6 Health Benefits of Ginseng from From Energy Boosting to Anti-Cancer Effects
Panax ginseng (aka Korean, Asian or Red Ginseng) is a medicinal plant that has been used for thousands of years, since at least as far back as the Chinese Han dynasty
Even though it has significant health benefits, it has surprisingly not been widespread in western culture until only very recently, as the scientific community has validated its importance to health - which eastern cultures have known for millennia.
The health benefits of ginseng that have been studied range from boosting your energy to reducing your risk of getting certain types of cancer.
Below we describe 7 of the greatest benefits to your health and quality of life as well as what the different types of ginseng are, what they are best used for and what to watch out for when buying it.
What are the different types of ginseng?
The two main types of ginseng are Panax ginseng (aka Korean, Asian or Red ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius (aka American ginseng).
Asian ginseng is typically used to reduce fatigue and increase energy and liveliness, while American ginseng typically has a more relaxing effect.
For this blog, we will focus on the most revered type of ginseng - Panax ginseng aka Asian ginseng.
What is Panax ginseng?
Asian ginseng is a small, slow-growing plant with fleshy roots which usually takes 4-6 years to mature before being harvested. The roots are classified in to three different types depending on what year it is harvested - 'fresh' ginseng is harvested at 4 years or less, 'white' ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years and 'red' ginseng is the most mature type, being harvested after 6 or more years.
Although the root is the most commonly consumed part of the plant, in recent years, extracts from the leaves and stems of ginseng plant have been growing in popularity, since they have higher concentrations of the active components of the plant - called 'ginsenosides' and 'gintonins'. They also provide a more stimulating or invigorating feeling compared to when the root is consumed.
Another benefit of extracts made from the leaves and stems of the plant is that it is a much more sustainable practice for harvesting ginseng, since the plant can regrow after each harvest, instead of having to be grown from a new seed or root sapling as is the case when the root is harvested.
What are the health benefits of ginseng?
Ginseng can improve your mood and treat depression and anxiety.
Although its mood-boosting properties have been known for millennia, several recent studies have confirmed from a scientific perspective that ginseng supplementation can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The exact mechanisms for how it achieves this are not yet fully understood, but it is known that ginseng helps regulate hormones and neurotransmitters. In particular, it helps increase dopamine levels - dopamine is your 'happy hormone' which corresponds to a positive mood and increased motivation when levels in your brain are elevated. It also increases serotonin which is another 'feel-good' neurotransmitter when it is at healthy levels in your brain and body. People who are depressed often have abnormally low levels of dopamine and/or serotonin compared to a healthy baseline.
Ginseng reduces fatigue and gives you energy and vitality
Traditionally, ginseng has been consumed for thousands of years to increase one's vitality or life force. The beauty of ginseng compared with caffeine is that it does not interfere with your sleep - it can reduce your fatigue and help you feel more energetic, but you won't find yourself lying wide awake in bed if you consume it in the evening (this is why we have used it - we wanted a natural ingredient that could give you the energy to socialise but would also let you get a blissful deep sleep afterwards).
From a scientific perspective, ginseng's invigorating effects have been demonstrated through more than one hundred studies. For example, a study from 2013 on people with chronic fatigue found that after they took 1-2 grams of Panax ginseng every day for four weeks they experienced significantly less physical and mental fatigue compared to the control group. The reason why ginseng fights fatigue and gives you more energy is because of its antioxidant properties and its ability to increase energy production in your cells.
Ginseng may reduce your risk of getting cancer
Several scientific studies have suggested that people who consume ginseng on a regular basis could be less likely to get certain types of cancer, such as stomach, colon, liver and lung cancer, than people who do not take it. Another review of several studies concluded that people who consume ginseng regularly may have a 16% lower risk of developing cancer than people who do not take it regularly.
How ginseng reduces your risk of developing cancer has been attributed to the active components in the herb called ginsenosides. They help reduce inflammation and they also provide antioxidant protection to your cells and prevent abnormal cell production and growth.
For people who already have cancer, ginseng has been shown to improve their health while they are on chemotherapy - it reduces their side effects and may enhance the efficacy of some types of treatment.
Ginseng may improve brain function and help you think more clearly
A study from 2018 concluded that regular ginseng consumption could treat some aspects of cognitive decline that are associated with old age, such as slower thinking and memory impairment.
How ginseng provides this benefit is due to its strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that protect brain cells from free radicals and help keep them healthy and functioning optimally.
Another study from 2016 on the effects of ginseng on cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease found that it helped improve frontal brain lobe function and alleviated some of their symptoms.
Ginseng can help lower blood sugar and treat diabetes
A 2019 review of multiple studies on the effects of ginseng on type-2 diabetic people found that it can help regulate their blood sugar and insulin levels when taken daily
It found that ginseng's effectiveness at allieviating diabetes symptoms was due to its active ginsenosides being able to regulate insulin secretion and glucose uptake and protect cells with its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginseng may improve Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Traditionally, ginseng has also been used to improve performance in the bedroom through increased energy and vitality. One aspect it can be helpful for is Erectile Dysfunction (ED) which has been the focus of several scientific studies, such as this one from 2007 which concluded that ginseng can be an effective alternative treatment for ED. It is thought to be effective because its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help reduce oxidative stress in blood vessels and tissues in the penis so that it can function normally. It has also been shown that ginseng can increase the production of nitric oxide, which is a compound that increases blood circulation in the penis.
How safe is ginseng?
Panax ginseng has been consumed regularly in Asia for thousands of years and in more recent years by a significant number of people around the world. Health departments from countries such as the USA's Food and Drug Administration have stated that ginseng is safe to consume regularly since it has been used with no adverse consequences in eastern culture for many generations and there are hundreds of clinical studies that have reported no negative effects on the body using modern health monitoring technology.
What to be aware of before you buy ginseng
Some supplement brands mix in lower-cost American ginseng in to their Panax ginseng extracts but they don't state that it is a lower cost blend of the two different types of ginseng. The health benefits do vary between the two different types of ginseng so make sure to buy from a trusted brand.
Most brands do not state what the content of ginsenosides and gintonins (the bioactive components of ginseng) is in their product and will typically have a very low percentage. For example, when I asked several large brand name sellers of ginseng extract on Amazon.com what percentage ginsenosides they contained, the responses I did get stated that they contained only around 1-2% ginsenosides, which is very low. You should expect a level of 10% or greater.
From a sustainability perspective, it is much better to choose ginseng extracts made from the leaves and stems of the plant as this means that the plant is able to regenerate after each harvest, as opposed to extracts made from the root (which is what has traditionally been the norm) since this results in the death of the plant and a new ginseng plant is then required to be grown from a seed or a portion of donor root.
As you now know, Panax ginseng aka Asian ginseng has many useful health benefits ranging from increasing your mood and energy to lowering your risk of developing certain cancers to improving brain function. It was used as a medicinal plant thousands of years ago by the ancient Han dynasty in China and had likely already been used for many generations before that. In recent decades, many scientific studies have confirmed its healing properties through scientific methods - the mechanisms through which it helps the human body are now being understood and may yield important insights to help the development of modern pharmaceuticals.
This important plant has been recognised as safe to consume on a daily basis and is being used by millions of people around the world to improve their health and vitality, with its popularity ever increasing.