improving brain function and stress with ginseng

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

For people that want a natural solution to improve their health and treat common ailments, a good choice is turning to herbal medicine. Although there are a variety of herbs that can be used to boost human health, one of the most popular, and effective, is ginseng.

Ginseng has a long history of usage in both North America and Asia, and today is used by millions of people for its numerous health benefits. Using ginseng can improve your health in several interesting ways, like increasing your cognitive functioning. Ginseng is also a useful natural cure for headaches and chronic fatigue. This herb is known to help decrease your risk of illness by boosting your immune function.

If you are thinking about using herbal medicines to improve your long-term health, then learning more about ginseng and its countless benefits is a great idea. Read about the health benefits of ginseng and how you can effectively use this herb to support full body health.

1. Ginseng facts

When you are planning to supplement your everyday diet with ginseng, it’s important that you have all the facts about this herb[1]. For instance, you may be surprised to learn that there are actually 11 different species of ginseng, some of which offer more powerful health benefits than others. Getting a few basic facts about this herb will make sure you’re using it the right way[2].

All 11 species of ginseng belong to the Panax genus, which means “all heal” in Greek. When people use the term ginseng, they are usually referring to either American ginseng or Korean ginseng[3]. Types of ginseng that aren’t a part of the Panax genus, such as Siberian ginseng, differ from the standard ginseng people use to improve their health.

While research is still ongoing, ginseng can improve health likely due to its amount of compounds known as ginsenosides[4]. Different species of ginseng have different levels of ginsenosides, which is why some forms of ginseng are more potent than others. If you want to support your health using ginseng, it is crucial that you use either Korean or American ginseng for optimal results[5].

2. Ginseng nutrition

Now that you know about some basic ginseng facts, it’s a good idea to learn about this herb’s nutrition and how it is made ready for human consumption. In addition to ginsenosides, ginseng has a variety of components that can substantially contribute to human health[6].

When you shop for a ginseng supplement in your health food store, you will most likely buy American ginseng. Before it can be used, American ginseng must grow for almost six years, and while this plant is common, it is endangered in nature, which means the majority of American ginseng is grown on farms[7,8].

Older ginseng plants are much more valuable than younger plants, mostly because aged ginseng roots have much more effective medicinal properties[9]. You can distinguish American ginseng plants from other forms of ginseng by its flowers, which have a yellow-green color and produce red berries when fully mature[10]. Ginseng plants provide a variety of plant compounds with pharmacological properties, including polyphenolic compounds, acidic polysaccharides, and polyacetylenes. Choosing an aged ginseng, while more expensive, will provide you with a variety of health benefits.

3. Improved mood

If you suffer from a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, it can be very difficult to live your life to the fullest. While it is important to receive treatment from a qualified mental health professional, it’s possible to also improve your mood with herbal medicine that includes ginseng[11].

Research has found that ginseng is an extremely effective mood booster and may also work to reduce stress[12]. For example, one study performed in the United Kingdom showed that giving subjects 200 milligrams of ginseng for an eight-day period helped maintain mood levels. A daily dose of 400 milligrams even increased calmness and improved the subject’s ability to do arithmetic in their head[13].

Another study was performed to examine the effects of ginseng on chronic stress, using rats as subjects[14]. At the conclusion of the study, it was revealed that as little as 100 milligrams of ginseng improved several stress markers, including the ulcer index and plasma glucose levels. This suggests that, in addition to reducing stress, ginseng can also be used to treat adrenal fatigue and as a natural ulcer cure[15]. Anyone suffering from mood instability should consider adding ginseng to their daily routine.

4. Brain functioning

Although ginseng can be used for a variety of purposes, it is most popular as a study aid. Most people have heard of ginseng’s powerful benefits for the brain and, unlike other herbal medicines, there is strong scientific evidence behind ginseng’s positive effect on the brain[16].

A large amount of research suggests that ginseng can improve concentration and overall brain functioning by stimulating brain cells[17]. One recent study found that using ginseng for three months boosted the mental operations of Alzheimer’s patients. In this study, subjects showed significant improvements in their cognition while taking ginseng, subsequently suffering from cognitive decline after discontinuing ginseng use[18].

This exciting research indicates that ginseng may be a promising solution for slowing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, some preliminary research demonstrates that using ginseng can naturally treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an extremely common condition that negatively alters concentration[19,20]. If you have trouble with staying focused or are simply interested in boosting your brainpower, then consider ginseng as a natural option for improvement.

5. Inflammation

Avoiding serious illness is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your quality of life. While chronic disease can occur in several different ways, one of the most common causes is persistent inflammation. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation can increase a person’s risk of critical diagnoses, including heart disease and cancer. Fortunately, reducing inflammation may be as easy as taking ginseng[21,22].

Recently, a study was performed to measure how ginseng may affect patients who had recently undergone chemotherapy[23]. In the year following chemotherapy, subjects who were given 60 milligrams of ginseng a day showed significantly lower levels of cytokines, or proteins that have been linked to chronic inflammation[24]. Similarly, a 2011 study found that giving Korean ginseng to mice inhibited allergic rhinitis, one of the most common upper respiratory conditions in the world. In simple terms, this means that, by using ginseng, people with inflammatory conditions like asthma may be able to find relief from their most damaging symptoms[25].

People with a history of chronic inflammation, or those who have been diagnosed with an inflammatory disease, should consider using ginseng supplements in addition to other medical recommendations to fight their inflammation and improve their health.

6. Lose weight

If you’re like most people, then one of your main goals is to lose weight. Losing weight successfully means switching to a new diet. However, even the most impressive diet plan can be derailed if you are not able to control your hunger or watch your portions. If you’re thinking about a diet but are worried about your ability to resist cravings, then you need to make sure that your weight-loss plan includes ginseng[26].

Research suggests that ginseng is one of the most beneficial herbs that a person can use in terms of weight loss. For starters, there is evidence that ginseng naturally suppresses appetite. Also, ginseng may increase your body’s metabolism, burning off fat and calories at a higher rate[27].

One study used mice to examine the effects of ginseng berry on diabetes and obesity. Mice were given 150 milligrams of ginseng extract for a period of 12 days[28]. Midway through the report, it was discovered that the mice had significantly lowered blood glucose levels. When research concluded after 12 days, the group that had been given ginseng had improved glucose intolerance and their blood sugar levels had decreased by over 50%[29,30].

7. Sexual dysfunction

Treating sexual dysfunction, particularly in men, is one of the most historic uses of ginseng. Evidence suggests that powdered Korean ginseng acts as a natural aphrodisiac and may be able to treat erectile dysfunction. Like many of the benefits of ginseng, more research needs to be performed to determine how effective ginseng is for sexual dysfunction. However, preliminary studies have been very promising[31].

For example, in 2008, a review was performed of 28 clinical studies related to ginseng and sexual arousal[32]. In six of these studies, it was found that subjects who took ginseng had improved sexual function compared to those who did not. Studies that used a questionnaire learned that ginseng users reported better sexual performance than the placebo group[33].

Earlier than that, in 2002, research found that the ginsenosides in ginseng promoted sexual arousal by increasing the release of nitric oxide from perivascular nerves and endothelial cells[34]. While most of the benefits of ginseng for sexual functioning are reserved for men, there is also some indication that using Korean ginseng may be able to reduce the symptoms of menopause[35]. Instead of turning to prescription medication, you can improve your arousal levels and sexual ability by using ginseng.

8. Respiratory system

Living with a respiratory condition can be extremely difficult. People with chronic breathing issues often have a lack of energy and trouble recovering from illness. If you’re prone to respiratory infections or have a chronic respiratory ailment, then it’s crucial that you find treatment, and one of the best ways to improve your lung function is using ginseng[36].

Reports have shown that using ginseng can drastically reduce bacteria in the lungs, a common cause of respiratory infection[37]. Some research using rats has also found that ginseng may slow the spread of cystic fibrosis, an often fatal respiratory condition that causes fluid buildup in the lungs. This study was performed in 1997, and subjects that were given ginseng showed improvement after only two weeks[38].

Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that ginseng can be used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)[39]. COPD is a breathing condition where a person experiences poor airflow. Like many respiratory disorders, COPD is progressive, meaning its symptoms worsen over time. Research has found that using ginseng can boost lung functioning, increasing airflow and reducing the effects of COPD[40].

9. Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic condition where a person’s body can no longer regulate blood sugar effectively. Typically, when a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they will need to use prescription medication to control their blood sugar levels. However, some research shows that people may be able to improve their diabetes by also using ginseng[41].

Research performed by the University of Maryland found that type 2 diabetics that ingested American ginseng just before drinking a sugar drink were able to prevent a drastic increase in their blood sugar levels[42,43]. A similar study performed in England found that ginseng could lower a person’s blood sugar an hour after consuming sugar products[44].

Essentially, this research means that ginseng can help prevent a spike in blood sugar that is common after meals for diabetics, and may also help a person better regulate their blood sugar levels[45]. Diabetics who struggle to control their blood sugar should consult with a medical professional about the possibility of treating their condition with American ginseng supplements.

10. Fight cancer

For people who are concerned with maintaining their health over time, there is no bigger fear than being diagnosed with cancer. Although a person’s cancer risk can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, it is possible to prevent this disease by living a healthy lifestyle and using cancer-fighting substances. In this regard, there is almost no better herb to use than ginseng[46,47].

Medical research shows that ginseng is extremely effective at fighting cancer. In particular, there is evidence that ginseng can stop tumor growth[48]. Preliminary research shows that ginseng can inhibit tumor growth in several ways. For instance, ginseng can boost cell immunity, particularly T cells and NK cells. Ginseng may also be able to reduce oxidative stress and increase apoptosis, the natural death of cancer cells[49].

Again, ginseng is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which has been directly linked to a person’s risk for cancer. It is also possible that ginseng can suppress the genes that trigger tumor growth[50]. Anyone concerned with their risk for developing cancer may be able to prevent this serious condition by regularly using ginseng.

11. Immunity

When it comes to fighting disease and preserving your health, the most important factor is a healthy immune system. If your immune system is compromised, it will be very difficult for your body to fight infection and illnesses, even the common cold. This means that you need to support your immune system in whatever way possible, and one of the best ways to do so is using ginseng.

The leaves, roots, and stems of the ginseng plant have long been used in herbal medicine to maintain the immune system and promote immune response. A number of clinical studies support the belief that ginseng can improve your immunity. These studies concluded that ginseng has the ability to regulate the immune cells in your body, including natural killer cells and macrophages.

In addition, ginseng extract is known to have antimicrobial properties, meaning it can help your body fight infection by suppressing bacteria. Some research performed on mice showed that using ginseng lowered the amount of bacteria in vital organs, like the kidney and spleen, and also reduced the risk of death due to sepsis.

12. Side effects

Clearly, ginseng is an incredible herb, improving human health in several exciting ways. However, like any herb, it’s possible that you can experience side effects when using ginseng. Learning about potential side effects is always a good idea before you make any changes to your health routine, including adding ginseng.

The majority of the side effects of ginseng are mild and should dissipate as your body adjusts to the new substance. For some people, ginseng causes stimulation, which can result in insomnia or anxiety. Taking ginseng for extended periods of time has also been known to result in digestive issues and headaches. Some women who use ginseng have experienced alterations in their menstrual cycle.

Most seriously, ginseng has some potential to negatively interact with certain prescription medications. For instance, ginseng is known to reduce the effectiveness of warfarin, a common blood thinner, as well as medication meant to treat depression. It’s also possible for ginseng to interact with diabetes medication, antipsychotics, and morphine. If you use prescription medication, definitely work with your doctor before you start using ginseng to make sure it is best for your health.

The sati line

When searching for a solution to improve their health, it’s common for people to become interested in herbal medicine. Out of all the herbs that a person can use, ginseng is the most beneficial. With centuries of successful usage, ginseng is a powerful herb that can support virtually every area of human health, and ginseng may also limit your risk for developing serious diseases.

Primarily, ginseng is used to improve cognition. Studies show that ginseng can boost concentration and may fight the symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions, like Alzheimer’s. In addition, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, ginseng has the ability to limit your risk for cancer and treat certain respiratory conditions. Ginseng can also be used to support weight loss, control blood sugar, and elevate sexual performance.

While there are some potential side effects of using ginseng, they are relatively mild. However, people who take certain prescription medications should be careful about using this herb. Fortunately, most people can safely use ginseng and see an almost immediate improvement in their overall health.

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