Ginseng - Benefits, Dangers, Precautions, Indications

Indications for ginseng

Stimulate the immune system.
Treat erectile dysfunction, treat type 2 diabetes.
Boost memory, improve physical performance, promote overall well-being, relieve menopausal symptoms, and prevent and treat cancer.
Tone the body of tired or weakened people, restore the ability to work physically and intellectual concentration, and help convalescents regain strength.
Treat diabetes and sexual dysfunction, boost the immune system, and preserve the health of aging people, especially postmenopausal women.

Ginseng food supplement: the benefits of a ginseng cure

Ginseng is a plant known for its general tonic effect. Moreover, because of this stimulating effect, it is recommended to consume it in the morning. Research shows that ginseng is an ally to help stimulate the immune system, fight physical and intellectual fatigue, or help convalescents regain strength. 

It is the ginsenosides, the active substances of ginseng, which give it its therapeutic power. Depending on the pain to be relieved, the recommended dose of ginseng varies. The advice of your doctor is therefore required. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you must consult your doctor.

Ginseng Dosage

Immune system stimulation

  • Standardized extract (4% to 7% ginsenosides). Take 100 mg to 200 mg, 2 times a day.

Physical or intellectual fatigue, convalescence, stimulation of sexual function

  • Standardized extract (4% to 7% ginsenosides). Take 200 mg, 1 to 3 times a day.
  • Tincture (1:5 – g/ml). Take 5 ml to 10 ml per day.
  • Dried root. Take 500 mg to 2 g of roots in the form of capsules or as a decoction (boil 1 g to 2 g of roots in 150 ml of water for 10 to 15 minutes). Dosages can go up to 3 g, 3 times a day.

Diabetes

  • Although several studies indicate that each species of ginseng can help control blood sugar levels, the dosages and types of preparations have varied too much to establish a treatment protocol.
Duration of the different treatments- According to Commission E, treatment usually lasts 3 months.
– In the Russian tradition, on the other hand, it is recommended to take ginseng for 10 to 15 days, then to take a break of 2 weeks before resuming the treatment, if necessary.
– In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are no time limits for treatment, especially in the case of weakened people who are advised to use it long-term or even chronically. Moreover, the World Health Organization recommends taking ginseng in the morning because of its stimulating effect.

Description of ginseng

Ginseng is the most famous medicinal plant in Asia. Chinese doctors consider Asian ginseng ( Panax Ginseng ) as a Qi tonic, the source of “Life Energy”. 

They attribute to it the property of increasing the strength and volume of ”  Blood  ” (the concept of “Blood” in TCM is broader than in modern Western medicine – see our Chinese Medicine 101 section), increasing the vitality and appetite, to calm the ”  Spirit  ” and to procure “Wisdom”. 

It is believed to work throughout the body in a number of subtle ways and to contribute to overall health and well-being. well-being.

Traditionally, Asian ginseng ( P. ginseng ) is said to be “white” when the root has simply been cleaned and dried. It is said to be “red” or “Korean red ginseng” when the root has been steamed before being dried.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, Asian ginseng is “warm”, while American ginseng is “cold”. This means, in short, that the Asian species is stimulating and nourishes Yang energy, while the American species has a calming effect and nourishes Yin. 

The known active molecules of ginsengs are ginsenosides (from the saponin family). Many ginsenosides have been identified to date and they are present in different proportions in the 2 species.

Almost all the ginseng in world trade today is grown in the field, under shade houses. 
Under these conditions, the plant produces a marketable root after 3 to 5 years. 
China, Korea, the United States, and Canada are the main producing countries. 
Cultivation in wooded areas, particularly in maple groves, is currently being tested in Quebec. 
In the forest environment, the plant can take 7 years or more before producing a root that has commercial value.

History of ginseng

The generic name Panax comes from the Greek words Pan, which means “everything”, and Akos which means “to heal”. The term ginseng comes from the Chinese words Gin, which means “man”, and Seng which means “essence”.

Asian ginseng has been part of the pharmacopoeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for at least 2,000 years. The North American species ( Panax quinquefolius ) was introduced to China around 1718 after being discovered in the Montreal area by a Jesuit missionary. 

Chinese herbalists quickly adopted it, emphasizing its great similarity with Asian ginseng while recognizing its specificity.

Strong Chinese interest in wild North American ginseng has led to rampant harvesting of the plant that has threatened its survival. In addition, commercial logging has created an additional threat. 

Wild ginseng is now considered an endangered species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and its collection is prohibited. In the United States, it is either banned or tightly controlled in several states. Wild Asian ginseng is also a rare plant in Asia.

Little is known of Native American use of native ginseng prior to its near extinction. It seems that a tribe used it to strengthen the health of the elderly while another would have used it to increase female fertility. 

Finally, according to a legend, the plant made it possible to give birth without pain.

Ginseng Research

In 1947, an eminent Russian researcher by the name of Lazarev formulated the concept of “adaptogen” to describe a type of effect which could be related to the Chinese concept of “Tonic”. 
According to Lazarev’s definition, an adaptogenic substance increases, in a general and non-specific way, the resistance of the organism to the various stresses that affect it. 
While causing a minimum of undesirable effects, an adaptogenic product exerts a non-specific normalizing action on several organs or on numerous physiological functions.
The concept corresponds well to the various effects of ginseng, observed during 
clinical studies
For example, it can, depending on the body’s needs, raise or lower body temperature and blood pressure, lose or gain weight, stimulate or calm the central nervous system, etc. 
The known active molecules are ginsenosides (from the 
saponin family ).
We understand that such a concept, although very interesting, does not fit well into the context of modern medical research and lends itself more or less well to the usual protocols of classic clinical trials. 
The variation in the quality and content of active ingredients of the different ginsengs used during clinical trials could also explain their contradictory results.

 Stimulation of the immune system. 

Numerous tests in different animals indicate that ginseng can stimulate the immune system. The data is compelling in humans as well. 

In influenza-vaccinated subjects, standardized extracts of Asian ginseng (G115®, 100 mg twice daily) 2 and American ginseng 3 (COLD-fX®, 200 mg twice daily) markedly reduced the risk of contracting a respiratory infection compared to a placebo.

A trial was conducted in Canada with 270 people prone to colds. Taking a standardized extract of American ginseng (COLD-fX®, 400 mg daily for 4 months) was more effective than a placebo in reducing the intensity and duration of symptoms. 

Moreover, only 10% of people in the experimental group had more than one cold, compared to 23% in the placebo group. A smaller trial of the same product produced similar results in vaccinated elderly.

Some researchers wanted to know if Asian ginseng had a stimulating effect on the immune system of athletes. The results are not convincing so far. In sedentary men, American ginseng (1125 mg of standardized extract) also had no effect on immunity, measured after moderate exercise.

Sexual function. 

Many medicinal preparations from Traditional Chinese Medicine intended for the treatment of various sexual dysfunctions contain ginseng

The authors of a summary published in 2008 scrutinized 7 clinical trials with a placebo, 6 of which focused on red Asian ginseng. They conclude that red ginseng may be helpful for erectile dysfunction, but the evidence is weak.

In addition, a placebo crossover trial conducted in Korea showed promising results in improving sexual function in postmenopausal.

Type 2 diabetes. 

The data is interesting, but not precise enough at this time. Several trials have been done to verify the effect of ginseng on blood glucose levels in people with or without diabetes. 

According to a summary published in 2006, the plant had a beneficial effect during most of these studies. However, as the authors point out, these data do not make it possible to establish a treatment protocol. In fact, during these trials, the dosages used, the products used, and the effects observed varied greatly.

Stimulation of cognitive functions. 

Commission E and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize the use of Asian ginseng ( Panax Ginseng ), among other things to restore the capacity for physical work and intellectual concentration. Although a few clinical trials have shown positive results, others have been inconclusive. Taken together, the data does not allow us to conclude on the effectiveness of Asian ginseng (no more than American ginseng) on ​​memory, in particular, because of the poor methodological quality of the studies and the fact that doses and different types of preparations.

Two placebo-controlled crossover trials published in 2010 indicate that taking a single dose of Asian or American ginseng extract had a beneficial effect on short-term memory while inducing a perception of greater calm in attendees. 

In one of these trials, treatment was continued for 7 days: there was no improvement in these acute effects or a difference in mood or general cognitive performance between the group placebo and the treated group.

In 2 clinical trials, the effectiveness of a mixture of Asian ginseng and ginkgo Biloba (Gincosan) in improving memory was tested, with contradictory results.

In terms of Alzheimer’s disease, the authors of a systematic review looked at 2 studies that compared the effects of Asian ginseng as an adjuvant to those of conventional treatment alone. 

Although the treatment with ginseng gave clearly superior results, according to these researchers, the validity of these results is limited by significant methodological flaws.

 Improved physical performance. 

Again, clinical trials have produced conflicting results. The majority of them, especially the most recent ones, have not been conclusive. 

The author of a summary published in 2009 points out that we are still waiting for a test carried out according to the rules of the art to demonstrate the effectiveness of ginseng in athletes wishing to improve their performance. 

More recently, a trial on amateur runners was inconclusive during an endurance test in hot and humid conditions: the subjects had taken a single dose of a ginseng extract.

 General well-being. 

The authors of a summary published in 2003 looked at 9 trials. Despite certain observed effects, ginseng, alone or in combination with vitamins or minerals, did not give clearly conclusive results in terms of the quality of life of different subjects (healthy people, menopausal, and diabetics).

 Menopause

Ginseng is traditionally used to relieve symptoms of menopause. The single large trial involved 384 postmenopausal. A standardized Asian ginseng extract taken for 16 weeks was no more effective than a placebo in reducing participants’ hot flashes, but it did marginally improve their psychological well-being

In a preliminary trial of 12 women with severe menopausal symptoms, taking 6 g of Asian red ginseng daily for 1 month reduced participants’ fatigue, insomnia, and depression. During these 2 studies, the researchers found that ginseng had no hormonal effect.

Prevention and treatment of cancer. 

There are only studies conducted in Asia and a single clinical trial with a placebo, which does not allow us to conclude the effectiveness of ginseng in preventing or treating cancer.

Case-control studies and epidemiological research conducted in Korea have reported a reduced risk of cancer in subjects who consume Asian ginseng. As part of a vast epidemiological study conducted in China (Shanghai Women’s Health Study), researchers followed a subgroup of 1,455 Chinese women suffering from breast cancer for 3 to 4 years. 

They found 2 interesting correlations: the survival rate was higher in women who regularly took ginseng before the cancer was diagnosed, and those who consumed ginseng after receiving their diagnosis had a better quality of life. However, the analysis amalgamated all the preparations and types of ginseng consumed, as well as very variable durations of treatment. 

We cannot, therefore, make precise recommendations on the best protocols based on these results. Moreover, among all participants in the Shanghai Women’s Health Study (nearly 75,000 women) ginseng consumption was not associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer.

Only one clinical trial with a placebo has been published to our knowledge. It focused on 643 Chinese patients suffering from chronic atrophic gastritis, an attack of the internal lining of the stomach which can predispose to cancer of this organ. 

The treated patients took 1 g of Korean red ginseng extract powder for 3 years and were followed for another 8 years. At the end of this period, only men had benefited from a statistically significant preventive effect against cancer, all organs combined.

Adjuvant treatment. 
In vitro and animal tests, several ginsenosides have shown anticancer activity, paired with low toxicity. 
This is why researchers have been interested in ginseng as an adjuvant treatment for cancer, in particular, to counter the extreme fatigue felt by patients. 
In this study, patients who took a 1,000 mg or 2,000 mg dose of American ginseng reported having more energy, feeling less tired, and having greater improvements in their general well-being, compared to subjects in the group. placebo and those who had taken a dose of 750 mg. 
In an earlier placebo-controlled trial of 53 subjects with cancer, taking 3 g of red ginseng extract improved participants’ quality of life, especially psychologically.

Commission E and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize the use of Asian ginseng ( Panax Ginseng ) to tone the body of tired or weakened people, restore the capacity for physical work and intellectual concentration and help convalescents to regain strength.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ginseng (for 2,000 years for Asians and nearly 300 years for North Americans) is used in the composition of a multitude of classic preparations. According to TCM, it is a general tonic for the body.

Precautions

Attention

  • Self-medication for diabetes can lead to serious problems. When you begin a treatment that has the effect of modifying your blood glucose level, you must monitor your blood sugar very closely. It is also necessary to inform your doctor, so that he can, if necessary, review the dosage of conventional hypoglycemic drugs.
  • It is important to distinguish between Asian and American species of ginseng, as they have effects specific to each (see History and Research sections ). It is advisable to consult a naturopath, a duly certified herbalist, or a knowledgeable health professional in order to choose the relevant species.

Contraindications

  • Commission E recommends avoiding Asian ginseng ( P. ginseng ) for high blood pressure.
  • Although it seems that the plant does not exert an estrogenic action, some sources continue to recommend caution to patients who have suffered from hormone-dependent cancer or whose risk of contracting this type of cancer is high.
  • According to the authors of a recent synthesis, the data are insufficient to conclude on the safety of ginsengs for pregnant and breastfeeding women. They, therefore, recommend caution.

Side effects

  • At the recommended dosages, ginsengs are essentially devoid of adverse effects. An analysis of the data relating to the adverse effects that have been noted in all of the clinical studies reveals that there were no more adverse effects in the treated subjects than in the subjects in the control groups.
  • Note that in 1979, a study of 133 subjects taking Asian ginseng reported several adverse effects in 14 people: hypertension, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, diarrhea, etc. The author named this phenomenon ginseng abuse syndrome  (GAS), but his study was discredited for lack of rigor because, among other things, the subjects who reported these adverse effects consumed very large quantities of ginseng (up to 15 g per day) and many were also ingesting a lot of caffeine. No further cases of GAS have been reported for 40 years.

Interactions

With plants or supplements

  • Ginseng can increase the effect of foods, plants, or supplements with stimulating properties (coffee, tea, guarana, chocolate, etc.).
  • Ginseng can increase the effect of plants or supplements with hypoglycemic properties (psyllium, glucomannan, fenugreek, for example).

With medication

  • Ginseng may interact with blood thinners. Two studies published in 2004 and carried out on healthy volunteers taking ginseng and warfarin (Coumadin ® ), however, came to opposite conclusions. During the first, the researchers concluded that there was no interaction, while the second found that taking ginseng reduced the effect of the anticoagulant drug. Patients taking warfarin or another anticoagulant at the same time as ginseng should therefore notify their doctor.
  • Ginseng may interact with hypoglycemic medications.
  • Theoretically, ginseng could interact with central nervous system stimulants and monoamine oxidase inhibitor-type antidepressants (2 cases reported).

On the shelves

  • Quality of ginseng supplements. From 1995 to 2000, analyses revealed great variability in the ginsenoside content of commercially available supplements, particularly in Sweden, France, the United States, and Ontario.

Image Credit: Image by Freepik

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