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Ginseng is a root that has been used for a long time in Eastern medicine to increase energy. Recently, medical reports claim that ginseng can boost the immune response and white blood cell count. As with most herbs, ginseng has undergone very few rigorous studies, so most of our information comes from personal testimonials and word-of-mouth. One study linked ginseng to a reduced incidence of the common cold and flu, but another showed that mice fed ginseng actually had damage to the immune system. The ginseng mice had more illness and aged more rapidly than they would have normally. Some claim that the American variety of ginseng, not the Asian variety, has more active properties. Some reports indicated ginseng should not be used for more than approximately two weeks at a time.
Ginseng is used as a dietary supplement to treat many different health conditions and encourage energy and stamina. Some forms of ginseng have been found to increase the body's ability to deal with stress and fatigue, ward off illness and infection, and enhance physical and mental ability. Ginseng is also used to treat high blood sugar, heart conditions, anemia, attention deficit disorder, bronchitis, and breathing problems. Studies have been done on ginseng's effect on preventing cancer and heart problems, as well as coronary artery disease. It also has been used to treat hepatitis B, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve erectile dysfunction, improve the symptoms of dementia, protect the liver from disease, improve mood and anxiety, and relieve the discomfort of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
Ginseng has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Its safety and effectiveness is currently being researched and has not been proven. You should be aware that herbs and supplements, such as ginseng should always be used with caution and under a doctor's supervision.
The genus Panax includes many varieties of this small perennial herb. The common names of Panax ginseng include Oriental, Chinese or Korean ginseng; Panax quinquefolium is the strain that grows in North America. Herbal extracts of ginseng are prepared from the dried root and root hairs of the plant. Herbs other than those belonging to the genus Panax also are called ginseng: Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Brazilian ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata). Neither Brazilian nor Siberian ginseng contains ginsenosides, the presumed active components of ginseng. Ginseng can be used as a substance that exerts a mild strengthening effect on the body (tonic). Possible conditions for using extracts of ginseng as a tonic are during convalescence, fatigue or debility or for declining capacity for work and concentration. Dose
: Ginseng is available in a variety of product types.
- The recommended daily dose of ginseng is the equivalent of 1 to 2 grams of dried roots.
- Because more than half of the commercially available ginseng products contain less than effective levels of ginseng, it is advised to buy ginseng from reputable suppliers.
- Ginseng may be used up to 3 months at a time and use may be repeated.
: Situations in which use of ginseng is not advised: None. Side Effects
- Ginseng may have possible estrogen-like effects, including postmenopausal bleeding.
- Early reports that high doses or prolonged use of ginseng could cause sleeplessness, nervousness, diarrhea and elevated blood pressure are now discredited.
- Many sources still mention other side effects based on a report by Siegel. Several authors have since rejected the conclusions of this report because of flawed research methods.
Drug interactions: Ginseng may interact with the antidepressant prescription medication phenelzine. Ginseng may interact with some migraine medications.
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels; healthy individuals)
Several studies report that American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) lowers blood sugar when fasting and after meals. These results are promising, especially as ginseng does not seem to cause hypoglycemia. Further research is needed to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of ginseng in managing blood glucose levels.
Immune system enhancement
Limited research suggests that ginseng may stimulate the immune system. Ginseng may increase clearance of bacterial infections treated with antibiotics and improve the immune response to influenza immunization (flu shot). Additional research is needed in this area.
Several studies suggest that Panax ginseng may improve mental performance in healthy individuals. Further studies are needed in this area.
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This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.