Ginseng is one of several types of ginseng commonly used in herbal medicine. The ginseng plant grows in the mountains of East Asia, and its roots are harvested for ginseng that people eat—often used in teas and supplements.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, each type of ginseng is believed to have unique healing properties. For example, some types of ginseng are said to have “warming” properties and are thought to help blood flow.
This article takes a closer look at what ginseng is and the health benefits it may provide. It also discusses how to take ginseng, possible side effects, and what to look out for when purchasing.
What is ginseng?
Ginseng is a root commonly used in herbal supplements. It is thought to increase energy, strengthen the immune system, and help manage certain health conditions.
What are the uses of ginseng?
Active compounds in ginseng, known as Ginsenosidesis thought to have steroid effects that reduce inflammation in the body.
Dating back to ancient times, ginseng has been used to increase energy and stamina, and to strengthen the immune system.
Today, while research on ginseng is fairly limited, there is some evidence that the herb may have health benefits.
Here are a few key findings:
Ginseng may help with diabetes management. In a 2014 research review, scientists analyzed 16 studies focusing on how ginseng affects blood sugar levels in people with and without diabetes.
Most studies were conducted for less than 12 weeks and included people with relatively good blood sugar control. The authors concluded that although ginseng significantly improved fasting blood glucose levels in both diabetic and non-diabetic patients, more research is needed.
According to a 2015 review of studies on the health benefits of ginseng, ginseng has been shown to improve cognitive performance, primarily short-term memory.
Additionally, a 2018 study found that taking ginseng supplements for five years or more had beneficial effects on cognitive performance in older adults.
These cognitive benefits and many other ginseng health benefits are thought to be due to the root’s antioxidant properties.
Ginseng may be an effective and safe treatment for erectile dysfunction, according to a review of six research trials conducted over 15 years.
Another review of sexual function replacement drugs also found that ginseng was the only dietary supplement that improved erectile function without causing safety concerns.
Unlike prescription erectile dysfunction medications, which are usually taken when needed, ginseng appears to be useful for erectile dysfunction only if taken consistently.
While it’s sometimes touted as a “panacea,” ginseng may not be helpful for some conditions.For example, studies have found that ginseng is ineffective in relieving hot flashes or improve exercise endurance.
In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that while there has been a lot of research on the benefits of ginseng, more research is needed to prove that ginseng can be helpful for many other diseases, including:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- colds and flu
- Digestive problems
Studies have shown that ginseng can improve cognition, help people with diabetes control blood sugar, and is a safe treatment for erectile function. That said, more research is needed to prove that ginseng is useful for these and many others.
possible side effects
Ginseng is commonly used and is even present in beverages, which might lead you to believe it’s completely safe. But like any herbal supplement or drug, it can have adverse effects.
Some of the more common side effects include:
- Digestive problems
Ginseng may affect blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you may need to avoid ginseng unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Ginseng might lower blood sugar levels and may interact with diabetes medications. So if you have diabetes and are considering using it, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid ginseng.
Drug and Supplement Interactions
Ginseng can make blood-thinning drugs work more potently and increase the risk of bleeding. If you are taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications such as warfarin, clopidogrel, ticlopidine, heparin, and aspirin, be sure to consult your doctor before trying ginseng.
Some herbal supplements are known to cause bleeding, so if combined with ginseng, there is an increased risk of bleeding.
Ginseng may affect levels of chemicals that transmit messages from nerve cells to other cells, and may interact with antipsychotic drugs such as chlorpromazine.
Ginseng was found to interfere with the processing of drugs by an enzyme called CYP3A4. Ask your doctor to check if you are taking these medicines.
Ginseng may cause headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia in some people. If you are taking other herbal supplements or medications, such as blood thinners or antipsychotics, be sure to ask your doctor if ginseng is safe for you.
Dosage and Duration
There is no single recommended dose for ginseng. Various doses were studied in the study.
For example, a 2018 review of 91 clinical trials on the effects of ginseng found that appropriate ginseng doses varied widely due to the diversity of trials. For these clinical trials, doses ranged from 0.2 grams to 9 grams of ginseng per day for 4 to 24 weeks.
While ginseng can boost your energy and help you manage certain health conditions, be sure to check with your doctor first if you’re considering taking it.
what to look for
In traditional Chinese medicine, the way ginseng is prepared is thought to affect its effects.
For example, red ginseng is unpeeled ginseng that has been steamed before drying. White ginseng, on the other hand, is unpeeled ginseng that has been dried and peeled (but not steamed). A newer type, black ginseng, is made through repeated steaming/drying processes.
Red ginseng is thought to boost “yang” energy more than white ginseng and is said to stimulate and heat. Therefore, red ginseng may be too stimulating for people who are prone to heat or suffer from diseases such as tumors, kidney stones, gallstones, inflammation, or certain mental illnesses.
White and red ginseng are available in tinctures, liquid extracts, powders, and capsules.
People involved in other types
In traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng is said to have a “cooling” effect. This type of ginseng is often touted as a natural remedy for diabetes. American ginseng is also said to stimulate the immune system and improve physical strength, stamina, and overall health.
Siberian ginseng is also used to enhance physical strength, stamina, and immunity. It is sometimes used to ease the side effects of chemotherapy. Additionally, Siberian ginseng is thought to protect against atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Ginseng root is commonly used in traditional medicine and is often used in herbal supplements and beverages. Its antioxidant and steroid properties are thought to benefit conditions such as diabetes and erectile dysfunction, and it can also enhance cognitive function.
More research is needed to determine how much ginseng benefits people with these and many other conditions. It’s unclear what the optimal dose of ginseng usually is.
Ginseng does carry a risk of side effects and may interfere with certain medications, so be sure to ask your doctor if it is right for you.
Herbal and alternative medicines are popular, but don’t forget that just because something is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements as if they were food, which means they are not as tightly regulated as drugs.
Look for supplements certified for quality by independent third parties like NSF, or seek recommendations from reputable brands from your healthcare provider.