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What is Ginseng?

Ginseng is traditionally used as a medicinal herb in Korea, Japan and China (1, 2). For thousands of years, it has been used as a remedy for spiritlessness and fatigue (3). The most common species is Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng). The word “Panax” means “all healing” showing how it was believed to cure all illnesses. The most commonly found ginseng species are the Korean ginseng, Chinese ginseng, Japanese ginseng, and American ginseng. The herb Ginseng usually refers to the root of Panax ginseng Meyer. Naturally dried ginseng root is known as white ginseng.  Red ginseng is prepared by steaming fresh ginseng root prior to drying to enhance efficacy, safety, and preservation (4).

What are the features of ginseng?

One of the reasons Ginseng is so popular as a medicinal herb is because of its antioxidant properties. These can be attributed to active compounds called ginsenosides which can be extracted from ginseng roots, leaves, stems and fruit. They are subdivided into more than 100 different kinds (5). Most pharmacological research in ginseng is based on the ginsenosides (6). Ginseng also contains polyacetylenes, polyphenolic compounds and acidic polysaccharides (7).

Health benefits

In many studies, ginsenosides have been presented as an effective treatment for organ damage and cell death, as well as for immunological and metabolic diseases (8-10). Ginseng also has vasorelaxation, anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity (11)

Antioxidant activity

As a powerful natural antioxidant, ginseng decreases the damage from an acute or chronic inflammatory response by removing harmful free radicals (12). It is through their antioxidant activity of scavenging free radicals, that they have a cardioprotective effect (13-15)

Blood pressure

Ginsenosides improve vascular dysfunction (16, 17). Ginseng has a role in blood pressure regulation (18). Ginseng can restore low blood pressure to normal levels (19). It can also decrease blood pressure in cases where it is high (20).

Antifatigue activity

In a study looking at idiopathic chronic fatigue, it was found that ginseng reduced oxidative stress and fatigue in comparison to placebo (21). This antifatigue activity might partly be attributed to the antioxidant activity of ginseng.

Stress

Ginseng has a role in the regulation of stress (22-24). It does this by regulating the function of the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis (HPA axis) (25). It might have benefits in HPA axis disorders such as depression, asthma, hypertension and posttraumatic stress disorder (26). More research is needed to see if it is therapeutic.

Diabetes

Ginseng may be more effective in patients with type 2 Diabetes than in those with type 1 Diabetes. This is because type 2 Diabetes is somewhat associated with stress (27). More research is needed to see if ginseng is therapeutic in diabetes.

Immunity function

In various models of disease, it has been found that Ginseng can improve the function of a number of immune cells. This includes improving the function of macrophages (28, 29) and dendritic cells (30, 31). Ginseng also enhances antibody-mediated killing and T cell function (32, 33).

Cardiac function

Ginseng and ginsenosides have been shown to improve coronary blood flow in models (34).

Ginsenosides can also protect heart cells from oxidative stress (35). They may also help with ventricular hypertrophy and damage from ischemia and reperfusion (36). Ginseng is thought to preserve cardiac function after most heart muscle dysfunctions (reviewed in 37). Studies have shown that treatment with ginseng improved electrocardiogram, general symptoms, physical exercise capacity and metabolism in patients (38).

Brain function

Ginsenosides have been shown to promote neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, neuronal growth, and neurotransmission, thus protecting the nervous system from potential harm (39, 40).

  1. ginseng extract appears to provide protective effects against neurotoxicity models of Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease (reviewed in 41). They may also have a neuroprotective effect in Lou Gehrig’s disease (reviewed in 41). The mechanisms in most of these cases have not been fully elucidated and need further research.

Antibacterial activity

Ginseng can inhibit bacterial adhesion and their mechanisms of causing infection (42) The polysaccharides or sugars in ginseng interact with microbes and thus inhibit disease (42). In addition, the polyacetylenes from the ginseng root culture have direct bactericidal effects (43). The acidic sugars from ginseng are protective against infection with Helicobacter pylori which can cause gastric inflammation, ulceration and DNA damage (42, 44, 45). Ginseng also has bactericidal activity against Staphylococcus aureus (46).

Antiviral activity

In lab models, ginseng has the ability to neutralize the influenza virus and can promote the immune system to combat disease improving survival from infection with the influenza virus in combination with treatment (47).  Ginseng also has inhibitory effects on viruses such as the rotavirus, murine norovirus (MNV) and feline calicivirus (FCV) (48, 49).

Precaution with Ginseng

There are few side effects with ginseng. The most common side effect is insomnia. Other less common ones are menstrual problems, breast pain, increased heart rate, high or low blood pressure, headache, loss of appetite, diarrhea, itching, rash, dizziness and mood changes. If you experience any of these, please stop taking ginseng and seek advice from a doctor.  Do not take ginseng if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Please avoid giving ginseng to children or infants as not enough is known about safe doses of ginseng for them. If you have any serious medical conditions, consult a doctor before taking ginseng as it has a very broad spectrum of effects on the body in terms of blood pressure, weight, heart function, brain function, and immunity.

MapleLife Ginseng

MapleLife produces Panax Ginseng root supplements that have high quality and potency. MapleLife is a highly reputable company in the field and their products come highly recommended. In addition, their products are available at a fair price. With the many benefits of ginseng listed here, one should try these supplements to improve their health. It is recommended that taking one pill a day is a good start to make sure there are no side effects experienced.

 

References

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