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Ginseng: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects By Dr. Smita Barode

By Dr Smita Barode +2 more

Introduction 

Ginseng is a popular ancient herb used in traditional Chinese and oriental medicine. The potential remedies of ginseng are recorded in the ancient medical material “The Herbal Classic of the Divine Plowman” by Ben Cao Jing, around 2000 years ago. It belongs to the genus Panax and family Araliaceae. The scientific name of ginseng is Panax ginseng Meyer and is also known as the “King of Herbs”.1,2 Ginseng is a perennial herb (lasts for several years).3  

ginseng benefits

The roots of ginseng are more sought after for use than the other parts due to their nutritional and medicinal properties. The ginseng roots look similar to human shape and called as “Man root”. The Genus Panax is a Greek word which refer to “all healing” and it is believed that it may heal all parts of the human body.3  

Nutritional Value of Ginseng 

Ginseng contains 80-90% organic and 10% inorganic substances. The active biological constituents present in ginseng are carbohydrates, saponins, amino acids, peptides, essential oils, vitamins, ginsenosides (saponins like steroids), phytosterol and minerals. Ginseng also contains many important elements. The nutritional value per 100g of ginseng is as given in the following table: 

Nutritional Component (Element) Value per 100g 
Potassium 2.91 % 
Nitrogen 1.12 % 
Phosphorus 0.19 % 
Calcium 0.50 % 
Magnesium 0.26 % 
Copper 12 mg/g 
Zinc 27 mg/g 
Iron 296 mg/g 
Manganese 43 mg/g 

Table 1: Nutritional composition of ginseng (values of dry weight American ginseng)4 

Based on my experience, it’s worth noting that ginseng may have promising role against cancer. Research suggests that individuals who consume ginseng preparations may have a lower risk of developing cancers in various organs, including the stomach, lungs, liver, pancreas, ovaries, colon, and oral cavity.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, MD

Did you know?

Properties of Ginseng 

The therapeutic properties of ginseng are: 

  • It might be an antioxidant. 
  • It might help in learning and memory. 
  • It may be anti-inflammatory. 
  • It might reverse amnesia. 
  • It may elevate the mood. 
  • It may protect neurons from ischemia (decrease in the flow of oxygen).  
  • It may act as anti-hyperglycaemic. 
  • It might inhibit the growth of tumour cells. 
  • It might boost the metabolism. 
  • It may enhance the liver function. 
  • It might be used as an adaptogen (agent that helps the body adapt to change in environmental conditions). 
  • It might have immunomodulatory activity. 
  • It might inhibit platelet aggregation. 
  • It may improve lung function.1,5-8 

Potential Uses of Ginseng for Overall Health: 

Some of the potential uses of ginseng are: 

1. Potential use of Ginseng in Psychological function 

Clinical trials conducted by Kiefer, 2003 to investigate the role of Panax ginseng in psychological functions showed positive effects on psychomotor functions like better attention, social functioning, processing, and reaction time along with mental health. Therefore, ginseng may have potential benefits in improving psychological function.6 

2. Potential use of Ginseng in Ageing 

The antioxidant property of ginseng may help in decreasing the production of reactive oxygen species, an important aspect of ageing. Consuming ginseng may have some potential in coping with age-related diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis (a disease with damaged protective nerve coverings), stroke and other cognition-related diseases, by decreasing the production of reactive oxygen species.9 

3. Potential use of Ginseng in Diabetes 

Ginseng may have potential benefit in managing diabetes. It might work through various mechanisms like increasing insulin secretion from β- cells, improving the metabolic rate of an individual which may lead to increase glucose utilization and decreased storage of glucose, and reducing the enzymes involved in lipid metabolism. These mechanisms may help in reducing glycogenolysis (breakdown of glycogen to glucose) which may further reduce hyperglycaemia.1 

4. Potential use of Ginseng as an Anti-microbial 

Numerous research (compiled by Szczuka et al, 2019) has been conducted to study the anti-microbial action of ginseng on various microbes like S. aureus, E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterococcus spp., and Candida albicans. The extracts of American ginseng inhibited the growth of these microorganisms. Thus, suggesting that ginseng may have potential therapeutic action as an anti-microbial agent.9 

5. Potential use of Ginseng as Cytotoxic and Immunomodulatory Agent 

Ginseng might have some immunomodulatory and cytotoxic effects. The active constituent of ginseng, ginsenoside, may increase both the immune responses namely, humoral and cell mediated and may also exert cytotoxic effects on tumour cells.8 

Though studies show the benefits of Ginseng in various conditions, these are insufficient, and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of Ginseng on human health. 

How to Use Ginseng? 

Generally, ginseng is synonymous with dried root, but researchers have proved the beneficial potential of berries and leaves of the plant.1 Extract or powder of ginseng may also be used as a bioactive potential which adds variations to the source available.2,5 Ginseng powder is also added to the mineral and multivitamins supplements to increase the efficacy of both.5 It is also be used in various other forms like tea, alcoholic extract.3 

One should always consult an Ayurvedic physician before consuming ginseng in large quantities or for therapeutic benefits. They will be the best person to prescribe you the correct form and dosage as per your health condition. 

Side Effects of Ginseng: 

The consumption of ginseng has been shown to produce side effects like an increase in blood pressure, insomnia, stomach disturbances and nervousness. Ginseng taken in high amount can show symptoms of confusion and depression. Ginseng might contain some endocrine-like substance that has shown negative effects on neonatal development. The use of ginseng has may cause swollen and painful breasts in females.5 Other side effects include headache, skin rashes, menstrual problems, loss of appetite, palpitations, increased heart rate, vertigo, dizziness, breast pain, etc.7   

In my experience, I have observed that ginseng, specifically the active compound called ginsenoside found in the root of Panax ginseng, has shown potential benefits in Alzheimer’s disease. Ginsenoside has been found to have neurotrophic effects, which means it supports the growth and function of nerve cells involved in memory and learning. Additionally, it exhibits neuroprotective actions that help stop the degeneration of neurons, which can contribute to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Also Read: Burdock Root Benefits: Revealing Research-Based Health Advantages

Precautions to Take with Ginseng: 

  • Ginseng is usually taken to improve the health of an individual but it should be used with caution especially in co-morbid situations.  
  • The use of ginseng should be avoided by the pregnant females as it can cause birth defects.  
  • Patients with diabetes, hormonal disorders, blood clotting disorders, and autoimmune diseases should avoid taking ginseng.7 
  • Adults or the elderly who ingest medication are potentially susceptible to various pharmacological interactions and should always consult their doctors before consuming ginseng with medicine.  

Interactions with Other Drugs: 

The consumption of ginseng should be avoided if you are taking anti-depressants like Phenelzine, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, and blood thinners like warfarin.5 Cautions should be taken when consuming ginseng with oral hypoglycaemic (agents which decrease high blood glucose level), insulin, caffeine, and anti-hypertensive agents (drugs that decrease high blood pressure).6 Pharmacists and health professionals should create awareness among people and educate them about the potential side effects of other drugs with ginseng. Doctors or ayurvedic physicians should be consulted before taking ginseng with drugs.  

Also Read: Colloidal Silver Benefits: A Science-Backed Guide

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Is Ginseng safe during pregnancy? 

No, ginseng should be avoided during pregnancy as it can cause birth defects and can negatively impact neonatal development.5,7 

What are the benefits of ginseng? 

Ginseng may have potential benefits in decreasing blood glucose levels, assisting in learning and memory, reversing insomnia, inhibiting the growth of tumour cells, enhancing physical performances and inhibiting platelet aggregation.5,8 

What medicines should be avoided while using ginseng? 

Avoid consuming ginseng if you are on anti-depressants, oral hypoglycaemics, blood thinners like warfarin, and insulin analogues.5,6 

Who should not use ginseng? 

Pregnant and lactating females and patients suffering from hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and blood clotting disease should avoid using ginseng.7 

What are the available forms of ginseng? 

Usually, ginseng root is consumed as a whole. Other available forms are alcoholic extract, powder, teas, capsules, and often mixed with multivitamins and minerals for additive effect.1,3 

References  

  1. Xie JT, Mehendale S, Yuan CS. Ginseng and diabetes. The American journal of Chinese medicine. 2005;33(03):397-404. Available form: https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/S0192415X05003004  
  1. So SH, Lee JW, Kim YS, Hyun SH, Han CK. Red ginseng monograph. Journal of ginseng research. 2018 Oct 1;42(4):549-61. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1226845317303457
  1. Coon JT, Ernst E. Panax ginseng. Drug safety. 2002 Apr;25(5):323-44. Available from:  https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00002018-200225050-00003
  1. Campeau C, Proctor JT, Jackson CJ, Rupasinghe HV. Rust-spotted North American ginseng roots: Phenolic, antioxidant, ginsenoside, and mineral nutrient content. Hort Science. 2003 Apr 1;38(2):179-82. Available from: https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/38/2/article-p179.xml
  1. Kitts DD, Hu C. Efficacy and safety of ginseng. Public health nutrition. 2000 Dec;3(4a):473-85. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/efficacy-and-safety-of-ginseng/6174FB8242BBED5E04776827EEDBF2B7
  1. Kiefer DS, Pantuso T. Panax ginseng. American family physician. 2003 Oct 15;68(8):1539-42. Available from:   https://www.aafp.org/dam/brand/aafp/pubs/afp/issues/2003/1015/p1539.pdf  
  1. Makky EA. Korean Red Ginseng: Benefits Versus Precautions. INNOSC Theranostics and Pharmacological Sciences. 2018 Dec 5;1(1):10-3. Available from: https://asp-yinuo-bucket.s3.ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/journal/ITPS/1/1/10.26689/itps%20v1i1.417/document417.pdf  
  1. Attele AS, Wu JA, Yuan CS. Ginseng pharmacology: multiple constituents and multiple actions. Biochemical pharmacology. 1999 Dec 1;58(11):1685-93. Available form: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006295299002129 
  1. Szczuka D, Nowak A, Zakłos-Szyda M, Kochan E, Szymańska G, Motyl I, Blasiak J. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium L.) as a source of bioactive phytochemicals with pro-health properties. Nutrients. 2019 May 9;11(5):1041. Available form:  https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/5/1041.  

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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