The Ginseng Series - Getting down with the Ginseng
This magic root dating back to prehistory in China, has been used as a herbal medicine to help maintain physical vitality. The full name given to the root is ‘Panax Ginseng’, meaning ‘cure all ginseng’ in Greek . Later a variation of Ginseng was discovered in native America called Panax Quinqufolius. Ginseng has been grown and used in Asian countries for thousands of years, however consumption has recently increased in European countries.
Possible Health Benefits
The special part of the plant believed to have the health benefits is the fleshy roots, where the active ingredients ginsenosides and gintonin are found. These steroid plant sugar molecules offer a range of health benefits.
Increased Energy and Focus- Ginseng supplementation has been shown to improve alertness and brain health. It does this by increasing actoprotectors, which are the body’s adaptogens used to prepare the body for physical and mental performance, while reducing oxygen consumption which can cause fatigue.
Improved Heart Health and Antioxidant Capacity - Ginsenosides exhibit antioxidant properties which can help prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) by inhibiting reactive oxygen species, stimulating nitric oxide production, improved blood circulation and regulation of blood cholesterols .
Erectile Dysfunction - subjects showed better erectile function and sexual desire compared to a control group. This suggests that the consumption may defend males from sexual behaviour disorders caused by stress.
Diabetes - ginsenoside has the ability to help decrease high blood glucose and streptozotocin levels, both causes of diabetes. Streptozotocin is a chemical which is toxic to ꞵ-cells responsible for insulin production in the pancreas.
Immune System - ginseng root has the ability to revive cellular immune response after it has been decreased by mitomycin, it also helps increase the activity of cellular immunity of white blood cells, responsible for fighting infections.
Weight Loss - ginseng consumption can be linked to weight loss however the research on this is inconsistent, as any weight loss experienced was attributed to the increased energy output by individuals.
When the chemical composition of the ginsenosides within the root were examined, the medical ability of the root was dependant on the age of the plant. Simply put, when the plant had been growing for 5-6 years it yielded the highest levels of the active ingredients compared to under 4 years, notably this increase decreases after 6 years of growth.
The health benefits of ginseng are also dependant upon how the root is harvested and consumed. There are three main types of ginseng:
Fresh ginseng is harvested before it is 4 years old and consumed fresh
White ginseng, harvested between 4-6 years old and then peeled and dried
Red ginseng, harvested at 6 years old then steamed and dried.
These three are then split into subcategories such as: fresh sliced, juice, extracts, powder, tea and tablets.
Short term consumption of ginseng is safe, however, when consumed chronically at high doses there is potential to experience side effects such as headaches and insomnia as well as risk for interaction with prescribed medications .
The consumption of this root over thousands of years suggest there are health benefits to its use. Early reviews on ginseng revealed mixed results proving the plants main health claims. But, as more research is published around this plant the confidence of its benefits increases. When considering the possible health benefits of consuming ginseng supplements it far outweighs the small possibility of experiencing side effects.