Much like our previous friend, Fo-Ti, Ginseng has been used as a strengthening tonic for several thousand years across the world – and is perhaps much more well-known.
Ginseng is a plant, in which the root part is used medicinally for various health concerns.
Which Ginseng Should I Be Purchasing?
Anyone looking for ginseng will discover there are actually quite a few different varieties and ‘types’ of ginseng available as a supplement.
Regionally, there is different species –
“Panax” Ginseng, typically referred to as Korean Ginseng, is naturally grown in Asia. If a product is labelled ‘panax’ it is most likely referring to this specific type even though a dozen different species of ginseng are all categorized by “Panax.”
There is also “American” Ginseng, grown in Canada and the U.S. and known by the name of Panax quinquefolius.
The phytochemical composition and active compounds are similar between these varieties.
You may have also heard of “Siberian” ginseng. It is important to understand this actually refers to another plant – Eleuthero – which has different active compounds, and some different uses in natural, holistic medicine.
Siberian ginseng or ‘Eleuthero’ is an adaptogen (like ashwagandha) and is generally used to manage fatigue and immune system health. Eleuthero will be the focus of a later blog post.
So, which should you ‘pick’ when it comes to supplementing?
Panax ginseng has been much more thoroughly researched for its ‘active’ compounds and is among one of the most widely cultivated herbs in the world.
What About the Difference in Color Between ‘Red’ and White Ginseng?
This actually comes down to how the ginseng is processed. White ginseng is dried in the sun, while ‘red’ ginseng is steam-heated for a couple of hours to remove any harmful pathogens or bacteria.
Despite what certain manufacturers may promote, the differences between the two are likely minimal and the quality of ginseng depends more so on the actual root itself.
Red ginseng, however, has been found to have slightly higher levels of ginsenosides from the steaming process – these are part of the active compounds responsible for some of ginseng’s attributed benefits. However, certain enzymes naturally present are also destroyed in this process of steaming from white -> red.
Both red and white ginseng come from the exact same plant.
What Can Ginseng Be Used for Medicinally?
The phytochemicals and compounds in ginseng – like ginsenosides – along with polysaccharides are likely responsible for the therapeutic and beneficial effects ginseng has on the body.
Many people use ginseng as an energy tonic and alternative to caffeine, to boost the immune system, and to fight or ward off infections such as cold and flu.
Ginseng has been listed with many other benefits, some of which include:
– Intestinal infections
– Type II Diabetes; high-blood sugar levels and insulin response
– Nerve Pain
– Fatigue, including chronic and immune related
– Libido and improving symptoms of erectile dysfunction (ED)
– ADHD and attention disorders
– Memory disorders and neurological impairment
– Regulating mood
Some of these are more studied claims.
– Ginseng appears to help improve cognitive performance – in particular short-term working memory. Larger studies seem to support long term use for improving cognition and reducing risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
– Ginsenosides may help protect the brain against damage from inflammation and free radicals.
– Ginseng improved the mood and mental functioning of adults over the course of several weeks of low-dose use.
– Ginseng seems to be among the safest natural supplements when it comes to addressing erectile dysfunction (ED) that has demonstrated efficacy.
– Compounds in ginseng may protect against oxidative stress and help restore normal function in those with ED, while promoting production of nitric oxide – an important component of blood circulation.
– Polysaccharides and peptides in ginseng can help reduce fatigue and restore energy levels, especially in those with chronic fatigue or inflammation.
– In those with and without diabetes, ginseng improved pancreatic function, and helped to maintain normal blood sugar levels while increasing insulin sensitivity. These studies were conducted in participants after having a high-sugar drink or meal.
– Ginsenosides are under study to prevent abnormal cell growth and proliferation, making them a potential anti-cancer supplement. People taking ginseng orally appeared to have a lower risk of developing cancer.
– Many people recommend ginseng for immune system health and function, and the medical literature seems to support this. In those recovering from surgery or illness, those taking ginseng reported less recurrence of symptoms and improved more rapidly.
– Ginseng may boost resistance to infection: those taking a red ginseng supplement appeared to have better immune system health markers than control groups in one study.
Are There Side Effects Associated with Taking Ginseng?
Ginseng can cause hypoglycemic activity, so caution should be taken in those already on diabetes medication or taking insulin.
Ginseng can also interact with other compounds – like caffeine, to cause hypertension. It may enhance the effectiveness of some medications like blood thinners or anticoagulants. This increases the risk of bleeding. If taking any prescribed medication, consult with your doctor prior to taking ginseng – especially if you are taking anticoagulants or blood thinners, or antipsychotic drugs.
In some sensitive individuals, ginseng may cause headaches, digestive upset, or insomnia. Ginseng is commonly used and found in beverages, but with any herbal supplement, it may affect certain people differently – especially in higher doses.
While regularly taken for long periods of time, it is always recommended to take a break of a couple of weeks before reintroducing ginseng if use is prolonged for more than a couple of months.
There are a wide variety of both Panax and American ginseng products available with Healthy Planet, in all kinds of forms, depending on your needs.