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Asian Ginseng

Common names: Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng

Botanical name: Panax ginseng

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Asian ginseng is a member of the Araliaceae family, which also includes the closely related American ginseng  (Panax quinquefolius) and less similar Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as eleuthero. Asian ginseng commonly grows on mountain slopes and is usually harvested in the fall. The root is used, preferably from plants older than six years of age.

Asian ginseng has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
3Stars

Erectile dysfunction

2Stars

Athletic performance

Epilepsy (in combination with bupleurum, peony root, pinellia root, cassia bark, ginger root, jujube fruit, Asian scullcap root, and licorice root)

Immune function

Infertility (male)

Mental performance

Stress

Type 2 diabetes

1Star

Aerobic capacity

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Common cold/sore throat

HIV support

Infection

Influenza

Lung cancer

Menopause

Type 1 diabetes

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Asian ginseng has been a part of Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. The first reference to the use of Asian ginseng dates to the 1st century A.D. Ginseng is commonly used by elderly people in the Orient to improve mental and physical vitality.

Active constituents

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 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes.6 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 body.12

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 motility.13

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

How much is usually taken?

The most researched form of ginseng, standardized herbal extracts, supply approximately 5–7% ginsenosides.16 Ginseng root extracts are sometimes recommended at 200–500 mg per day. Non-standardized extracts require a higher intake, generally 1–4 grams per day for tablets or 2–3 ml for dried root tincture three times per day. Ginseng is traditionally used for two to three weeks continuously, followed by a one- to two-week “rest” period before resuming.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Used in the recommended amounts, ginseng is generally safe. In rare instances, it may cause over-stimulation and possibly insomnia.17 Consuming caffeine with ginseng increases the risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset. People with uncontrolled high blood pressure should use ginseng cautiously. Long-term use of ginseng may cause menstrual abnormalities and breast tenderness in some women. Ginseng is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with Asian ginseng. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

References:

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. Immunopharmacol 1997;35:229–35.

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 2000;11:565–76 [review].

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 Nutr 1998;17:462–6.

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 1996;38:249–54.

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.

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