The Ginseng Series - Cognitive Performance
The brain is arguably the most important organ in the body, requiring more fuel than any other organ apart from exercising muscle. It is responsible for generating and controlling motor control, our senses, regulating all our systems responsible for keeping us alive, language, emotion and finally cognition.
Cognition can be defined as “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses”. This process is responsible for our ability to focus, think and remember on a daily basis, therefore a key part in how we function as humans. Cognitive processes use our existing knowledge as a base to generate new knowledge, which is then stored in our memory for recall in the future .
Ginseng and cognitive performance
Numerous studies have shown that ginseng has a positive effect on cognitive performance, ranging from increased working memory to enhanced mental calmness. However, the mechanics of this are unclear, with many proposed explanations to how it could improve cognitive performance .
Modulation of Neurotransmitters
One study that showed improved cognitive function, specifically attention allocation, short term memory and reaction time. It was hypothesised that ginseng is a modulator of important neurotransmitters in the brain which aid in the cognitive function, as individuals consuming ginseng had higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in their brainstem and increased serotonin in the cortex compared with a placebo group .
Specific types of ginsenosides have also been suggested to enhance the release and uptake of acetylcholine by neurotransmitters, as well as the number of neurotransmitter uptake sites within the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for converting short term memory to long term [3,4].
The consumption of ginseng improved calmness in individuals over a six hour period compared to a placebo group. The increased production of nitric oxide triggered by ginsenoside in ginseng acts as an inhibitor to cortisol and other stress hormones released by the glands within the endocrine system, linked with stress control .
The body of research looking at the ability of ginseng to enhance cognitive performance is growing, with a large body conducted on animals suggesting positive results. The evidence on human participants is less conclusive, however, when you combine all the findings the results lean heavily in the favour of ginseng supplementation. When considering the little to no side effects of consuming ginseng in the diet, using this supplement to aid focus and cognition is a no-brainer!