Ginseng is King

The term “ginseng” has been applied to more than 30 different species of plants. It was first discovered thousands of years ago in the mountains of China.

Specifically, what ginseng does is cause the body to biochemically process oxygen more efficiently than it normally would. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that ginseng works for me. I have taken many different kinds as supplements: Korean White and Chinese Red (or “Panax”), Siberian, American. I’ve taken the herb as a tea, I’ve taken it mixed with royal jelly and B vitamins, I’ve taken it in liquefied form mixed with wine (this Ginseng Wine came from Japan), I’ve taken it and then paused from taking it. Since first being directed to try it out 12 years ago by a girlfriend who was a manager at GNC, I have fed myself different amounts and different kinds on my own without medical doctor consultations. It works; its effects are very real and potent.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Ginseng positively and noticeably enhances my attitude, general physical and emotional endurance, intellectual creativity, resistance to illness, and virility (women who take ginseng will not notice much, if any, sexual effects, but the rest of the effects are universal to male and female alike).

I am not alone in feeling this way. In the Qing Dynasty of ancient China, ginseng was felt to be more valuable than gold. Indeed, it became known as “king of the herbs”. In contemporary times, demand for ginseng has significantly increased throughout the last twenty years.

Traditionally, Korean ginseng has been used in the Far East for over 5000 years as a tonic or immune stimulant for people recovering from chronic illnesses. Russians have traditionally used Siberian ginseng to increase energy (especially mental energy) and decrease stress. But the present practice of promoting it as a performance-booster in healthy people who are looking for additional energy or a competitive edge is a “terrible mistake,” Gail B. Mahady, PhD, says. “[In China] it is never used in healthy individuals….I don’t think ginseng is going to do anything for [people who are already healthy].” She declares that more promising are studies of the effects of Korean ginseng on the immune system. These studies demonstrate that one’s immune cells increase their numbers when one takes Korean ginseng; a placebo does not have this effect.

Studies have found that taking ginseng can have side effects. Most of the side effects reported with Korean ginseng (which contains the highest concentration of ginsenoids, the active chemical), such as high blood pressure, diarrhea, insomnia, and dizziness, have been reported in people who took very high doses — some as high as 15 grams per day, which is well in excess of the recommended daily dose of a half gram to two grams per day. I have never experienced any of these side effects; I have never taken more than five grams of any kind of ginseng in one day, and my usual dosage is one to three grams per day or two to three mugs of tea per day.

While ginseng has a long history of use in Asian countries as a part of traditional oriental medicine, in the U.S. the FDA classifies ginseng as a dietary supplement. Many researchers say that there is conflicting scientific evidence about the herb’s effectiveness.

In another study, stroke researchers from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and Dongzhimen Hospital, Beijing, China say ginseng seems to boost the activities of the brain chemical acetylcholine, a substance in the brain that’s involved in memory. Researcher Jinzhou Tian, MD, says that studies in mice previously confirmed this effect, but this is the first study to report the same effect in human brains. The researchers tested 40 patients who were victims of brain damage from multiple small strokes. 25 patients were randomly chosen to be fed a ginseng tablet three times per day. The other 15 patients were treated with Duxil, a drug that increases the oxygen uptake of brain cells and is commonly used to treat stroke patients in China. The patients given ginseng improved in all measured activities directly related to recall and memorization, and their improvement was significantly better than those of the Duxil group. Neurology professor
Robert J. Adams, MS, MD, admits that herbs and herbal compounds like ginseng are “very powerful drugs”. Of the Beijing study’s results he says that they are “promising and they do point out that traditional medicines that are very commonly used may have some value and thus deserve careful attention…[but] it is not a placebo-controlled study and even if it were placebo-controlled it is too small to provide enough information to make a treatment recommendation.”

Yet another study compared the effects of ginseng supplementation on physical performance and immune system function in a group of 27 young and healthy adults. The men and women took either 400 mg of ginseng per day or a placebo over an eight week period. The researchers gave the participants a series of all-out effort tests on a stationary bicycle before and after the eight-week supplementation period to see if ginseng them provided any energy boost. Additionally, the scientists collected saliva samples to measure changes in the participants’ immune systems because strenuous exercise (to the point of exhaustion) is thought to suppress the body’s immune function. The study found that ginseng supplementation did not improve the physical performance of the participants during exercise, nor did it have a significant effect on improving immune function to prevent common ailments, such as upper respiratory tract infections.

Researcher Hermann-J. Engels, PhD, of Wayne State University, says, “it is…important to acknowledge that recent controlled clinical studies in humans mostly provide no compelling evidence in support of the efficacy of this complex herb. Therefore…[one should] remain skeptical.”

“Panax ginseng might provide some short-term stimulation, much as a cup of coffee does. And Siberian ginseng might help you work under stressful conditions. But neither one is a fountain of youth,” says William Collinge, PhD, a writer and consultant in the field of integrative health.

It might be that this almost militant skepticism about ginseng in contemporary times stems from historical distortions. Says Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director for the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon, “[The written treatises on] the mild and beneficial nature of ginseng [were] turned upside down [in the late 1700s CE]. Ginseng had become exceedingly rare and costly, and, as a result, it had become an object of abuse. Physicians and herb merchants would promise incredible results from using the rare root (which, at the time, was not cultivated and only obtained from remote forests in Northeast China and Korea). Desperate patients, and their families, would seek it out, and then use as much as possible in an attempt to overcome an obviously debilitating or fatal condition. Ginseng was even described as being able to bring back the dead (probably meaning that it would restore health to someone who appeared to be imminently dying). “

But the fact of the matter is, the amounts of ginseng that are usually taken or administered during contemporary studies are insufficient. In addition, it seems that most of the trials last six to eight weeks and then stop. Yet, for someone who has never taken ginseng before, six to eight weeks of daily supplemental dosage are usually required for the body to absorb it and come to “sympathize” with it before the more potent and lasting effects begin to be expressed. A person who takes ginseng for six weeks (without overdosing) might very well feel little or nothing at all during that time–especially if he is not taking a sufficient “effect dosage” to begin with. The conductors of the studies seem to go out of their way to feed the people less than the recommended amounts.

This attitude sometimes spills over into the marketplace. “Energy drinks that claim to boost performance, for example, typically contain ginseng. But they usually contain only about 100 milligrams of the herb, well below the amount needed to produce a feeling of well-being, according to studies,” writes Liz Applegate, PhD. I personally never buy supplemental, ginseng-inclusive compounds such as Ginsana, as these, too, dilute the ginseng amounts far too much. I only buy supplements or teas where the main ingredients, and sometimes the only ingredients, are ginseng.

My sage advice is for one to experiment with ginseng for oneself. Know your own body and individuality and design your ginseng quest around them, and let experience be your judge and jury about the efficacy of ginseng’s title as “king of the herbs”.

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