Despite the advent of modern medicine, still a number of people seek for a more traditional treatment using herbs. A large majority of these people believe that nothing can be better than nature’s healing using organic medicines. One very familiar herb is the ginseng. This herb has been used in alternative medicine believed to be helpful to cure all kinds of diseases. The American Botanical Council reports that the use of herbal supplements in the US has been steadily increasing where sales of these products in 2017 totaled more than $8 billion (1).
Ginseng, for one, is a regularly top-selling herbal supplement, which comes from the root part of several plant species in the Panax genus. The most common type of ginseng supplement comes from Panax ginseng, which roughly translates to ‘all-healing man-root’ (2).
It is also called Asian ginseng, Chinese ginseng, or Korean ginseng. This root has been used for thousands of years as part of traditional Chinese medicine and is said to improve physical and mental performance and increase the body’s ability to respond to stress (3). Outside of the ginseng supplements available for purchase over-the-counter, ginseng can be consumed in many different forms.
What is Ginseng Supplement?
- Ginseng is an herb also known as Anchi Ginseng, Baie Rouge, Canadian Ginseng, Ginseng à Cinq Folioles, Ginseng Américain, Ginseng Americano, Ginseng Root, North American Ginseng, Occidental Ginseng, Ontario Ginseng, Panax Quinquefolia, Racine de Ginseng, Red Berry, Ren Shen, Sang, Shang, Shi Yang Seng, Xi Yang Shen and other names (4).
- Panax ginseng is one of the several types of ginseng commonly used in herbal medicine. According to traditional Chinese medicine, each type of ginseng is thought to have unique healing properties (5).
- Ginseng is often referred to as the ‘King of all herbs’, and is found to be a promising agent to improve general well-being (6).
- Asian ginseng is one of the several types of ginseng and a native to the Far East, including China and Korea, and has been used for health-related purposes for at least 2,000 years (7).
Ginseng Supplement Benefits
1. Reduces inflammation
Laboratory experiments have demonstrated the immunological effects of ginseng. Researchers show that the herb, much used in traditional Chinese and other Asian medicine, has anti-inflammatory effects (8). It has shown many beneficial effects in human and such effects are attributed to immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effect of ginseng (9). The anti-inflammatory effect of ginseng is associated with their properties of cytokine regulation and phagocytosis in innate immunity as well as activation of T and B-lymphocytes (10). Research has shown that ginsenoside R2, a ginseng constituent is involved in suppression of TNF-α-induced NF-κB-dependent iNOS and COX-2 gene expression in HepG2 cells (11). In addition, one test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity in skin cells from people with eczema (12).
2. Benefits brain function
Ginseng is proven to improve memory, counteract stress, boost mood, and protect against neurological diseases. It can help prevent memory loss and guard against age-related mental decline. An evidence suggests that some of ginseng’s cognitive-boosting capacity is due to its anti-fatigue effects (13). It also can increase mental performance and physical energy. For instance, an Alzheimer’s patients took ginseng root daily for 12 weeks. They experienced improved cognitive performance (14). In addition, ginseng protect against neurodegenerative diseases (15). Oxidative stress and inflammation are key contributing factors to neurodegenerative diseases and due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, ginseng shows a promising ability in preventing and treating neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, brain ischemia, and stroke (16).
3. Improves erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction — the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex — is a common problem. Ginseng supplement may solve this problem. A type of ginseng, Korean ginseng, has long been used as a treatment for impotence, and scientific studies have found it may be effective in treating the symptoms of erectile dysfunction (ED). In a 2018 meta-analysis of 24 controlled trials involving 2,080 men with ED, researchers found that ginseng significantly improved erectile function (17). Moreover, the supplement may be an effective herbal treatment for ED (18). An earlier review of studies specific to red ginseng and ED looked at seven randomized controlled trials and found suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (19).
4. Boosts immune system
Several trials show a beneficial effect of Korean ginseng on physical endurance and capacity and more promising studies conducted of the effects of Korean ginseng on the immune system (20). In the two trials conducted among healthy volunteers who take ginseng, certain immune cells are shown to be more numerous or more active than in people who take a placebo, or sugar pill (21). For example, in a study of patients with bronchitis, a congestive lung disease, ginseng appeared to enhance the function of certain immune components in the bronchi, which are the main airways in the lungs (22). Hence, ginseng may exert its effects on the body’s stress response as well as the immune system (23). Another study examining the effect of red ginseng extract on immune system markers in people with advanced stomach cancer undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy reveals that those taking red ginseng extract had better immune system markers than those in the control or placebo group (24).
5. Fights cancer
Ginsenosides in ginseng have been shown to help reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant protection. This is making ginseng helpful in reducing the risk of certain cancers (25). The cell cycle is the process by which cells normally grow and divide and ginsenosides could benefit this cycle by preventing abnormal cell production and growth (26). A review of several studies concluded that people who take ginseng may have 16% lower risk of developing cancer while an observational study suggested that people taking ginseng could be less likely to develop certain types of cancer, such as lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, liver and lung cancer, than those who do not take it (27).
Ginseng Supplement Side Effects
Ginseng supplement is no doubt a powerhouse of health benefits. It is, in fact, said to increase energy by fighting off fatigue and promote energy. It is also said be beneficial in the control of blood glucose in people both with and without diabetes. The list of its benefits can go on. However, it is also important to understand that there might be some side effects that you should know about. According to research, ginseng appears to be safe and should not produce any serious adverse effects, but, some people taking diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar levels closely when using ginseng to ensure these levels do not go too low (28).
Also, ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulant drugs (29). Additionally, ginseng can act as a stimulant in some people. Ginseng has been reported to cause nervousness and insomnia while long-term use or high doses of ginseng may cause headaches, dizziness, stomach upset, and other symptoms (30). For these reasons, talk to your doctor before supplementing with it.