Ginseng’s actions in the body are thought to be due to a complex interplay of
constituents. The primary group are the ginsenosides, which are believed to counter the
effects of stress and enhance intellectual and physical performance. Thirteen ginsenosides
have been identified in Asian ginseng. Two of them, ginsenosides Rg1 and Rb1, have been
closely studied.1 Other constituents include the panaxans, which may help lower
blood sugar, and the polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules), which are thought to support
immune function.2 3
Long-term intake of Asian ginseng may be linked to a reduced risk of some forms of cancer.4 5 A double-blind trial
found that 200 mg of Asian ginseng per day improved blood sugar levels in people with type 2
Human trials have mostly failed to confirm the purported benefit of Asian ginseng for the
enhancement of athletic
performance.7 8 One preliminary trial suggests it may help those in
poor physical condition to tolerate exercise better.9 In combination with some
vitamins and minerals, 80 mg of ginseng per day was found to effectively reduce fatigue in a
double-blind trial.10 Another double-blind trial also found it helpful for relief
of fatigue and, possibly, stress.11 Although there are no human clinical trials,
adaptogenic herbs such as Asian ginseng may be useful for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. This may be because these
herbs are thought to have an immuno-modulating effect and also help support the normal
function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the hormonal stress system of the
Asian ginseng may also prove useful for male
infertility. A double-blind trial with a large group of infertile men found that 4 grams
of Asian ginseng per day for three months led to an improvement in sperm count and sperm
Asian ginseng may also help men with erectile
dysfunction. A double-blind trial in Korea found that 1,800 mg per day of Asian ginseng
extract for three months helped improve libido and the ability to maintain an erection in men
with erectile dysfunction.14 This finding was confirmed in another double-blind
study, in which 900 mg three times a day was given for eight weeks.15
1. Shibata S, Tanaka O, Shoji J, Saito H. Chemistry and pharmacology of
Panax. In Economic and Medicinal Plant Research, vol 1, Wagner H, Hikino H,
Farnsworth NR (eds). London: Academic Press, 1985, 217–84.
2. Tomoda M, Hirabayashi K, Shimizu N, et al. Characterization of two
novel polysaccharides having immunological activities from the root of Panax ginseng. Biol
Pharm Bull 1993;16:1087–90.
3. See DM, Broumand N, Sahi L, et al. In vitro effects of echinacea and
ginseng on natural killer and antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity in healthy subjects and
chronic fatigue syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients.
4. Yun TK, Choi Y. Non-organ specific cancer prevention of ginseng: A
prospective study in Korea. Int J Epidemiol 1998;27:359–64.
5. Shin HR, Kim JY, Yun TK, et al. The cancer-preventive potential of
Panax ginseng: a review of human and experimental evidence. Cancer Causes Control
6. Sotaniemi EA, Haapakoski E, Rautio A. Ginseng therapy in
non-insulin-dependent diabetic patients. Diabetes Care 1995;18:1373–5.
7. Teves MA, Wright JE, Welch MJ, et al. Effects of ginseng on repeated
bouts of exhaustive exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1983;15:162.
8. Allen JD, McLung J, Nelson AG, Welsch M. Ginseng supplementation does
not enhance healthy young adults’ peak aerobic exercise performance. J Am Coll
9. Pieralisi G, Ripari P, Vecchiet L. Effects of a standardized ginseng
extract combined with dimethylaminoethanol bitartrate, vitamins, minerals and trace elements
on physical performance during exercise. Clin Ther 1991;13:373–82.
10. Le Gal M, Cathebras P, Struby K. Pharmaton capsules in the treatment
of functional fatigue: A double-blind study versus placebo evaluated by a new methodology.
Phytother Res 1996;10:49–53.
11. Caso Mardsco A, Vargas Ruiz R, Salas Villagomez A, Begona Infante C.
Double-blind study of a multivitamin complex supplemented with ginseng extract. Drugs Exp
Clin Res 1996;22:323–9.
12. Brown D. Licorice root - potential early intervention for chronic
fatigue syndrome. Quart Rev Natural Med 1996;Summer:95–7.
13. Salvati G, Genovesi G, Marcellini L, et al. Effects of Panax
ginseng C.A. Meyer saponins on male fertility. Panmineva Med
14. Choi HK, Seong DH, Rha KH. Clinical efficacy of Korean red ginseng
for erectile dysfunction. Int J Impotence Res 1995;7:181–6.
15. Hong B, Ji YH, Hong JH, et al. A double-blind crossover study
evaluating the efficacy of Korean red ginseng in patients with erectile dysfunction: a
preliminary report. J Urol 2002;168:2070–3.
16. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin,
CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 129–38.
17. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide
for Healthcare Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 145–50.