As someone who is health conscious, you’re likely forever on the lookout for ingredients and health supplements that can provide for a magical hit of several health benefits at once. With ginseng, that search stops here. Today, so many recognise the natural power of this plant, that it is grown commercially in more than 35 countries - accounting for an industry with annual sales that top $2.1 billion (Baeg and So 2013). So, the question then is, what makes ginseng so special? Let’s find out…
What Is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a slow growing perennial herb – its use can be dated all the way back some 2000 years. Traditional Chinese medicine has long since extolled the benefits of ginseng, and this field of study defines a difference between fresh, red and white ginseng. White (unprocessed) ginseng is regarded to assist overall body health, vigour and lifespan whilst red (processed) ginseng, is far stronger in taste, and Chinese medicine argues that this is attributed to stronger outcomes. Traditionally red ginseng is used to assist recovery from illness.
Ginseng boasts salicylic acid (which you’ll find in aspirin), caffeic acid (which you’d discover in coffee) and vitamins A, B1, B2, B12, C and E.
The Three Forms Of Ginseng
Before we dig into the many amazing health benefits of ginseng, we should first take a step back to understand the three forms of ginseng (throughout which there are 11 variations of species in total):
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Siberian ginseng can’t be considered as a proper form of the plant as it lacks ginsenosides. However, with that said, this species does still feature elements that are known as eleutherosides, which have been linked benefits for the immune system.
American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius)
American ginseng is white in colour and looks similar to a parsnip. It is considered by many in Chinese medicine to be a calming tonic (Mercola). Its growth is native to the US, most specifically to the Canadian regions of Ontario and British Columbia, as well as in the American state of Wisconsin.
Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
Asian ginseng (which is commonly referred to as Korean ginseng) is packed full of ginsenosides and falls into the plant category of an ‘apoptogenic herb’. Those in Chinese Medicine see it as a ‘hot’ stimulant (Mercola). Asian ginseng is farmed commercially in red and white variations, as well as ‘fresh’ ginseng which is the raw product.
The Health Benefits Of Ginseng
Improved mood and reduced stress
Numerous studies have proven the benefits of ginseng as a natural mood enhancer. The Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Centre discovered that 200mg of ginseng taken each day for just eight days, improved low moods and participants’ capacity for mental arithmetic.
A further study, undertaken by the Division of Pharmacology at the Central Drug Research Institute, established a reduction of chronic stress and gave a basis for further research for ginseng as a treatment for stress related disorders.
Improved Lung Function
Ginseng has been used for the treatment of lung conditions, such as where lung bacteria has been suffered, and is an ongoing area of research for the treatment of cystic fibrosis (Song et al 1997). A further condition that continues to be of interest in relation to ginseng is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for which there is no cure, with one study finding that certain symptoms of the chromic disease were alleviated (Lei et al 2014).
Ginseng has been linked to boosted energy – both physical and mental, amongst those who are suffering from fatigue. Notably, one clinical study from the Mayo Clinic established significant improvements for those who were suffering from cancer induced fatigue.
Red ginseng boasts an anti-obesity element that:
- Assists hormones including leptin, insulin and adiponectin (each of which are required for fat and cholesterol metabolism [Oh 2014]);
- Increases oxidation (producing a detoxifying effect that reduces body fat and prevents high blood pressure [Li et al 2014]);
- Manipulates the genes that are involved in lipid metabolism (Song 2012);
- When red ginseng is fermented, it is also known to reduce food intake, as it acts as an appetite suppressant (Oh 2014).
Lowers blood sugar levels
Ginseng has been studied by the Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit and University of Maryland Medical Centre as an efficient reducer of blood sugar levels in those suffering from type-2 diabetes.
Boosts cognitive function
Ginseng has been proven to boost cognitive function across an impressive number of studies. Most recently this proclaim has been put to the test by the Medical School of Nantong University in China.
Lead researcher, JinSong Geng, M.D., found that there were cognitive, behavioural and quality of life advantages when regularly consuming ginseng. This study was of note due to the widespread use of ginseng in China (amounting to millions of people), a populous known for longer lifespans and reduced instances of diseases such as cancer.
Their findings were backed up by the Journal of Dairy Science, which specifically researched whether introducing ginseng to US foods would be viable and/or beneficial. This study focused on ginseng fortified milk which, it was found, could improve cognitive function. The researchers also noted the links that the root had to slowed aging, assisting central nervous system disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.
American ginseng and Asian ginseng are both equally as adept at assisting our bodies and their overall physiological needs. The reduction of stress, the increasing of stamina and the alleviated mental and physical performance that is derived, all contribute to anti-aging effects – helping us feel younger than we really are. However, ginseng could well go beyond even these impressive advantages, as a recent study found ginseng to increase the lifespan of fruit flies (Kim 2013).
Ginseng and the treatment of ailments
Ginseng has a long and illustrious history in Chinese culture as a resource that is used to treat several ailments. In fact, so in demand has this perceived health essential been, that the 16th century saw struggles over control of fields in both China and Korea.
Ginseng includes 7 elements (known as ginsenosides) that are linked to immune-suppressive effects (as according to the Journal of Translational Medicine).
The research argued that it could be down to the combination of ginsenosides that anti-inflammatory effects were apparent, and that each variation of ginsenoside honed in on various levels of immunological activity.
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