Curious to learn more about how ginseng can benefit your health? Want to know what ginseng even is and if you should add it to your healthy routine? You’re in the right place.
People have been harnessing the power of this incredible medicinal plant for centuries. From improved memory to decreased stress levels and even weight loss help, the cited benefits seem to reach from head to toe.
Let’s find out more about why it’s been used and studied so extensively.
The Rich History of Ginseng
If you didn’t know any better, you might confuse ginger and ginseng on appearance alone. Both root vegetables are pale in color and tubular. But ginseng has lengthy, fibrous roots with lots of skinny strands whereas ginger root is smooth and bumpy. Just like ginger, ginseng’s medicinal uses trace back to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Early records in the Shennong Bencao Jing, an ancient Chinese book on medicinal and agricultural plants from the 1st century AD, show ginseng has been used as an herbal medicine for over 2,000 years (1). Another book of this period, the Shang-Han Lun, a fundamental book in Chinese Medicine, contains 21 prescriptions with ginseng out of the 113 described. This information spread to Korea as well. You’ll find 653 prescriptions with ginseng in the Donguibogam, a book of the principles of traditional Korean medicine (1).
Back then, ginseng was considered rare and thought to have mysterious powers. It was also believed to be a strong detoxifier that supplied nourishment to the five vital organs (i.e., your heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen) (1). Touted as the “king of all herbs”, mentions of ginseng said it could potentially:
- Regulate an irregular pulse
- Relax palpitations
- Alleviate thirst
- Improve vision
- Increase longevity
- Improve cognitive function
- Be an aphrodisiac
Because ginseng showed so much promise and potential for better health, its use quickly spread to North America and Europe.
There are two main types of ginseng now: Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). And there are roughly 12 different types of those ginseng plants found all across the world.
Researchers say each type of ginseng offers up different health benefits. And those effects on health have been studied by scientists ever since.
How Does Ginseng Contribute to Better Health?
Ginseng contains antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, polysaccharides, and peptides. It’s also bursting with bioactive compounds known as ginsenosides, which is where many of the health benefits of ginseng come from. When isolated, researchers found up to 50 ginsenosides in ginseng root (2).
Combine all these and you have a powerhouse of nutrition for your cells. And that’s exactly why ginseng is considered an adaptogen. Adaptogens are plants that help you combat environmental and physical stressors to your health and well-being. According to science, ginseng is one of the most effective adaptogens.
8 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Ginseng
From Traditional Chinese Medicine to the modern laboratory, research on ginseng benefits continues to grow. Here’s what the science says about how ginseng benefits your health so far:
1. Help Reduce Stress Hormones
With demanding jobs and jam-packed schedules, everyone seems to be a little more stressed these days. And if you don’t take the time to recharge and center, it’s far too easy to let stress take over. Fortunately, research shows ginseng can be one of the most effective adaptogens for combating stress (3).
Ginseng lowers stress by regulating your body’s HPA axis, which stands for the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This important system is how your body maintains proper homeostasis during times of high stress, like if someone cuts you off in traffic, for example.
As your body’s flight-or-fight response kicks in, your adrenaline rises and your body goes on high alert. This stress helps your body in a critical situation but it also puts unnecessary stress on your body if you don’t come back down.
Your HPA, among other things, will help get your body back to normal. Ginseng allows your HPA to work more effectively, which means you may return your body to a calm, zen state much sooner (3).
Because of this, studies have also shown that ginseng may be helpful in people who have too much cortisol, a stress hormone, and for those who have HPA disorders. If your HPA system isn’t working optimally, you may experience everything from high blood pressure and asthma to depression and PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder (3).
2. Support Cardiovascular Health and Fight Inflammation
Ginseng is useful for lowering stress, as mentioned in the last point, and lower stress levels keep cardiovascular disease at bay. But since ginseng is packed with antioxidants, it may also be able to help prevent blood clots and improve blood pressure, two additional benefits for your cardiovascular health (3).
Animal studies have shown that ginseng lowers levels of reactive oxygen species, which can damage cells found in crucial walls of your heart. Ginseng can also lead to better blood circulation and heart function, according to the research (3). These anti-inflammatory properties may even prevent oxidative stress induced-ischemia, a condition where your body does not receive adequate blood flow to vital organs. If this occurs, it can lead to stroke-induced tissue damage.
In addition to your heart, your brain also receives anti-inflammatory boosts when ginseng is consumed. This time, the ancient root vegetable helps decrease the production of cytokines, a proinflammatory molecule that can speed up inflammatory diseases (4).
3. Support Brain Health
Research has also shown within the last decade and a half that ginseng may also have an incredible impact on mental cognition and brain health. In this double-blind placebo-controlled study from 2005, scientists tested healthy individuals using a placebo or either 200mg or 400mg of ginseng. Those in the ginseng groups scored significantly better on mental tasks they were given, including ones with subtraction, and they reported less mental fatigue (5).
Fast forward to 2016 and an animal study is showing even more promise. This time researchers discovered that compound K, a powerful ingredient found in ginsenosides, has the ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier where it releases anti-inflammatory reactions that can decrease Alzheimer’s disease and strokes (6). Furthermore, another body of research found that supplementing with ginseng can improve cognitive performance and reduce chronic fatigue in a whopping 56% of cases.
4. Support Weight Loss
Another animal study is also showing very positive results when it comes to losing weight with the help of ginseng. In this study done on obese mice, researchers discovered that ginseng could help them lose weight and decrease their blood sugar in as little as five days, and by 54% by the end of the 12-day trial (7). While more research is still needed here, especially in humans, these results are very promising and worth noting.
5. Help with Blood Sugar Management
While it’s not as useful in type 1 diabetes, ginseng can be effective for people suffering from type 2 diabetes. It does this by stabilizing your blood sugar, or blood glucose levels, and improving lipid metabolism. The latter helps regulate fat cells so your body can tap into its own supplies for energy (3).
In one study, participants with type 2 diabetes consumed a ginseng supplement two hours before their meal and had lower blood sugar levels afterward. Another 8-week study found that 100-200mg ginseng doses taken before a meal could also be useful for lowering pre-meal blood glucose levels (3) (8).
6. Support Ability to Combat Anxiety and Depression
Besides lowering and suppressing stress in animal studies, ginseng may even decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Researchers in one study found ginseng was just as effective as a popular antidepressant, fluoxetine (3). Other clinical studies highlight ginseng’s use for improving anxiety in elderly patients and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (3).
7. Help Decrease Asthma Related to Allergies and Respiratory Infections
Specific allergens and environmental factors trigger asthma attacks and troubled breathing issues for many people. Ginseng may be able to alleviate these symptoms by controlling how your immune system reacts to those allergens. Scientists say ginseng may be able to inhibit certain responses while activating others. This triggers anti-inflammatory mechanisms that can lead to fewer asthma symptoms (3).
Consuming 200-400mg of ginseng twice a day for a period of three to six months also proved helpful for preventing upper respiratory infections and keeping the flu away in those between the ages of 18 and 65 with healthy immune systems. Researchers even discovered that ginseng can reduce symptoms and the duration of respiratory infections. And those same studies showed ginseng supplementation can lower your chances of catching a cold again if you’ve already had one that season (9).
8. Better Reproductive Function for Men
One of the most well-studied health benefits of supplementing with ginseng is how it can help men improve their sexual and reproductive function. A small study discovered that ginseng taken in doses of 900mg over a period of eight weeks was effective for treating severe erectile dysfunction and improving satisfaction (10).
Another study showed that men were able to maintain an erection, and for longer periods of time, when 1000mg of ginseng was taken three times per day over 12 weeks (10). Finally, researchers noticed that 60% of participants taking ginseng in one trial saw an improvement in their ED by using ginseng compared to 30% using a placebo or a commonly-prescribed ED medication (11).
How to Take Advantage of Ginseng Benefits for Your Health
Ginseng has been revered for hundreds of years because it’s a powerful medicinal plant with loads of incredible perks for your mental and physical well-being. Before you start supplementing with ginseng, however, you’ll want to speak with your doctor, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, taking other medications, or potentially allergic to ginseng.
Now that you know all this, you’re probably wondering how to add ginseng to your healthy routine once you get the green light. The good news is besides being well-studied and researched, ginseng is now also more popular and accessible than ever.
You can find versions of ginseng in supplement or capsule form to take by mouth, and you’ll also find ginseng added to energy drinks and teas. Take the opportunity to better your health with ginseng and load up on all the fantastic health benefits today!