Panax ginseng is a popular herb used in the complementary and alternative medicine circles. It is also called Asian ginseng to differentiate it from another herb called the American ginseng. You can identify this herb when used as an ingredient in a product by its other common names. These include:
- Chinese ginseng
- Korean ginseng
- Red ginseng
- Ren shen
For over 2000 years, this herb has been used in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It was mainly used as a tonic for general good health and as a restorative herb in particular. The term ‘panax’ was used by the Greek to mean that the herb is a ‘cure all’ product.
Today, there is an overwhelming content on panax ginseng on how it affects health. These information ranges from numerous books to research papers on the herb.
How panax ginseng works
The main active compounds in this herb that exert biological effects on the body are called saponin glycosides. The particular saponins in the herb that are thought to induce these effects are called ginsenosides. These substances affect different parts of the systems in different ways. Some systems can be stimulated while others are calmed.
For example, ginsenosides calms (inhibitory) the nervous system and the heart. But for the immune system, it has a stimulating effect. On the heart, lungs, the penis, and the kidneys, these compounds promote the production of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is important for heart health due to its beneficial effects on the blood vessels. These include:
- Relaxes the blood vessels
- Improves circulation
- Reduces fatty deposits on the blood vessels
- Reduces blood viscosity and its tendency to clot
Panax ginseng also reduces the effects of body processes that support muscle inflammation following intense exercises. This helps in the healing of sports related muscle injuries.
Ginsenosides have also been demonstrated to prevent DNA changes that would eventually lead to cancerous changes in the cells.
Side effect of panax ginseng
Many users can tolerate this herb quite well. However, some will develop undesirable symptoms that vary in severity but that usually disappear if the product is discontinued. Some of the side effects of panax ginseng include:
- Digestive issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Manic disorder in people with mental illness
- Dry mouth
- mental illness
- Enlarged breasts in men
- Respiratory problems
Warning and precautions
Panax ginseng is generally safe when used as recommended. However, since users can have different experiences with a nutritional product, it is important to note and seek advice from a health professional should you notice any unusual symptoms after using the herb or supplements with it as one of the ingredients.
Conditions and situations that may require you to consult before using panax ginseng products include:
- Bleeding disorders
- Being on blood thinning medications
- History of mental illness
- Being on diabetes medications
- Heart problems
- Heart medications
Due to its blood thinning effects, panax ginseng should be stopped a minimum of one week prior to a surgical procedure. Failure to do this can lead to an increased risk of significant bleeding during the surgery. In emergency situations, the attending doctor should be informed about the use of the herb. This will help him to take proactive measures to reduce bleeding during the operation.
An absolute contraindication of panax ginseng is the presence of a hormone sensitive cancer. This is because this herb has estrogen-like activity.
Panax ginseng interacts with a number of drugs. These include:
- Blood sugar medications. Panax ginseng will enhance the effects of these drugs
- Panax ginseng potentiates the effects of this antiviral medication and increases its levels in the blood.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as phenelzine, rasagiline and others used in the treatment of depression.
Health benefits of panax ginseng
Panax ginseng has been used for a wide range of health issues. However, it must be noted that many people use it as a general wellness product and not for the purpose of tackling any specific health problem. Here are 20 benefits associated with the use of panax ginseng.
- Mental wellbeing. This has been demonstrated in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It also shows positive effects on cognitive activities
- Some evidence indicates that it supports better blood sugar metabolism and levels. It is good for patients with a high risk of developing diabetes or those in the prediabetes stage.
- Promotes sexual health in both men and women
- Supports the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Respiratory support.
- May promote athletic performance in some sportsmen
- May improve quality of life for cancer patients
- Supports the immune system against the common cold
- Supports heart functions in patients with heart failure
- Reduces hangover symptoms
- May help to reduce skin wrinkles
- Promotes oral health and reduces bad breath
- Supports good hearing
- Improves postmenopausal symptoms
- Improves joints health
- Supports better digestion
- Reduces symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome
- Supports better fluid balance in the body
- Supports health cell aging and dying. This makes it a possible antiaging product
- Supports healthy DNA functions and hence may be an anticancer development agent.
Although these benefits are associated with panax ginseng alone, there is evidence that combining the herb with vitamins and certain other ingredients yields improved results. It is important therefore to make an informed decision on whether to take plain panax ginseng or to take it as part of a composite nutritional supplement.
At Belisan® , Multivitamin Essential is a composite premium nutritional supplement that contains panax ginseng and many vitamins, minerals, and other health promoting ingredients. All these work together for overall health. For example, this supplement has choline in it. Research indicates that panax ginseng helps in the body’s uptake of the choline. This is just one of the ingredients that show the interdependability of the individual products in Essential.
To learn more about Belisan® Multivitamin Essential supplement or to make a purchase, click here.
Further reading: Journal of Ginseng Research
Chang-Xiao, L., & Pei-Gen, X. (1992). Recent advances on ginseng research in China. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 36(1), 27-38.
Kiefer, D., & Pantuso, T. (2003). Panax ginseng. American family physician, 68(8), 1539-1542.
Lee Y, Jin Y, Lim W, et al. A ginsenoside-Rh1, a component of ginseng saponin, activates estrogen receptor in human breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2003 Mar;84(4):463-8.
Vuksan, V., Sung, M. K., Sievenpiper, J. L., Stavro, P. M., Jenkins, A. L., Di Buono, M., ... & Choi, M. (2008). Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng) improves glucose and insulin regulation in well-controlled, type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of efficacy and safety. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 18(1), 46-56.
Ellis, J. M., & Reddy, P. (2002). Effects of Panax ginseng on quality of life. Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 36(3), 375-379.