Odds are good if you ask any of your patients if they take any herbs for health benefits, they will most likely mention ginseng.
However, your patients are also equally likely to not fully understand precisely how ginseng can benefit them. They may have seen a segment on TV or read an article on the internet about how ginseng is good for them, but don’t necessarily know the exact conditions ginseng can help treat.
Furthermore, your average patient may also not realize that there are different types of ginseng, each with somewhat different properties.
Naturally, your patients are counting on you to help them understand not only the general benefits of ginseng, but the differences between each variety of the herb.
Below is a handy guide so that you can steer your patients in the right direction when it comes to getting the most out of adding in ginseng as a supplement to a wellness-based diet.
General benefits of ginseng
Perhaps the best known qualities of ginseng are its ability to help fight fatigue and improve cognition and mental alertness. A 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined the effect of American ginseng on fatigue in cancer patients.1 A group of 364 cancer survivors were randomized to either receive 2,000 mg of ginseng or placebo for eight weeks.
At the end of eight weeks, those patients taking ginseng reported less fatigue. Furthermore, those who were still undergoing cancer treatment reported greater benefit than those who had completed treatment.1
A 2012 study in the Journal of Ginseng Research examined the effects of 4,500 mg of Korean ginseng over the course of two weeks on a group of 15 healthy males in terms of their cognitive and motor response to visual stimuli.2
Subjects were wired with electrodes and asked to press a button when they saw a particular image. The researchers found that at the end of the two weeks, those subjects taking ginseng showed a shorter time between recognition of the visual stimulus and motor response.2
Types of ginseng
Ginsenosides make up the active ingredient that researchers believe provide ginseng’s health benefits. There are two types of ginseng – Asian (Panax ginseng, also sometimes known as Korean ginseng) and American (Panax quinquefolius) – both of which contain ginsenosides.3 In all cases, the root is used for medicinal purposes. American ginseng is mainly grown in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, as well as in the American state of Wisconsin. Asian ginseng is generally grown in northeastern China and Korea.3 Asian ginseng is usually peeled, steamed and dried (known as red ginseng), while American ginseng is usually dried without undergoing the steaming process (known as white ginseng).
There are other plants that are similar to ginseng, but do not contain ginsenosides.3
Although they have certain health benefits that may be similar to ginseng, they derive them from other active ingredients. The best-known of these is marketed as Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), although it is not part of the Panax botanical series.4 A partial list of other plants that are sometimes referred to as ginseng includes:3
- Angelica sinensis (female ginseng, dong quai)
- Codonopsis pilosula (poor man’s ginseng)
- Gynostemma pentaphyllum (southern ginseng, jiaogulan)
- Lepidium meyenii (Peruvian ginseng, maca)
- Oplopanax horridus (Alaskan ginseng)
- Pfaffia paniculata (Brazilian ginseng, suma)
- Pseudostellaria heterophylla (prince ginseng)
- Withania somnifera (Indian ginseng, ashwagandha)
There’s no question that both Asian and American ginseng offer a variety of health benefits to your patients. In fact, they may have questions for you about these benefits.
Therefore, it’s important to understand about the properties and benefits each type of ginseng can offer, as well as how to make certain your patients are taking the preparation with the right active ingredients.
- Barton DL, Liu H, Dakhil SR, et al. Wisconsin ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) to improve cancer-related fatigue: A randomized, double-blind trial, N07C2. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2013;105(16):1230-1238.
- Yeo H-B, Yoon H-K, Lee H-J, et al. Effects of Korean red ginseng on cognitive and motor function: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2012;36(2):190-197.
- Wikipedia. Accessed 10/17.2016.
- Eleutherococcus senticosus. Accessed 10/17/2016.