7 Proven Health Benefits of Ginseng
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Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
This slow-growing, short plant with fleshy roots can be classified three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white or red.
Fresh ginseng is harvested before 4 years, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years.
There are many types of this herb, but the most popular are American ginseng (Pan ax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Pan ax ginseng).
American and Asian ginseng vary in their concentration of active compounds and effects on the body. It is believed that American ginseng works as a relaxing agent, whereas the Asian variety has an invigorating effect (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
Ginseng contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and togging. These compounds complement one another to provide health benefits (3Trusted Source).
1. Potent Antioxidant That May Reduce Inflammation
Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (4Trusted Source).
Some test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginseng compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
For example, one test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity is skin cells from people with eczema (7Trusted Source).
The results are promising in humans, as well.
One study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes take 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days.
The men then had levels of certain inflammatory markers tested after performing an exercise test. These levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing (8Trusted Source).
However, it should be noted that the placebo group got a different medicinal herb, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt and more studies are needed.
Lastly, a larger study followed 71 postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then measured.
Researchers concluded that red ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities (9Trusted Source).
2. May Benefit Brain Function
Ginseng could help improve brain functions like memory, behavior and mood (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
Some test-tube and animal studies show that components in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
One study followed 30 healthy people who consumed 200 mg of Pan ax ginseng daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, they showed improvement in mental health, social functioning and mood.
However, these benefits stopped being significant after 8 weeks, suggesting that ginseng effects might decrease with extended use (15Trusted Source).
Another study examined how single doses of either 200 or 400 mg of Pan ax ginseng affected mental performance, mental fatigue and blood sugar levels in 30 healthy adults before and after a 10-minute mental test.
The 200-mg dose, as opposed to the 400-mg dose, was more effective at improving mental performance and fatigue during the test (16Trusted Source).
It is possible that ginseng assisted the uptake of blood sugar by cells, which could have enhanced performance and reduced mental fatigue. Yet it is not clear why the lower dose was more effective than the higher one.
A third study found that taking 400 mg of Pan ax ginseng daily for eight days improved calmness and math skills (17Trusted Source).
What’s more, other studies found positive effects on brain function and behavior in people with Alzheimer’s disease (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
3. Could Improve Erectile Dysfunction
Research has shown that ginseng may be a useful alternative for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
It seems that compounds in it may protect against oxidative stress in blood vessels and tissues in the penis and help restore normal function (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Additionally, studies have shown that ginseng may promote the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves muscle relaxation in the penis and increases blood circulation (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
One study found that men treated with Korean red ginseng had a 60% improvement in ED symptoms, compared to 30% improvement produced by a medication used to treat ED (26Trusted Source).
Moreover, another study showed that 86 men with ED had significant improvements in erectile function and overall satisfaction after taking 1,000 mg of aged ginseng extract for 8 weeks (27Trusted Source).
However, more studies are needed to draw definite conclusions about the effects of ginseng on ED (24Trusted Source).
4. May Boost the Immune System
Some studies exploring its effects on the immune system have focused on cancer patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy treatment.
One study followed 39 people who were recovering from surgery for stomach cancer, treating them with 5,400 mg of ginseng daily for two years.
Interestingly, these people had significant improvements in immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms (28).
Another study examined the effect of red ginseng extract on immune system markers in people with advanced stomach cancer undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy.
After three months, those taking red ginseng extract had better immune system markers than those in the control or placebo group (29).
Furthermore, a study suggested that people who take ginseng could have up to a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and up to a 38% higher survival rate compared to those not taking it (30).
It seems that ginseng extract could enhance the effect of vaccinations against diseases like influenza, as well (31Trusted Source).
Even though these studies show improvements in immune system markers in people with cancer, more research is needed to demonstrate the efficacy of ginseng in boosting resistance to infections in healthy people (32Trusted Source).
5. May Have Potential Benefits Against Cancer
Ginseng may be helpful in reducing the risk of certain cancers (33Trusted Source).
Ginsenosides in this herb have been shown to help reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant protection (34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).
The cell cycle is the process by which cells normally grow and divide. Ginsenosides could benefit this cycle by preventing abnormal cell production and growth (34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).
A review of several studies concluded that people who take ginseng may have a a 16% lower risk of developing cancer (35Trusted Source).
Moreover, an observational study suggested that people taking ginseng could be less likely to develop certain types of cancer, such as lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, liver and lung cancer, than those who do not take it (36Trusted Source).
Ginseng may also help improve the health of patients undergoing chemotherapy, reduce side effects and enhance the effect of some treatment drugs (34Trusted Source).
While studies on the role of ginseng in cancer prevention show some benefits, they remain inconclusive (37Trusted Source).
6. May Fight Tiredness and Increase Energy Levels
Ginseng has been shown to help fight fatigue and promote energy.
Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polyacrylamide and oligo peptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue (38Trusted Source, 39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
One four-week study explored the effects of giving 1 or 2 grams of Pan-ax ginseng or a placebo to 90 people with chronic fatigue.
Those given Pan ax ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue, as well as reductions in oxidative stress, than those taking the placebo (41Trusted Source).
Another study gave 364 cancer survivors experiencing fatigue 2,000 mg of American ginseng or a placebo. After eight weeks, those in the ginseng group had significantly lower fatigue levels than those in the placebo group (42Trusted Source).
Furthermore, a review of over 155 studies suggested that ginseng supplements may not only help reduce fatigue but also enhance physical activity (43Trusted Source).
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7. Could Lower Blood Sugar
Ginseng seems to be beneficial in the control of blood glucose in people both with and without diabetes (44Trusted Source, 45Trusted Source).
American and Asian ginseng have been shown to improve pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues (44Trusted Source).
Moreover, studies show that ginseng extracts help by providing antioxidant protection that reduce free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes (44Trusted Source).
One study assessed the effects of 6 grams of Korean red ginseng, along with the usual anti-diabetic medication or diet, in 19 people with type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, they were able to maintain good blood sugar control throughout the 12-week study. They also had an 11% decrease in blood sugar levels, a 38% decrease in fasting insulin and a 33% increase in insulin sensitivity (46Trusted Source).
Another study showed that American ginseng helped improve blood sugar levels in 10 healthy people after they performed a sugary drink test (47Trusted Source).
It seems that fermented red ginseng could be even more effective at blood sugar control. Fermented ginseng is produced with the help of live bacteria that transform the ginsenosides into a more easily absorbed and potent form (48Trusted Source).
In fact, a study demonstrated that taking 2.7 grams of fermented red ginseng daily was effective at lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin levels after a test meal, compared to a placebo (49Trusted Source).
Pan-ax 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 Pan-ax ginseng have “warming” properties thought to aid circulation.
The active compounds in Pan-ax ginseng are believed to be steroid-like components called ginsenosides.
Going back to ancient times, Pan-ax ginseng was used to increase energy and stamina and to give the immune system a boost. Today, although research on Pan ax 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:
Pan-ax ginseng may aid in diabetes management. In a research review published in Pols 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.1 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.
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.2
In addition, a 2018 study found that supplementing with ginseng for five or more years had a beneficial impact on cognition for older adults.3
The increase in cognition, as well as other health benefits of ginseng, is thought to be due to ginseng’s antioxidant properties.
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.4 A 2011 review of alternative medicines for sexual function arrived at a similar conclusion, finding Pan-ax ginseng the only dietary supplement to improve erectile function with no safety issues.5
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.
Although it’s sometimes touted as a cure-all, Pan-ax ginseng may not be helpful for certain conditions. For instance, studies have found Pan-ax ginseng ineffective at alleviating hot flashes6 and boosting athletic endurance.7
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