Focus on Ginseng
Introduction to Ginseng
Panax ginseng is one of the several types of ginseng commonly used in herbal medicine. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The herb has a light-colored, forked-shaped root, a relatively long stalk, and green leaves in an oval shape. It grows in the mountains of East Asia and is most commonly used in cuisines and medicines of China and Korea. Ginseng’s health benefits come from the ginsenoside and gintonin compounds in the herb. It is typically used for its effects on mood, cognition, and immunity.
Varieties of Ginseng
There are several varieties of ginseng, including Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) and American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius), which contain the ginsenosides or panaxosides. Studies have found that the different types of ginseng have different benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, American ginseng is considered less stimulating and works as a relaxing agent, whereas the Asian variety has an invigorating effect. Various other plants, such as Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) are mistaken for ginseng. Instead of containing ginsenosides these contain eleutherosides, which are thought by some to boost the immune system and increase muscle strength. However, the true ginseng plants are those that belong to the Panax genus.
Types of Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng is marketed in 3 ways; fresh ginseng, white ginseng, and red ginseng. Fresh ginseng is the raw ginseng product, which is of limited availability. White ginseng has been peeled and air-dried, but not heated. When the ginseng is air-dried in the sun it may lose some of the beneficial enzymes in the root. Red ginseng is steamed at a boiling temperature of 100°C and then dried. A herbal brew is often used to marinate the root which makes it very brittle. Red ginseng is more common than white ginseng.
The difference in ginseng colour depends on how ginseng is treated. White ginseng is naturally dried in the sun, whereas Red ginseng is steam heated between 100–110° for 2–3 hours. This treatment kills any potential pathogens on the plant’s roots, but unfortunately it also degrades some of the active components which are found in the outer layers of bark.
Benefits of Ginseng
Ginseng contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These complement one another to provide health benefits.
- Increased energy – Ginseng may help stimulate physical and mental activity in people who feel weak and tired.
- Sharper cognition function – Ginseng could reduce oxidative stress, which could lead to enhancement in the cognitive function and thinking processes. It can also improve arithmetic skills and reaction time.
- Anti-inflammatory effects – The active components of ginseng target pathways in the immune system that could reduce inflammation.
- Treatment of erectile dysfunction – Men may take ginseng to treat erectile dysfunction and improve sexual function.
- Flu prevention – Taking Panax ginseng extract by mouth appears to reduce the risk of getting a cold or the flu. But it doesn’t seem to reduce flu symptoms or the length of the illness.
- Lowers blood sugar – Ginseng may help to lower blood sugar and help treat diabetes as ginsenosides may affect insulin production in the pancreas.
How to add Ginseng to your diet
Ginseng root can be consumed in many ways. It can be eaten raw or you can lightly steam it to soften it. It can also be stewed in water to make a tea. To do this, just add hot water to freshly sliced ginseng and let it sit for several minutes. You can also get ginseng as a dietary supplement in the form of dried herbs, powder, or capsules.
The amount of ginseng you should take depends on the condition you want to improve. Overall, daily doses of 1–2 g of raw ginseng root or 200–400 mg of extract are suggested. It’s best to start with lower doses and increase over time.
More research is needed to confirm ginseng’s benefit as a supplement. Ginseng products can vary in their quality and potential medicinal properties. A person should check the ingredients of any ginseng product before purchase, as some may contain a negligible amount of ginseng.
Considerations when consuming Ginseng
Although ginseng is generally safe to consume, people have reported the following side effects:
- Sleep problems
- Digestive problems
- Changes to blood pressure and blood sugar
- Rapid heartbeat
- Severe skin reaction
- Women may also experience swollen breasts and vaginal bleeding.
It is recommended to only take Panax ginseng for up to 6 months, as it could be unsafe when taken for more than 6 months.
People may experience a moderate interaction when using ginseng with a class of antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). The herb can also increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood thinners, such as warfarin or aspirin. It is recommended to consult a doctor before taking ginseng with heart medications.
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