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Ginseng improves fatigue, performance, cognition, and is anti-cancer. It is an herbal plant that has been used for thousands of years in Eastern medicine. Read more to learn about how this ancient plant can improve your health.

What is Ginseng?

Ginseng is an herbal plant found in North America and eastern Asia.

There are many different types of ginseng (American, Red, Indian, and others), American ginseng being a very popular one. American ginseng is known for its stimulant properties and is highly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Native Americans have used it as a headache reliever and treatment for fever and indigestion. It has been known to be effective for boosting mood, immunity, and cognition. Many studies have suggested that ginseng may protect against cancer.

Ginseng extracts can be safely taken as a supplement in 200mg to 400mg doses, although whole ginseng can be found and used in Chinese medicine. Higher doses may lead to anxiety and restlessness.

Common Types of Ginseng

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)

American ginseng is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine and is used to calm and to combat fatigue. It is also thought to regulate hormones, relieve stress, and stimulate the immune system. American ginseng must be aged for six years until it is considered acceptable for medicinal use.

Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Asian ginseng, also called red or Korean ginseng, is considered the opposite of American ginseng, where Asian ginseng is thought to stimulate the nervous system and enhance cognitive performance. It shows promise in helping with neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and stroke.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

While not considered a true ginseng, Siberian ginseng has anti-fatigue properties and helps with the immune system, much like Asian ginseng. Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng but has many similar properties, leading to its common name.

Active Constituents of Ginseng

Active constituents of North American ginseng include ginsenosides. Over thirty ginsenosides have been isolated, which can be classified into four groups (R), i.e.

  • Protopanaxadiol-type (PPD), including Rb1, Rc, Rb2, Rd, Rg3, and Rh2
  • Ginsenosidesprotopanaxatriol-type (PPT), including Rg1, Re, Rg2, and Rh1 ginsenosides
  • Protopanaxatriol-type (PPT), including Rg1, Re, Rg2, and Rh1 ginsenosides
  • Ocotillol-type, such as 24-(R)-pseudoginsenoside F11
  • Oleanolic acid-type, such as Ro ginsenoside

In addition, non-ginsenosides are also found in ginseng, including:

Pharmacokinetics of various components of ginseng vary greatly (R).

How Ginseng Interacts with the Body

Following ingestion ginseng is brought into contact with gastric acids and the microflora and enzymes that populate the gastro-intestinal tract. It’s constituents are chemically transformed during the process, in particular sugars are removed (deglycosylation), increasing their bio-availability and reactivity (R).

Following absorption into the blood stream the ginger constituents are dispersed throughout the body where they interact either directly with metabolites or through genetic components such as the gene ACE (Angiotensin I converting enzyme).

To learn more about how the food you eat interacts with your specific genetic make up visit SelfDecode.

Health Benefits of Ginseng

Ginseng Has Anti-Cancer Effects

1) Ginseng Upregulates Anti-Cancer Enzymes

In mice, panaxydol (made from ginseng) increased cancer cell death through activation of the gene EGFR (R).

2) Ginseng and Breast Cancer

Panaxytriol (made from ginseng) prevented cancer cell growth in breast cancer cells (R).

Introducing ginsenoside Rb1 or Rg1 combined with carbon nanotubes decreased cell survival rates and cancer cell growth (R).

Ginesenoside Rg5 increased cancer cell death for breast cancer cells (R).

3) Ginseng and Lung Cancer

Ginseng extract increased cancer cell death in lung cancer cells inhibiting tumor growth (R). It inhibited the gene CAV1 inducing early cell death for the cancer cells.

Constituents from Korean ginseng inhibits metastasis of transplanted lung cancer cells in mice (R).

4) Ginseng and Liver Cancer

Ginseng berry extract increased cell death and prevented cell growth in liver cancer cells (R). It induced cleavage of CAV2 which was associated with increased cancer cell death.

Ginsenoside compound K (made from ginseng) prevented certain cancer-promoting enzymes from working properly in liver cells (R).

5) Ginseng and Skin Cancer

Ginseng root extract reduced the number of skin tumors in mice compared to mice not treated with ginseng (R).

A type of sugar (oligosaccharide) derived from ginseng has anti-cancer effects in skin cancer cells by increasing macrophage function (R).

6) Ginseng and Prostate Cancer

Microwave-irradiated processed ginseng prevented cancer cells from further growth and increased cell death in prostate cancer cells (R).

sliced ginseng

Ginseng is Neuroprotective and is Good for the Brain

7) Ginseng Helps with Brain Inflammation

Panax ginseng reduced symptoms of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and decreased inflammation (R). It suppressed the pro-inflammatory genes IFNG, IL17A and TNF.

American ginseng protects the brain against neuroinflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and HPA axis activation in sleep-deprived animals treated with a GABA inhibitor (R).

8) Ginseng Reduces Adverse Effects of Alcohol Toxicity on the Brain

Ginseng and seabuckthorn increased enzymes (ADH and ALDH) that break down alcohol in mice with acute alcohol intoxication. This helps lessens the effects in the brain against acute alcohol intoxication (R).

9) Ginseng Support Recovery from Nervous System Damage

Ginseng may improve motor function recovery after a spinal cord injury by reducing inflammation in mice (R).

10) Ginseng May Help with ADHD and Learning

Korean red ginseng reduced the inattention and hyperactivity scores for children with ADHD symptoms compared to ADHD children not given Korean red ginseng (R).

Ginseng treatment increased the learning performance for impaired rats and may improve spatial cognitive impairment (R).

11) Ginseng Regulates the Stress Response



Ginseng treatment helps with physical performance and increases resistance to stress and aging by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which increases elevated plasma corticotropin and corticosteroid levels (R).

Ginseng is Anti-Inflammatory

12) Ginseng Has Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects

Ginsenosides from Korean Red Ginseng reduces inflammation by suppressing the tumor necrosis factor, IL-6, IRF-3, and AP-1 pathways (R).

Ginseng extract prevented inflammation and protected cells from pneumococcal bacteria infection in mice (R).

Ginseng protected against cellular oxidative stress caused by hydrogen peroxide in adult retinal cells (R).

Ginseng increased the growth of wound-healing cells, or fibroblasts, and increased collagen synthesis in human dermal cells (R).

Ginseng protected against chromatin damage in sperm, which leads to reproductive fitness (R).

Pectinase-treated ginseng reduced hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative stress in rat sperm (R).

Ginseng Improves Metabolic Health

13) Ginseng Helps with Weight Loss

In aged, obese mice, fermented red ginseng improved insulin sensitivity relative to reduced body weight (R).

Ginseng reduced triglyceride and free fatty acids levels. It also prevented adipose inflammation, insulin resistance, and hepatic steatosis in premenopausal mice (R).

Chinese ginseng-fed mice had decreased fat cell production and had reduced body fat mass gain, improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in obese mice (R).

Ginseng therapy was associated with increased psychological performance and mood, and decreased body weight and fasting blood glucose in patients with newly diagnosed non-insulin-dependent diabetes (R).


Ginseng Helps with Fatigue

Enzyme-modified ginseng extract treatment decreased fatigue severity in healthy adults (R).

14) Ginseng Helps with Chemotherapy-Related Fatigue

A ginsenoside treatment reduced aminotransferase and creatinine levels, indicators of adverse chemotherapy side effects, in mice (R).

Ginseng increased the score for fatigue, well-being, and overall quality of life in patients with cancer-related fatigue (R).

15) Ginseng Can Enhance Sexual Performance

Ginsenosides reduce the stress of the corpus cavernosum, the area of the penis that contains the most blood during an erection (R).

Adverse Effects and Contraindications

As a stimulant, ginseng may cause nervousness and/or sleeplessness, as well as high blood pressure, anxiety, vomiting, and diarrhea in high doses (R).

Symptoms of excessive ginseng use include mastalgia (breast pain), skin reactions, and vaginal bleeding (R).

Ginseng may interact with ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, blood thinners, stimulants, MAOIs, and morphine (R).

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    Hi. Thanks for the valuable info in this article. It was a well written one. I learned some things about the herb ginseng that I didn’t know. I appreciate that!

    I would like to point out something regarding how ginseng is used in TCM, albeit my explanation is a simplistic one. Ginseng is typically combined with other herbs in various formulas – this is to deal with either enhancement of certain properties of the herb that are used in the formula to address a certain pattern of diagnosis or to reduce any unwanted side effects of the herb (think counterbalance). This is roughly how most all TCM herbal formulas are made. Ginseng is an amazing herb, but like everything, too much of a good thing is not always good.

    I also want to bring to you attention that you stated “ginger” in the article when it seems you intended to say “ginseng”. Here is the sentence: “Following absorption into the blood stream the GINGER constituents are dispersed throughout the body where they interact either directly with metabolites or through genetic components such as the gene ACE (Angiotensin I converting enzyme).” I retyped the word “ginger” in all caps. Thanks in advance for making the appropriate correction(s).

    Again, it was a great article!

  • Kelly Spinks

    Sorry Mr Hung.iam 63 years old and it only takes me a nice 4 hour walk in the woods to find enough Seng to last me till the next year.Dont know how much organic you could want?

  • Carol Willis

    Panax ginseng can also provoke or aggravate herpes and shingles, even if taken with a TCM “kidney yin” tonifier for balance. Panax ginseng is an extremely hot-temperature herb, can aggravate all Ayurvedic pitta-type conditions.

  • Hung P Tran

    Ginseng is grown in the ground for up to 6 years which means it is absorbing years worth of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides…Organic Ginseng is almost impossible to find. Not worth it.

    1. Ken

      Ginseng is highly susceptible to plant pests. Growers have no choice but to apply pesticides or risk losing entire crops.

      Instead of so many animal and in vitro results, which may or may not be found in people, it would more useful for readers to learn the outcomes of well controlled clinical trials, not all of which have shown that ginseng has significant benefits.

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