabetes shouldn’t use it without talking to their health care providers first. It can interact with warfarin coumadin and some medicines for depression”.
“Caffeine may amplify its stimulant effects as well. There is some concern that Panax increases symptoms of autoimmune diseases, such as MS, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, so patients with those conditions should consult with their doctors before and while taking this supplement. It may also interfere with blood clotting and shouldn’t be taken by those with bleeding conditions. People who have had organ transplants may not want to take it because it could increase the risk of organ rejection. Ginseng may interact with female hormone-sensitive illnesses, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids because it has estrogen-like effects.
It also may interact with the following medications:
- Medications for diabetes
- Blood-thinning medications (including warfarin coumadin)
- Antipsychotic medications
Another study by Paik et al.(2015) found that excessive use can lead to ginseng abuse syndrome, which has been associated with:
- affective disorder
- cardiovascular and renal toxicity
- genital organ bleeding
- high blood pressure
- reproductive toxicity
Axe suggests this:
“To avoid side effects from this herb, some experts suggest not taking it for more than three to six months at a time. If need be, your doctor may recommend that you take a break and then begin to take it again for a few weeks or months”.
There are significant studies conducted on ginseng which found various pharmacological components, including a series of tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins (ginsenosides), polyacetylenes, polyphenolic compounds, and acidic polysaccharides. This should help the medical community in clinical practice in using ginseng to boost mood, support the immune system and cognitive health, reduce inflammation, etc.
One should also be cautious with dosage when using the plant, as excessive use can lead to adverse effects, including vaginal bleeding, high blood pressure, and altered blood sugar levels.
Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.
By Prof. Raphael NyarkoteyObu
The author is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare and President of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation.