Ginseng May Enhance Immune Function
WebMD News Archive
Russians traditionally have used Siberian ginseng to increase
energy and decrease stress. However, most of the clinical trials suggesting
that Siberian ginseng has an effect were performed decades ago and, like the
studies of Korean ginseng, were poorly performed, the authors write. Because of
this, it is difficult to conclude what effect, if any, Siberian ginseng has on
endurance or physical performance. One study suggests that extracts of Siberian
ginseng increase the number of working cells in the immune system in healthy
volunteers when compared to people receiving a placebo.
Most of the side effects reported with Korean ginseng, such as
high blood pressure, diarrhea, insomnia, and dizziness, have been reported in
people who took very high doses -- some as high as 15 grams per day. This is
well above recommended daily dose of 0.5 to 2 grams a day, Mahady and her
colleagues write. A few cases of estrogenic-like side effects in pre- and
postmenopausal women also have been recorded. The reports of side effects are
hard to evaluate because they offer few, if any, details regarding the exact
doses taken, or species of ginseng.
Siberian ginseng has been associated with high blood pressure
and abnormal heart rhythm, and with low blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Because good safety data are lacking, the authors do not recommend either form
of ginseng for children or for pregnant or lactating women.
Unfortunately, labels are not always accurate, Mahady says, and
it is hard for consumers to be certain how much ginseng actually is in the
products they use.
Mahady urges people to learn as much as possible about the
supplements they take and recommends a healthy dose of skepticism if a trial
showing beneficial effects of ginseng happens to be sponsored by a company that
"I don't think ginseng is going to do anything for [people
who are already healthy]," she says. "But it may help a patient with a
chronic illness, as long as they don't have diabetes or high blood
- Although ginseng has been touted to improve physical endurance in healthy
people, scientific evidence does not support this claim.
- Studies have shown that ginseng can be beneficial as an immune system boost
in people with chronic illness.
- Taken in very high doses, ginseng can have negative side effects, such as
high blood pressure, diarrhea, insomnia, and dizziness.