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What Is It

Panax ginseng (also called Asian, Chinese, or Korean ginseng) has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to enhance both longevity and the quality of life. Panax ginseng is the most widely available and extensively studied form of this herb. Another species, Panax quinquefolius or American ginseng, is grown mainly in the Midwest and exported to China.

The medicinal part of the plant is its slow-growing root, which is harvested after four to six years, when its overall ginsenoside content (the main active ingredient is ginseng) is at its peak. There are 13 different ginsenosides in all. Panax ginseng also contains panaxans, substances that can lower blood sugar, and polysaccharides, complex sugar molecules that enhance the immune system. "White" ginseng is simply the dried root; "red" ginseng has been steamed and dried.

What Does It Do

The primary health benefits of Panax ginseng derived from its immune stimulating and antioxidant properties, as well as from its ability to protect the body against the adverse effects of stress.

Common Uses

  • Combats the physical effects of stress.
  • May treat impotence and infertility in men.
  • Boosts energy.

Prevention

Ginseng may help the body combat a variety of illnesses. It stimulates the production of specialized immune cells called "killer T cells," which destroy harmful viruses and bacteria.

Studies have also indicated that the herb may inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. A large Korean study found that the risk of developing cancer in people who took ginseng was half that of subjects who did not take it. Although ginseng powders and tinctures were shown to have cancer-preventive effect, eating fresh ginseng root or drinking ginseng juice or tea did not lower cancer risk.

Additional Benefits

Ginseng may benefit people who are feeling fatigued and over stressed and those recovering from a long illness. The herb has been shown to balance the release of stress hormones in the body and support the organs that produce these hormones, namely the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain and the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys. Ginseng may also enhance the production of endorphins, "feel-good" chemicals produced by the brain.

Many long-distance runners and body-builders take ginseng to heighten physical endurance. Herbalist believe that ginseng can delay fatigue by enabling the exercising muscles to use energy more efficiently. Some research, however, contradicts this hypothesis.

Though the way it works is not clear, ginseng may be helpful for impotence. Some of its active ingredients appear to affect smooth muscle tissue and improve erectile function. Men with fertility problems may benefit from ginseng as well because animal studies indicate it increases testosterone levels and sperm productions.

How To Take It

Dosage: Select a product that is standardized to contain at least 7% ginsenosides. For general health and combating fatigue: Take 100 to 250 mg Panax ginseng once or twice a day. To support the body in times of stress or during recovery from an illness: Take 100 to 250 mg twice a day. For male impotence and infertility: Take 100 to 250 mg twice a day.
Guidelines For Use: Start at the lower end of the dosage range and increase your intake gradually. Some experts recommend that you stop taking ginseng form a week every two or three weeks and then resume your regular dose. In some cases, ginseng may be rotated with other immune-stimulating herbs, such as astragalus or Siberian ginseng.

Possible Side Effects

At the doses recommended, ginseng is unlikely to cause any side effects. There have been reports that higher doses cause nervousness, insomnia, headache, and stomach upset; if you have any of these problems, reduce your dose. The combination of ginseng and caffeine may intensify these reactions, so cut back on or avoid caffeine. Some women report increased menstrual bleeding or breast tenderness with high doses of ginseng. If this occurs, reduce your dose or stop using it.

Caution!

  • Don't take Panax ginseng if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a heart rhythm irregularity.
  • Don't use Panax ginseng if you are pregnant.
  • Don't use Panax ginseng if you take MAO inhibitor drugs.

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