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Ginseng

Araliaceae Panax

One of the most researched herbal medicines, there are 11 different species of ginseng, but for nootropic purposes the name refers to either American ginseng (Panax quinquefolis) or Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng or Araliaceae Panax). The age of the Ginseng plant affects the density of its active compounds, and as such it is not harvested for at least 5 years after planting. These compounds include polyacetylenes, acidic polysaccharides and tetracyclic triterpenoid saponins (ginsenosides), the latter of which is extracted from the root of the plant, has steroid-like properties and is unique to the species. [source:1] Ongoing research is being conducted into ways in which ginsenosides can further benefit the mind and body, with at least 100 papers published annually in South Korea alone. [source:2]

 

History

Ginseng has been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans and in ancient Chinese medicine, with documented records dating back to 100 A.D. It was traditionally used to treat fever, indigestion issues, headaches and infertility, and to this day it is still the most popular herbal remedy in Asia. Ginseng comes from the Chinese words for person and plant root ‘rénshēn’. While the genus name of Panax comes from the Greek ‘pan akos’ and means ‘cure all’.

 

Benefits

Thousands of reports have been published on the positive effects of Ginseng. Here, we’ll discuss the results in more depth. The key health improvements were found in:

  • Improved Mental Performance
  • Enhancing Concentration & Learning
  • Boost Physical & Mental Energy
  • Increasing Cognitive Function Abilities
  • Protects & Fuels Brain Mitochondria
  • Reduces Stress & Adrenal Fatigue
  • Better Lung Function
  • Immune System
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Cancer Preventative
  • Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

 

Source : 5

Source : 5

Improved Mental Performance

Ginseng’s most impressive impact is the stimulation of brain cells which has measurable improvements on concentration and cognition. Gene modulating MicroRNAs are molecules that regulate gene expression in brain cell DNA, thereby having the capability to affect almost everything happening within the brain. Research has found as many as 73 MicroRNAs in ginseng. [source:3]

Panax ginseng has several extracts which are considered to be actoprotectors. A new subclass of adaptogens, ‘actoprotector’ is the term given to a natural compound which increases both mental and physical performance, enhancing the body’s capability to bear great physical loads without needing to increase its oxygen consumption or heat production. [source:4] It is this element of actoprotectors that make them differ from psychostimulants like caffeine or adrafinil, because although the mental and physical enhancements are similar, there is no ‘crash’ when it wears off or ‘mental load’ as you might experience when using a stimulant such as Ritalin. [source:5]

Furthermore, ginsenosides improve protein synthesis and the work of neurotransmitters within the brain, stimulating the creation of blood vessels and improving brain circulation, resulting in improved memory and cognition. [source:6]

Source : 5

Source : 5

A study conducted by the Department of Neurology at South Korea’s Clinical Research Institute tested groups of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. One group were given ginseng daily for 12 weeks, tested using the Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS) scale at 12 weeks, and again 12 weeks after the discontinuation of the trial. Both the control and ginseng group started the trial with the same baseline result. After 12 weeks the test group showed significantly higher ADAS scores than the control group. The final test 12 weeks post trial showed that the test groups results were dropping back down to a similar level as the control group. This suggests that Panax ginseng does have a positive impact on cognitive performance. [source:7]

It is ginseng’s phytochemical element, ginsenoside, that provides an action on the brain similar to a stimulant, leading to an improvement of quality of life. A 2003 report analysed nine clinical trials with subjects taking doses of between 80-400mg over a period of 2-9 months. Almost every study conducted found improvements in Quality of Life scores. [source:8]

 

Enhancing Concentration & Learning

Users of ginseng consistently report feeling more alert and countless studies support this assertion. Much of the research done into properties of ginseng have found improvements in mental arithmetic, concentration, and learning in the test subjects.

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One example of this is a test on chicks using ginsenoside Rb1. The results showed that memory and learning were improved by ginseng significantly boosting nerve growth factor (NGF) as well as neurite growth. [source:9]

Ginseng’s neuro-protective qualities along the dopaminergic pathway have been found to help sufferers of ADHD. [source:10]  Those experiencing ADHD or depression are also benefited by ginseng as it inhibits re-uptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, thereby lessening some of the symptoms of those conditions. [source:11]

 

Boost Physical & Mental Energy

Regardless of your age and physical fitness, fatigue and lack of energy are issues most of us have had to suffer from at some point, wether were sporting and bring it on ourselves purposefully or not. Often when we have these moments, we get ‘brain fog’ or hit the afternoon slump, then we reach for caffeine or sugar, but Ginseng provides the extra ‘boost’ needed without the inevitable crash of other stimulants.

One study of 30 young adults tested Panax ginseng’s impact on cognition. The trial was double-blind and placebo-controlled with doses of 200mg and 400mg tested. Results showed mental fatigue was significantly reduced. [source:12]

 

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Source : 13

Increasing Cognitive Function Abilities

Spatial memory, critical accuracy, and reaction time are all very attributed to quality cognitive function. All 3 are consistently relied upon at the highest level in both elite sports and professional careers.

Source : 13

Source : 13

A study by the Brain Sciences Institute of  Swinburne University, Australia was conducted on 32 adults to test the effects of ginseng on spatial/working memory. The study was double-blind and placebo-controlled, using a standardized extract of Ginseng in low, medium and high doses. The test subjects’ critical accuracy, reaction time and spatial memory were tested at 1, 3 and 6 hours after taking the ginseng extract to determine the effectiveness on increasing cognitive function.
The study found that consumption of the extract provided significant improvements in reaction time, critical accuracy and spatial/working memory. This was apparent even at the lowest dose, and more prevalent at the higher doses. The study concluded that there was a significant enhancement in  the 3   parameters stated here. Also that the two varieties of ginseng have been found to have different psychopharmacological properties though retaining properties of each other on some level, dependent on their ginsenoside profile. [source:13].

Some of the world’s best clinical trials are being conducted in the UK. A study at the Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Centre tested 30 adult participants, half of which were given ginseng and the other half, a placebo. Over 8 days, the mental capability and working memory of the test subjects was recorded and analysed. The findings showed that over the 8-day period, subjects taking 200-400mg of ginseng experienced increasing positive improvements in calmness and mental arithmetic throughout the trial. [source:14]

 

Protects & Fuels Brain Mitochondria

Mitochondria are critical to cell health. To provide an example, strokes are caused due to insufficient blood flow to a part of the brain. The reduction in blood flow creates a lack of nutrients and oxygen to brain cells, and the mitochondria within the cell then break down, often causing irreparable damage.

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A study by the Neurology Department at Xijing Hospital, China, tested one of the main ingredients in Panax ginseng – ginsenoside Rd – on rats, to discover if it could protect their brains from the effects of a stroke. The rats were given the ginsenoside Rd and then blood flow was restricted to part of their brains, resulting in a stroke. Results showed that the rats taking Panax ginseng seemed to have brain protection compared to those without. It is hypothesized that this was by protecting the mitochondria from apoptosis and dysfunction. [source:15]

Another study showed that ginseng allowed mitochondria to extract the maximum energy through ATP from glucose fuel, by activating particular enzymes in the Krebs cycle. [source:16] The shielding of mitochondria by ginseng, allowing a boost in ATP production, goes some way to explaining the increased mental energy experienced by those supplementing with ginseng. [source:17]

 

Reduce Stress & Adrenal Fatigue

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Ginseng has been found to improve mood and reduce stress by reducing adrenal fatigue.

Research carried out by the Division of Pharmacology at the Central Drug Research Institute, India, found that 100mg of Panax ginseng had “significant anti-stress properties and can be used for the treatment of stress-induced disorders”. The stated dosage reduced plasma glucose levels, adrenal gland weight and the ulcer index. The positive impact it has as an ulcer remedy and preventing adrenal fatigue makes Panax ginseng a powerful tool for both physical and mental endurance. [source:18] [source:19]

Alongside this, ginseng is thought to influence the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitter which naturally produces calming and anti-anxiety effects. [source:20]

 

Improves Lung Function

Some studies have found that treatment with Ginseng has decreased lung bacteria, helping with conditions such as cystic fibrosis. In a 1997 study, rats were injected with Ginseng and tested against a control group. After two weeks, the rats which had been treated had significantly lower bacteria level in the lungs. [source:21]

Further research has shown positive affects on other lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease due to oral consumption of Panax ginseng, with more studies being conducted every year.

 

Boosts Immune System

Ginseng is well known for it’s ability to assist the immune system in fighting disease and infection. 

Ginseng has been shown to regulate and improve the performance of a number of immunity cells, including natural killer cells, dendritic cells, macrophages, B cells, T cells as well as polysaccharide ‘ginsan’, an immune system moderator. Ginsan is thought to calm inflammation in the brain, leading to neurotransmitters working more effectively and apoptosis (cell death) prevention. [source:22]

Further studies have shown that ginseng’s polyacetylene compounds have antimicrobial properties, providing defence against viral and bacterial infection. Indeed, a study into ginseng use in mice showed that ginseng reduced bacteria levels in the spleen, blood and kidney, while also protecting the mice from death by sepsis caused by inflammation. [source:23]

 

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Has Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is at the centre of most diseases, in one way or another. Whether it be an allergic condition such as asthma, coeliac or Crohn’s disease, a physical manifestation such as arthritis or a hidden inflammation such as that with heart disease or cancer. As a herbal remedy, ginseng is one of the most powerful tools to fight inflammatory illness.

A study published in 2011 by the American Journal of Chinese Medicine tested the effectiveness of ginseng on inflammatory cytokines. Daily doses of 100mg were given over a 7-day period and results showed that inflammation was not only greatly reduced, but that damage that had already been done to the brain had started to reverse. [source:24]

A year-long study in Korea tested ginseng on children who had either undergone stem cell transplants or chemotherapy for advanced cancer. 19 of these patients were given a daily dose of 60mg of ginseng for a year and had blood samples taken twice daily. They were tested against 11 patients who had not taken ginseng. The study found that the level of cytokines in the ginseng group had reduced at a faster rate than the group not taking the supplement. [source:25]

As inflammation is one of the main factors in allergic conditions, ginseng has also been tested for it’s effects on a number of common conditions, such as allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is an inflammatory disease of the upper airway, with the main symptoms being congestion, sneezing and nasal itching. A study on mice at the Gachon University of Korea found that allergic nasal inflammation was reduced when mice were given ginseng, due to a reduction in cytokines.  [source:26]

 

Natural Cancer Prevention

While more research is needed on the impact of ginseng on cancer, studies showing reduced tumour growth have given ginseng the reputation of a powerful anticancer remedy. It is believed that ginseng has this effect by helping cell immunity in the body’s own NK (natural killer) cells, and by reducing oxidative stress, angiogenesis and apoptosis. [source:27] Additionally, polysaccharides found within Panax ginseng also have cancer fighting properties. [source:28]

Colorectal cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers in the United States of America, with around 1 in 21 people developing the disease in their lifetime. [source:29] For this reason, a large number of studies are being conducted into ginseng’s potential role in working as a natural treatment against colorectal cancer.

In one such study, colorectal cancer cells from human patients were treated with steamed American ginseng and the test repeated using steamed ginseng berry extract. In the test using ginseng berry extract, the anti-proliferation impact on the cancer cells was 98% for HCT-116 and 99% for SW-480 cells. The test using American ginseng yielded similar results. [source:30]

 

Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body not responding efficiently to insulin. Multiple studies have been conducted into ginseng’s influence on this responsivity and have found that insulin sensitivity has been improved by those with the condition.  [source:31]

A study by the University of Maryland Medical Centre tested groups of people with type 2 diabetes. The subjects drank a high sugar drink and then had their blood glucose levels tested. The people who took American ginseng (Panax quinquefolis) either before or together with the drink showed a smaller increase in blood glucose levels than those who took no ginseng at all. [source:32]

A study done in the United Kingdom at the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit found that one hour after the consumption of glucose, Panax ginseng caused a reduction in blood glucose levels. This confirmed that ginseng has the properties needed to regulate glucose levels. [source:33]

 

Other

Benefits that have been studied & reported, or clinically researched include;

  • Weight Loss [source:34][source:35]
  • Relieving Menopause Symptoms[source:36]
  • Sexual Dysfunction [source:37][source:38]

 

Side Effects

While side effects are rare and mild, long-term usage or not following recommended dosage information may result in dizziness and stomach upsets and may act as a stimulant in some people. Caution should be taken by anyone suffering from an ongoing illness or medical condition – if in doubt, consult your doctor.

Medications that may react negatively with Ginseng:

  • Diabetes medication
  • Blood-thinners and anticoagulants
  • Antidepressants and antipsychotics
  • Stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall, caffeine etc.
  • Morphine

Due to a lack of research, ginseng is not currently recommended for children or woman who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

As ginseng assists blood flow, it is not recommended for those suffering from bleeding conditions, due to undergo surgery, or on blood clotting medications.

Though it is still under research, there is concern that Panax ginseng may increase some of the symptoms experienced by people suffering from autoimmune diseases such as lupus, MS and rheumatoid arthritis. We recommend consulting your doctor if you suffer from any of these conditions.

Ginseng Abuse Syndrome can be suffered by those who use ginseng in large excessive amounts. To avoid Ginseng Abuse Syndrome, we recommend always following the recommended dose, ‘cycling’ ginseng by taking a 1 week break every 3-4 weeks and taking longer breaks if using for 3-6 months. [source:40]

 

 

This information should be used for guidance only, please consult with a medical professional before taking any dietary supplement. Should you suffer from any ongoing medical conditions or have any concerns at all, consult your doctor in the first instance.

 

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