Ginseng has been called the king of herbs, the root of heaven, and a wonder of the world. The most famous members in the ginseng family include about a dozen species in the genus Panax. This root has been used in different cultures as a medicinal tonic to boost immunity, build strength, and improve overall health. The genus name is derived from the Greek word ‘panakos’, meaning ‘cure-all’.
One of the Asian species (Panax ginseng) has been shown to strengthen the nervous system in people suffering from injury and disease, prolonged emotional stress, physical exertion, and fatigue. Studies report that people taking Asian ginseng often feel more alert and show improvements in thinking, learning, concentration, and memory.
Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells. One laboratory study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity is skin cells from people with eczema.
A small study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes taking a Korean red ginseng extract had levels of inflammatory markers, after performing exercise, significantly lower than in a placebo group. However, more studies are needed.
A larger study of 71 postmenopausal women who took an extract of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks, showed that red ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities.
Ginseng could help improve brain functions like memory, behaviour and mood. Studies have shown that ginseng components, such as ginsenosides and compound K, could protect against free radical damage, and give improvement in mental health, social functioning and mood. Affects on mental performance, mental fatigue and blood sugar levels have also been shown.
It is possible that ginseng assisted the uptake of blood sugar by cells, which could have enhanced performance and reduced mental fatigue. Improvements in calmness and mental skills have also been found. Other studies found positive effects on brain function and behaviour in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Research has shown that ginseng may be a a useful alternative for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. It seems that compounds in it may protect against oxidative stress in blood vessels and tissues in the penis and help restore normal function. Additionally, studies have shown that ginseng may promote the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves muscle relaxation in the penis and increases blood circulation. One study found that men treated with Korean red ginseng had a 60% improvement in ED symptoms, compared to 30% improvement produced by a medication used to treat ED.
Ginseng may strengthen the immune system. Some studies exploring its effects on the immune system have focused on cancer patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy treatment. One small study followed some people who were recovering from surgery for stomach cancer, treating them with ginseng daily for two years. These people had significant improvements in immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms. Another study showed improved immune system markers, after 3 months, in people with advanced stomach cancer undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy.
Ginsenosides in ginseng seem to regulate inflammation, provide antioxidant protection and maintain the health of cells,
which could help decrease the risk of certain kinds of cancer.
Various clinical trials of ginseng have exhibited a reduction of repeated colds and the flu. In one review, ginseng’s structural features, the pathogenicity of microbial infections, and the immunomodulatory, antiviral, and anti-bacterial effects of ginseng were discussed. The focus was on the latest animal studies and human clinical trials that corroborate ginseng’s role as a therapy for treating respiratory tract infections
Fatigue and Energy
Ginseng has been shown to help fight fatigue and promote energy.
Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue One four-week study explored the effects of giving 1 or 2 grams of Panax ginseng or a placebo to 90 people with chronic fatigue.Those given Panax ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue, as well as reductions in oxidative stress, than those taking the placebo. Additionally, a review of over 155 studies suggested that ginseng supplements may not only help reduce fatigue but also enhance physical activity.
Ginseng seems to be beneficial in the control of blood glucose in people both with and without diabetes.
Ginseng has been shown to improve pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues. Studies show that ginseng extracts help by providing antioxidant protection that reduce free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes.
It seems that fermented ginseng could be even more effective at blood sugar control. Fermented ginseng is produced with the help of live bacteria that transform the ginsenosides into a more easily absorbed and potent form
A study demonstrated that taking fermented red ginseng daily was effective at lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin levels after a test meal, compared to a placebo.