The Health Benefits of Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng May Help With Diabetes, Cognition, and More

Panax Ginseng

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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. For example, some types of Panax ginseng have "warming" properties thought to aid circulation.

The active compounds in Panax ginseng are believed to be steroid-like components called ginsenosides.

Health Benefits 

Going back to ancient times, Panax ginseng was used to increase energy and stamina and to give the immune system a boost. Today, although research on Panax ginseng is fairly limited, there's some evidence that the herb may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key study findings:

Diabetes

Panax ginseng may aid in diabetes management. In a research review published in PLoS One in 2014, for instance, scientists analyzed 16 previously published randomized controlled trials focusing on ginseng's effects on blood glucose levels for people with and without diabetes. Most of the trials were less than 12 weeks in duration and included people with relatively good glycemic control.

The authors concluded that even though ginseng significantly improved fasting blood glucose levels for diabetics and non-diabetics, further research is needed.

Cognition

Panax ginseng has been shown to improve cognitive performance, mainly short-term memory, according to a 2015 research review of the beneficial health effects of ginseng.

In addition, a 2018 study found that supplementing with ginseng for five or more years had a beneficial impact on cognition for older adults.

The increase in cognition, as well as other health benefits of ginseng, is thought to be due to ginseng's antioxidant properties.

Erectile Dysfunction

According to a comprehensive data review of six randomized trials that occurred over 15 years, Panax ginseng may be an effective and safe treatment for erectile dysfunction. A 2011 review of alternative medicines for sexual function arrived at a similar conclusion, finding Panax ginseng the only dietary supplement to improve erectile function with no safety issues.

Unlike prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction (which are usually taken when needed), ginseng only appears to be useful for erectile dysfunction if taken on a continuous basis.

Other Conditions

Although it's sometimes touted as a cure-all, Panax ginseng may not be helpful for certain conditions. For instance, studies have found Panax ginseng ineffective at alleviating hot flashes and boosting athletic endurance.

In addition, the National Institutes of Health states that although there has been numerous studies on the beneficial impact of ginseng, there is not enough conclusive research in the treatment of a number of conditions (including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, colds, the flu, bronchitis, fever, digestive problems, fibromyalgia, and anemia).

Possible Side Effects

Ginseng is commonly used and is even found in beverages, which may lead you to believe that it's completely safe. But like any herbal supplement or medication, it can have unwanted effects. Some of the more commonly reported side effects include headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia.

Panax ginseng may affect blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you may want to avoid ginseng (unless you're under the supervision of a healthcare provider).

Children and pregnant or nursing women should avoid Panax ginseng. 

Panax ginseng may lower blood glucose levels and it may interact with diabetes medication, so if you have diabetes and are considering using it, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. 

Drug and Supplement Interactions

Panax ginseng can increase the effect of blood-thinners (anticoagulant and antiplatelet medication such as warfarin, clopidogrel, ticlopidine, heparin, and aspirin), which may increase the risk of adverse effects such as bleeding. 

Some herbal supplements have been known to cause bleeding, and can therefore increase the risk of bleeding if combined with ginseng.

Panax ginseng may interfere with the metabolism of monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, such as phenelzine sulfate, tranylcypromine sulfate, and isocabaxazid. It's also believed to affect levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells) and may interact with antipsychotic drugs such as chlorpromazine.

Panax ginseng has been found to interfere with the metabolism of drugs processed by an enzyme called CYP3A4. Ask your doctor to check if you are taking medications of this type.

Dosage and Duration

There is no single recommended dose of Panax ginseng. Various doses have been studied in research.

For example, a 2018 study that assessed 91 clinical trials regarding the effects of Penax ginseng on various health states reported that suitable dosages and recommendations were difficult to conclude due to the diversity of the trials. For these clinical trials, dosages ranged from 0.2 g to 9 g of Panax ginseng daily for four to 24 weeks.

While Panax ginseng may boost your energy and help in the management of certain health conditions, if you're considering taking it, it's important to consult your healthcare provider first.

What to Look For

In traditional Chinese medicine, the way that ginseng has been prepared is thought to influence its action. Red ginseng, for instance, is unpeeled ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer) that is steamed before drying. White ginseng, on the other hand, is unpeeled Panax ginseng that is dried and peeled (but not steam-treated). A newer type, black ginseng, is made from a repeated steaming/drying process. 

Red ginseng is thought to promote "yang" energy (which is stimulating and heating), to a greater degree than white ginseng. As a result, red ginseng may be overstimulating for people who tend to feel hot or those who have conditions such as tumors, kidney stones, gallstones, inflammatory conditions, or certain psychological conditions.

White and red ginseng are available in tinctures, liquid extracts, powders, and capsules.

Panax Ginseng vs. Other Types

In traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is said to have "cooling" properties. 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 strength, stamina, and general well-being.

Also used to boost strength, stamina, and immunity, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is sometimes taken to ease the side effects of chemotherapy. In addition, Siberian ginseng is thought to act as an adaptogen and protect against atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

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