Ginseng plants make up the genus Panax (plant family) and are characterized by the presence of two major compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These compounds work together to produce ginseng’s effects on the body.
The two most commonly used types of ginseng are American (Panax quinquefolius) and Korean or Asian (Panax ginseng). While some claim that Asian ginseng invigorates the body and American ginseng can help soothe and reduce temperature, more research is needed to prove these claims and differentiate between the two types.
Ginseng has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine. For centuries, it has been used in tonics as a health-promoting ingredient.
The herb may offer the following health benefits:
Improved Brain Function
Ginseng may help improve brain functions such as memory and mood in people who have Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia — and in people without any forms of dementia. However, more high-quality research is needed across the board to validate these claims.
Potent Source of Antioxidants
Ginseng serves as a source of antioxidants, although different types and methods of preparation can affect the levels. Antioxidants help the body fight against free radicals, which can damage the growth and development of cells in the body.
Cancer Prevention and Treatment Recovery
Ginseng has anticarcinogenic (inhibits the development of cancer) properties. People who take it may be at lower risk for cancers in the stomach, ovaries, lungs, liver, colon, pancreas, and mouth.
Ginseng may also help with recovery from cancer treatments. Previous studies have suggested that it may help reduce fatigue in cancer survivors, and an ongoing study may help validate this potential.
Reduction of Chronic Fatigue
Studies suggest that ginseng, which is used in Asia to help develop strength, also helps reduce fatigue. Certain carbohydrates found in Asian ginseng may particularly help people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Ginsenosides help inhibit the inflammatory process. Their effects may help people with inflammatory diseases.
Improved Erectile Function
Studies suggest that Asian ginseng may be an effective alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). However, as with ginseng’s other potential benefits, more high-quality studies are needed.
Improved Blood Sugar
Ginseng is often used as an alternative therapy to help people with diabetes. Studies suggest that ginseng may help improve fasting blood glucose levels in people with and without diabetes.
Ginseng is likely safe for most people when taken in recommended doses over short periods of time. However, some experts have raised concerns over long-term use and suggest that it should not be taken by children or by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The most common side effect is insomnia (inability to sleep), but some have experienced a loss of appetite, digestive problems, menstrual problems, breast pain, high or low blood pressure, or increased heart rate.
Ginseng may also interact with certain medications, including some blood pressure medications and antidepressants. If you’re taking medication, consult your doctor before adding ginseng to your diet.
Amounts and Dosage
A commonly recommended dosage for ginseng is either 0.5 to 2 grams of the dry root or 200 milligrams of extract. You should always start with a lower dosage when beginning a new supplement.
In addition, ginseng may not be safe or effective over extended periods of time. Some recommend taking it in cycles, with two to three weeks “on” and then three weeks “off”.