Perhaps because it has a human-like form, ginseng root earned an ancient reputation as a panacea for all of man’s (and woman’s) afflictions. Things haven’t changed much in the thousands of years since. Ginseng is still touted as a panacea, and is, in fact, among the top 10 herbs sold in the U.S. today.
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer), also called Chinese or Korean ginseng, is the most used and most researched species of ginseng. Less popular in the U.S. are American ginseng (P. quinquefolius) and san qua ginseng (P. pseudo-ginseng), though all three are claimed to have similar effects.
These three species of true ginseng, however, should not be confused with what’s commonly called Siberian ginseng. Though it too is said to have ginseng-like health benefits, it comes from the Eleuthero plant (Eleutherococcus senticosus), which, though related. is an entirely different genus. It is typically sold as a cheaper alternative to the more expensive Panax ginsengs.
What Might it Do? Ginseng is not intended to treat specific diseases, but rather to support health. It is described as an “adaptogen,” a phrase used by herbalists to refer to a plant that helps the body adapt to physical and mental stress, perhaps by affecting hormone levels. As such. ginseng is claimed to fight off fatigue, and improve stamina and concentration.
Ginseng is also referred to as a “tonic,” meaning it aids resistance to diseases, which run the gamut from cancer, heart disease and diabetes to fighting off infection and protecting the liver against toxins. There is also a common belief it works as an aphrodisiac.
How it Might Work. Substances called ginsenosides are believed to be the active compounds in ginseng. It’s been speculated they can stimulate the immune system, affect the secretion of hormones, improve the efficiency of the body’s metabolism and protect cells by acting as antioxidants.
If You Take. Ginseng is sold as teas. tinctures, tablets, capsules, even gum and candy. The problem is knowing if you?re getting the real thing. Cheap ginseng is probably not true ginseng. There is tremendous variability in product content; some products have been found to be totally lacking in ginseng. To absolutely ensure purity, you have to buy the whole root, which can be an expensive proposition. Though you needn’t go to this extreme, choice roots with human-like shapes reportedly sell for thousands of dollars.
Most experts recommended looking for a product labeled as Panax ginseng, standardized to 4% to 7% ginsenosides. A typical dose is 100 to 200 milligrams a day. Use is generally recommended occasional, or alternating 2 to 3 weeks on and 1 to 2 off, for example.
Caution. Side effects may include insomnia and, rarely, diarrhea anti skin problems. You should, however, avoid taking it during any acute illness or if you have high blood pressure. Consult your doctor if you have heart disease, diabetes. or are on steroid therapy, antipsychotic medications, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) or anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin.
EN Weighs In. Ginseng claims to do so many things that many traditional scientists are skeptical they can all be true. There’s little evidence ginseng enhances sexual desire. There has, however, been much laboratory and animal research to support improved resistance to disease and increased energy. Unfortunately, results of the few human studies that exist are conflicting. Moreover, it is difficult to assess something as subjective as energy level.
Still, 2,000 years of use is hard to argue with. But even if true ginseng has all the effects proponents claim, the problem is. that you can’t be assured what type or purity of ginseng you?re getting. Moreover, research is still far from conclusive. But if you want to give it a try, we know of no harmful effects healthy people not on medications.
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