Ginseng is widely known as a beneficial herb, with many healthful attributes attributed to its regular use. "Ginseng increases resistance to the effects of stress and improves circulation and mental functioning. Health conditions contributed to be stress include increased acidity of the body ...Ginseng is widely known as a beneficial herb, with many healthful attributes attributed to its regular use. "Ginseng increases resistance to the effects of stress and improves circulation and mental functioning. Health conditions contributed to be stress include increased acidity of the body chemistry, back pain, cancer, Crohn's disease (inflammation of the intestinal tract), depression, chronic diarrhea, digestive disorders, hair loss, headaches, hypertension or high blood pressure, impotence, insomnia, TMJ syndromes (jaw pain and clicking), nervous and anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive behaviors, various skin conditions, and finally, ulcers. Ginseng, whether it comes from Korea or Minnesota, is for people who have chronic fever, thirst, hot flashes, people who crave excess sweets and have excess hunger." (Benefits of Ginseng, Megaton Article, emphasis mine.) This last benefit can be a definite benefit to dieters! In fact, ginseng usage has been shown to result in "reduced glycemia in both non-diabetic subjects and Type II diabetes suffers given the herb 40 minutes prior to a glucose challenge" (Vulsan, V et al. Arch Inter Med 160(7):1009-1013, 2000.) Furthermore, the article, The Benefits of Ginseng, states: "Dried ginseng root may help people with type 2 diabetes control blood sugar levels. One study showed that in the diabetics, ginseng lowered blood sugar 20% more than placebo pills. Among those who did not have diabetes, there was also a similar drop in blood sugar levels." This drop in blood sugar levels could benefit low carbohydrate dieters by lowering overall blood sugar, thus preventing the release of the fat storing hormone, insulin.

"There are many "ginsengs" on the market, but the two main species of ginseng are Panax ginseng (Asian) and Panax quinquefolius (American). Although it is a member of the same Araliaceae family as ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng) is not true ginseng but a distant relative of the panax species. Siberian ginseng has different active ingredients, yet has similar benefits as panax ginseng, thereby the confusion.

Panax is Latin for 'all-healing,' which is how the Chinese have considered the herb for thousands of years. As such, it is also known as an adaptogen, as it helps the body adapt to various potentially detrimental conditions. Panax has been credited with many healthy actions including helping to resist stress, increase longevity, strengthen immunity, relieve insomnia and depression, balance blood-sugar levels, increase energy and endurance, as well as to improve memory, alertness, concentration and spirit.

Asian ginseng is native to Northern China and both North and South Korea and has been considered by Chinese doctors as the foremost herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). American ginseng grows in North America from Canada to Louisiana and was praised by Native Americans before the settlers came. Even Asians applauded American ginseng that was imported in the 1700s. Nevertheless, Asian ginseng is the most popular species of ginseng and, despite its origins, the majority of the herb is now grown commercially in the United States, though Canada, China, North and South Korea, Russia and Japan also grow and export the herb.

The most used portion of ginseng is the root, which resembles a human being. The primary active constituents are complex carbohydrates called saponins or ginsenosides, thirteen of which have been identified in Asian ginseng. Each ginsenoside is thought to have its own action or benefit, further enacting the 'all-healing' moniker ginseng enjoys. The two species of Panax ginseng vary in terms of type and ratio of ginsenosides. The amount of ginsenosides in any given portion of ginseng is dependent upon numerous factors, including the species, area of cultivation and the quality of ginseng grown. Also, it is reported that the older the ginseng plant, the higher the potency.

How the herb is processed can have a great effect on its potency. White ginseng is the natural, unprocessed root. Red ginseng is root that is processed by steaming and heating. Because such processes can be hard to withstand, only older and more potent ginseng roots undergo this treatment, leading to claims that red ginseng is more potent than white. Wild ginseng is the natural form of the entire ginseng plant. Such ginseng is rare in Asia, but the American species is more abundant (although harvesting is strictly controlled by various state and provincial officials in North America.)

Asian ginseng has been more frequently studied by researchers, who have focused largely on ginsenosides Rg1 and Rb1. Most of the scientific attention on ginseng has been in the areas of immunity, cancer prevention, heart disease prevention, neurology, stress resistance and protection from radiation.

A study in India involved two groups of rats injected with a fatal virus. One group received ginseng for 5.5 days prior to injection and for 3.5 days following injection; the other group received no ginseng. Researchers reported that 35 percent of the rats given ginseng survived the virus, while all other rats perished. Moreover, scientists later found that the surviving rats had developed an immunity to the virus after the ginseng supplementation.

South Korean researchers gave each of two groups of 100 mice a different carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and gave another two groups of mice the same carcinogens plus ginseng. After 6 to 12 months of supplementation, the ginseng groups showed significantly fewer and smaller tumors per mouse than did the groups not receiving ginseng. These results were reconfirmed in another South Korean study, in which 20 mice receiving a carcinogen and ginseng had fewer and smaller tumor than did 20 mice receiving the carcinogen but no ginseng. Further cancer protection by ginseng was shown in a Hong Kong study that involved Rg3 ginsenosides and human prostate carcinoma cells. Researchers reported that Rg3 inhibited growth of the carcinoma by inducing apoptosis, or cell death (Liu, W. et al. Life Sci 67(11):1297-306, 2000).

As for ginseng's heart health benefits, Japanese researchers reported that a ginseng extract given orally to rats reduced serum total cholesterol and triglycerides that lead to fatty liver (Cui, X et al. J Int Med Res 26(4):181-7, 1998). The results were reportedly related to dose amounts, with the best results in the 125- to 250-mg range of supplementation.

A series of Japanese studies showed that mice given a lethal dose of radiation as well as injections of purified ginseng extract had higher survival rates than their similarly irradiated counterparts who received no ginseng. Researchers noted that the mice taking the largest doses of ginseng had the highest rates of survival, 82 percent. Mice receiving only radiation and a saline solution did not survive.

Beyond these research areas, ginseng has shown additional benefits.

* Rg1 and Rb1 ginsenosides have been shown to enhance endurance in rats (Wang, L. and Lee, T. Planta Med 64(2):130-3, 1998);
* American ginseng has demonstrated the ability to stimulate coital behavior in rats (Murphy, L et al. Physiol Behav 64(4):445-50, 1998);
* A saponin extract from ginseng showed an ability to enhance sperm motility (Chen, J et al. Phytomed 5(4):289-92, 1998); and
* American ginseng reduced glycemia in both non-diabetic subjects and Type II diabetes suffers given the herb 40 minutes prior to a glucose challenge (Vulsan, V et al. Arch Inter Med 160(7):1009-1013, 2000).

The science of ginseng and its various healthy actions is ongoing, with future results sure to further define the herbs wide-reaching effects. As such, doses of ginseng will vary, but the average dose recommended by experts ranges from 25 to 75 mg of ginsenosides per day. This can be determined by multiplying the capsule, tablet or drop dose by the percentage of ginsenosides to which the extract is standardized. For whole root consumption, average doses vary from 500 mg to 6,000 mg of root per day.

Ginseng is widely considered a safe herb, but massive overdose can lead to Ginseng Abuse Syndrome, which is marked by insomnia and extreme muscular or arterial. Persons with high blood pressure should avoid ginseng use, as should pregnant or lactating women." (HSR Magazine Report, Ginseng, December 2000)

Other benefits in ginseng use are:

o Strengthening the body
o Improving memory
o Increasing vitality
o Extending endurance
o Cleansing the body of stress
o Fighting fatigue
o Resisting disease
o Bolstering immunity
o Balancing metabolism
o Preventing headaches
o Treating sleep disorders and overcoming insomnia
o Ginseng has had beneficial effects on women suffering post-menopausal symptoms.
o Ginseng has also demonstrated clinical improvements in virility among men, and effected improvements in conditions of sexual dysfunction for both sexes.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Bill Bailey is a Certified Natural Health Professional, and a Doctor of Naturopathy. He has a Ph.D. in Theology, and is a Board Certified Traditional Naturopath, certified by the American Naturopathic Certification Board (ANCB.) He is also a Master Herbalist, and a Professional Member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, and of the Coalition for Natural Health. He is one of the founders, and currently serves as a Board Member, of the North Carolina Chapter of the Certified Natural Health Professionals. He also serves as webmaster for the Citizens for Healthcare Freedom.

Dr. Bill desires to educate and inform with regard to Natural Health issues, modalities, and information. Bookmark this blog for good, consistent, relevant information on a natural, holistic approach to health!

Allopathic medicine is what most American’s take for granted as “standard medicine.” It looks at symptoms of individuals and tries to classify and treat those symptoms. It normally (or, historically) does not look at overall well-being or nutritional deficiencies as an underlying foundation of disease. The standard allopathic treatment of a condition is to diagnose it, categorize it, and then prescribe a drug, or drugs, to “correct” the symptoms. Exceptions to this path is to cut out the offending organ or tissue, or in other ways to destroy it via chemical, radiation, or other extreme means. The Naturopathic approach is to look at the whole being… the whole, not the specific. A Naturopath uses a holistic approach that takes into account a client’s state of mind, spiritual condition, underlying nutritional requirements, weaknesses, and deficiencies, and even the bodies’ natural energy fields. These are two disparate approaches (but not necessarily completely at odds with one another.) As a Naturopath, I hope that we can have a healthy relationship between the two disciplines.