What is Ginseng Good for?

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What is Ginseng Good for?

One of the earliest extant records of the use of the ginseng plant as an herbal medicine comes from traditional Chinese medicine circa 196 A.D. in the Shen Nong Pharmacopoeia. This ancient text collects centuries of Chinese folk wisdom. Back then, white ginseng was used in a range of medicines to treat a variety of ailments and illnesses. It's often added to green tea or prepared together with other herbs like Ginkgo Biloba.

Centuries later, people in China and all over the world still believe in the potential health benefits of ginseng. Even though more ginseng research is needed to know for sure, there is scientific evidence that supports the purported links between wellness and this special, human-shaped root.

But what is ginseng good for? What’s behind its widespread popularity and reputation as one of nature’s most potent medicinal herbs? Can it really help improve your health?

From its potential immune-boosting properties to how this wonder plant might help your brain, here’s everything you need to know about ginseng.

What is Ginseng?

Ginseng comes from certain plants in the genus of Panax, a family that includes about 60 distinct kinds of flora. That said, only a few are relevant to our discussion of ginseng, which actually refers to the root of this extraordinary plant.

You may be aware of different types of ginseng like Korean ginseng or Korean red ginseng, White ginseng, Siberian ginseng, and American ginseng. It is common for people to mistake ginseng vs ginger, as these two herbal items have a lot of similarities and benefits. It is often sold in the form of ginseng tea, ginseng extract, or ginseng supplements.

Most notably, it’s the presence of two special compounds that distinguishes ginseng from other plants in the Panax family. These compounds are also thought to be responsible for the potential health benefits people have associated with the plant for centuries. Those compounds are:

  • Ginsenosides – These are a type of saponin compound that makes up most of what comprises the ginseng root. They’re also the active ingredient that’s believed to be responsible for the root’s potential medicinal applications.
  • Gintonins – These are proteins in ginseng that have become glycosylated through an enzyme reaction. They also contain lysophosphatidic acids (LPAs), which are acids that interact with special proteins in your body to help send signals and messages to your cells.

Where Does Ginseng Come From?

Although ginseng once grew wild in the relatively cool climates of places like Korea, parts of China, and North America, it’s now considered an endangered plant rarely used commercially.

Instead, the ginseng you encounter in supermarkets and dietary supplements most likely come from cultivated ginseng. And if you check the package, you’ll see that it’s probably one of two select types of ginseng, distinguishable by the kinds and levels of ginsenosides and gintonins that each contains. Those two kinds of ginseng are:

  • American ginseng – Panax quinquefolius L, or North American ginseng, comes from plants native to eastern North America. It’s unique among Panax plants for being so rich in the ginsenoside Rb1.
  • Korean or Asian ginseng – Panax ginseng comes from plants in Korea and far-east China. It shares the light tan color and humanoid shape of American ginseng, but instead of Rb1 ginsenosides, it’s loaded with the ginsenoside Rg1.

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Health Benefits of Ginseng

The ancient Chinese believed ginseng could prevent vomiting, increase a person’s strength, and relieve anxiety. On the other side of the world, Native Americans used it to treat everything from headaches to infertility. But what is ginseng good for, really?

Before we dive into the potential health benefits of ginseng, it’s important to stress that there are no scientific studies that definitively prove ginseng’s ability to manage, treat, or cure any illness. Instead, a range of animal studies and clinical trials that include ginseng in their treatment offer evidence of what ginseng might be able to do. Here’s what to know:

#1 May Help Reduce Inflammation

Research suggests that the ginsenosides that primarily compose ginseng have strong antioxidant properties that may be useful in reducing inflammation.

A laboratory study conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong treated human immune cells with an extract containing nine different ginsenosides. The results? Seven of those nine were effective at suppressing the activity of a certain gene that’s linked to inflammatory immune responses.

So, what does that say about the potential health benefits of ginseng?

While further research is needed, some studies suggest that, thanks to those antioxidant, inflammation-fighting properties, ginseng may be a useful treatment for helping people manage a range of inflammatory conditions, such as:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

#2 May Boost Your Brain Health

Some studies suggest that adding ginseng to your diet may contribute to a healthier, higher-functioning brain. The results of animal studies offer promising evidence that the ginsenoside known as compound K, as well as others, could be beneficial in protecting your brain from damage caused by free radicals, therefore improving your:

  • Behavior
  • Memory
  • Mood

Additionally, it’s believed that ginseng may help your cells process blood sugar, which could potentially reduce mental fatigue and help keep you sharp, focused, and tuned in.

#3 May Help Strengthen Your Immune System

What is ginseng good for when it comes to your immune system? What are the benefits of ginseng tea or taking it as a daily supplement?

The results of at least one study are cause for optimism. Following surgery for stomach cancer, a group of patients was given daily doses of ginseng every day for two years, which was linked to:

  • Improved immune performance
  • A reduction of subjective symptoms

#4 May Have Cancer-Fighting Properties

There’s research to support the idea that ginseng may be effective in helping to prevent select kinds of cancer.

A 2016 analysis of nine different studies involving more than 334,544 patients links ginseng consumption with a decreased risk of cancer. In fact, the combined data from those studies suggest that ginseng may have helped reduce the risk of cancer by 16%.

How could the health benefits of ginseng include anti-cancer perks? Again, it’s thanks to those special ginsenosides that principally comprise the ginseng root. It’s believed that ginsenosides directly impact your cellular system, encouraging new cell growth and even preventing the production of abnormal cells.

#5 May Increase Your Energy Levels

Are you frequently fatigued or find yourself wishing for more energy? If so, ginseng may be able to help.

There’s some science that supports this notion. Essentially, it’s because ginseng contains two important molecules:

  • Polysaccharides – Polysaccharides are simple carbohydrate molecules that have been linked to a range of health benefits. Pectin is a popular kind of polysaccharide that’s particularly abundant in Korean ginseng.
  • Oligopeptides – Oligopeptides are short chains of more than two but fewer than 20 amino acids. They contain compounds that are known to engage and affect cellular processes.

Polysaccharides and oligopeptides are proven to boost the production of cellular energy, which in turn may help stave off those tired feelings.

#6 May Help Stabilize Your Blood Sugar

The link between ginseng and your blood sugar level may be due to ginsenosides and their potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

There’s a strong connection between inflammation and blood sugar disorders like type 2 diabetes. When inflammation occurs, your body responds partially by producing several different proteins that can increase insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. For that reason alone, the potential for ginseng to help lower blood sugar is strong.

But that’s not all. Further studies that suggest a link between your blood glucose levels and ginseng consumption. For example, the meta-data from eight different studies shows that ginseng consumption by people with diabetes may be useful for:

  • Improving fasting glucose levels
  • Improving insulin levels after eating
  • Lowering insulin resistance

#7 May Help Boost Heart Health

Your heart could potentially reap some big benefits from introducing ginseng into your diet. And there are several reasons why.

One study proposes a link between the ongoing consumption of ginseng and a variety of factors that contribute to heart health. Improved triglyceride levels, lowered total cholesterol, and a reduction of low-density lipoproteins were all observed in patients taking ginseng.

Furthermore, studies suggest that ginseng may have benefited the heart health of diabetes patients who were given doses of ginseng. In that study from 2019, patients experienced reduced systolic blood pressure and increased levels of nitric oxide. Together, these results strengthen claims that ginseng may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by promoting blood vessel health.

Stock Up On Good-For-You Gingseng from Starwest Botanicals

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National Library of Medicine. Ginseng Consumption and Risk of Cancer: A Meta-Analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27616903/

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National Library of Medicine. Bioactive Oligopeptides in Dermatology: Part 1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22672743/

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National Library of Medicine. Anti-Fatigue Effects of Small Molecule Oligopeptides Isolated from Panax Ginseng C.A. Meyer in MIce. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27983571/

Scientific American. Does Inflammation Trigger Insulin Resistance and Diabetes? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/inflammatory-clues/

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National Library of Medicine. Effects of ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5628357/#

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