Effects of Ginseng on Blood Sugar

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Ginseng—especially American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)—is among the most well-known and widely used herbal medicines in the world. The root of the ginseng plant has been used for thousands of years in traditional Eastern medicine to boost energy, relieve stress, and bring about total body balance. Ginseng has been studied as a therapy to help control blood sugar, improve circulation, bolster immunity, improve stamina, and increase resistance to stress.

Ginseng also is known to contain several antioxidant compounds called ginsenosides, which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Because these are two major contributing factors in the progression of diabetes, people with the disease may want to understand better what research has found and to consider whether ginseng might be a safe and viable part of managing diabetes.

Research

A 2014 review of 16 different studies focused on those that used randomized, controlled groups for 30 days or longer in people who had diabetes and those who didn't.

The resulting meta-analysis revealed that people supplementing with ginseng had significantly improved fasting blood glucose levels compared to control groups. The herb did not, however, have a significant effect on A1C, fasting insulin, or insulin resistance.

In contrast, a 2016 meta-analysis of eight studies found the benefits of using ginseng as part of a treatment program for type 2 diabetes included improved fasting glucose levels, postprandial (after eating) insulin, and insulin resistance, with no significant effects on A1C. The study also found improved triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) as a result of using ginseng.

Yet another study, in 2019, found when ginseng was used along with oral medications for type 2 diabetes, such as metformin), participants experienced lower systolic blood pressure, fewer blood lipid markers, and increased nitric oxide generation. These findings suggest ginseng may improve endothelial function (an indication of the health of the inner lining of blood vessels) and protect against cardiovascular disease.

Contraindications

Ginseng affects multiple organs and systems throughout the body and so should be used with caution. It's unknown how ginseng may affect a developing baby and so women who are pregnant should not take it. Ginseng is regarded as unsafe for use by infants and children.

Evidence suggests ginseng may cause difficulty with blood clotting, so you'll want to speak with your doctor before using the supplement if you take any medications like warfarin or another blood treatment. Ginseng also should not be taken by people who have hormone-sensitive tumors (breast cancer, for example) or hormone-sensitive conditions such as endometriosis.

Side Effects

A 2014 report published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that of 74 people with well-managed diabetes, those treated with American ginseng extract daily for 12 weeks did not see any adverse outcomes on kidney function, liver function, or other health markers.

However, some people have experienced certain side effects from taking ginseng, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

Drug Interactions

Ginseng is reported to have moderate interactions with certain diabetes medications, in particular insulin and oral medications called sulfonylureas, such as Amaryl (glimepiride), Diabeta (glyburide), and Blucotrol (glipizide), which could result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Before taking ginseng, talk to your doctor or pharmacist: It may be necessary to alter the dosage of these drugs.

Ginseng also has been found to interfere with the blood-thinning drug Coumadin (warfarin), causing it to be less effective in preventing blood clots.

Dosage

Ginseng comes as a capsule or as an extract. The dose regarded as safe and effective in traditional Chinese medicine typically is 3 grams per day.

Another option: Capsules filled with ginsenosides, the antioxidants regarded as the active components of ginseng. Whichever form you take, it's important to first talk to your doctor to work out the dosage that is right for you, particularly if you take other medications.

A Word From Verywell

Ginseng is most effective when used in conjunction with other diabetes treatments including oral medication and lifestyle measures such as eating a balanced diet rich in fiber and veggies, getting regular exercise, and practicing stress reduction techniques. Although potent, ginseng should not be used in place of professional medical care and should only be taken under the direction of a physician, so talk to your own caregiver before incorporating ginseng or any other natural remedy into your diabetes treatment plan.

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