ginseng (generic name)
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The term ginseng refers to several species of the genus Panax. For more than 2,000 years, the roots of this slow-growing plant have been valued in Chinese medicine. The two most commonly used species are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer), which is almost extinct in its natural habitat but is still cultivated, and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius L.), which is both harvested from the wild and cultivated. Panax ginseng should not be confused with Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). In Russia, Siberian ginseng was promoted as a cheaper alternative to ginseng and was believed to have identical benefits. However, Siberian ginseng does not contain the ginsenosides found in the Panax species, which are believed to be active ingredients and have been studied.
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Ginseng appears to have antioxidant effects that may benefit patients with heart disorders. Some studies suggest that ginseng also reduces oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol and brain tissue. Better studies are needed to make a firm recommendation.
High blood sugar/glucose intolerance:
Several studies suggest ginseng may lower blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes before and after meals. These results are promising, especially because ginseng does not seem to lower blood sugar to dangerous levels. Future research should focus on the long-term effects of ginseng in managing blood sugar levels.
Immune system enhancement:
Several studies report that ginseng may boost the immune system, improve the effectiveness of antibiotics in people with acute bronchitis, and enhance the body's response to flu vaccines. Additional studies are needed before a clear conclusion can be reached.
Type 2 diabetes (adult-onset):
Several human studies report that ginseng may lower blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Long-term effects are not clear, and it is not known what doses are safe or effective. People with diabetes should seek the care of a qualified healthcare practitioner and should not use ginseng instead of more proven therapies. Effects of ginseng in type 1 diabetes ("insulin dependent") are not well studied.
Weak studies suggest that ginseng in combination with other herbs may improve cell activity, immune function, and red and white blood cell counts in patients with aplastic anemia. Other studies have found decreases in blood cell counts. High-quality studies of ginseng alone are needed.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
Early small studies suggest that American ginseng may help treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. However, there is currently not enough evidence to support this use of ginseng.
Birth outcomes (anoxemic encephalopathy):
There is currently not enough evidence to support the use of ginseng for this condition. High-quality studies are needed to understand this relationship.
Limited research suggests that ginseng has positive effects on breathing. Further studies are needed in this area.
Early studies suggest that ginseng injections may help patients undergoing chemotherapy for various types of cancer. Ginseng may improve body weight, quality of life, and the immune response. Although this evidence is promising, the effect of ginseng alone is not clear. More research using ginseng alone is needed.
A few studies report that ginseng taken by mouth may lower the risk of developing some cancers, especially if ginseng powder or extract is used. Study results are controversial, and more research is needed before a clear conclusion can be reached.
Cardiovascular risk reduction:
Current evidence does not support the use of ginseng to reduce the risk of heart disease. Some evidence suggests that ginseng may improve blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol. High-quality studies are needed.
Chronic hepatitis B:
Early studies show that ginseng may improve some aspects of liver function but not others. More research is needed in this area.
Congestive heart failure:
Based on limited research, it is unclear if ginseng improves congestive heart failure. High-quality studies looking at the effect of ginseng alone are needed.
Coronary artery disease:
Several studies from China report that ginseng in combination with various other herbs may reduce symptoms of coronary artery disease. Without further evidence on the effects of ginseng specifically, a firm conclusion cannot be reached.
Early small studies report that Fuyuan mixture, an herbal combination that contains ginseng, may improve symptoms of multi-infarct dementia. The effects of ginseng alone are not clear, and no firm conclusion can be drawn.
Diabetic complications (kidney damage) :
Early evidence suggests that a form of ginseng not commonly available in the United States may improve kidney damage in patients with diabetes. Some research suggests thatPanax notoginsengmay be as effective as the prescription drug Ticlid®. However, more research is needed.
Early studies suggest that ginseng may help treat erectile dysfunction. Additional high-quality studies are needed.
Athletes commonly use ginseng as a potential way to improve stamina. However, it remains unclear if ginseng taken by mouth significantly affects exercise performance. Many studies have been published in this area, with mixed results. Better studies are necessary before a clear conclusion can be reached.
A few studies using ginseng extract G115® (with or without multivitamins) report improvements in patients with fatigue of various causes. However, these results are early, and studies have not been high quality.
Early evidence in infants with peri-anal abscesses or anal fistulas suggests that GTTC (Ginseng and Tang-kuei Ten Combination) may speed up recovery. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Heart damage (cardiac bypass complications):
Early studies suggest that ginseng may have a positive effect on complications of cardiac bypass surgery, including decreasing damage to the lining of the digestive tract. Well-designed studies are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
High blood pressure:
Early research suggests that ginseng may lower blood pressure (systolic and diastolic). It is not clear what doses may be safe or effective. Well-conducted studies are needed to confirm these early results.
Several low-quality studies have examined the effects ofPanax ginsengon cholesterol levels. Results are mixed. More studies are needed to understand the effects of ginseng on cholesterol levels.
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (refractory):
Combination herbal products containing ginseng may help treat refractory idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, a blood disorder that does not respond well to treatment. Studies that use ginseng alone are needed.
Intracranial pressure (ICP):
Early research reports that Xuesaitong injection (XSTI), a preparation ofPanax notoginseng, may help decrease pressure inside the skull and benefit coma patients. Further study is needed to confirm these results.
Kidney dysfunction (hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome):
A combination of herbs that included ginseng was not better than treatment with a conventional medicine plus traditional Chinese medicine. More research is needed in this area because the effects of ginseng alone are unknown.
Early studies suggest that ginseng may have protective effects on the liver. Additional human study is warranted in this area.
Several studies have looked at the effects of ginseng in a variety of lung conditions. Early results are promising, but many studies have used combination products, making it difficult to evaluate the effect of ginseng. More research using ginseng alone is needed in this area.
Early evidence suggests that ginseng may improve male fertility by increasing the number and movement of sperm. Further studies are needed to determine what dose may be safe and effective.
Based on limited research, it is unclear if ginseng may help treat menopausal symptoms. Some studies report improvements in depression and sense of well-being, without changes in hormone levels.
Several studies report that ginseng may modestly improve thinking or learning. Benefits have been seen both in healthy young people and in older ill patients. Effects have also been reported with a combination of ginseng andGinkgo biloba. However, some mixed results have also been reported. Therefore, even though most available evidence supports this use of ginseng, better research is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA):
In patients treated with Hochu-ekki-to, which contains ginseng and several other herbs, urinary MRSA has been reported to decrease after 10 weeks. Further study of ginseng alone is necessary in order to draw firm conclusions.
Mood and cognition in post-menopausal women:
A review of several studies suggested that ginseng may improve mood and anxiety in postmenopausal women. Additional studies are needed before a firm conclusion may be drawn.
Early studies suggest that ginseng may have beneficial effects on neurological disorders. High-quality studies are needed in this area.
Postoperative recovery (breast cancer):
Early studies have tested the effect of a combination product containing ginseng on recovery after surgery among breast cancer patients. Results suggest no benefits in cell counts, but a slightly faster recovery of the iron-carrying component of red blood cells (called hemoglobin). Studies using ginseng alone are needed.
Pregnancy problems (intrauterine growth retardation):
Early studies have found that components ofPanax ginsengmight be useful in treating intrauterine growth retardation. Larger, well-designed studies are needed in this area.
Early studies suggest that applying an herbal combination containingPanax ginsengon the penis may help treat premature ejaculation. However, because ginseng was tested with other herbs, its individual effects are unclear.
Quality of life:
There is early evidence thatPanax ginsengor American ginseng may help improve quality of life in both healthy and ill patients, although effects may not be long-lasting unless ginseng is taken continually. More research is needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be reached.
Radiation therapy side effects:
Early studies suggest that ginseng may improve fatigue and measures of well-being among patients receiving radiation therapy. However, there is not enough evidence to recommend the use ofPanax ginsengor American ginseng for this use.
Ginseng (CVT-E002) may be safe, well tolerated, and potentially effective for preventing acute respiratory illnesses caused by the flu or the respiratory syncytial virus. More study is needed in this area.
Sexual arousal (in women):
Early studies suggest that a product containingPanax ginseng, L-arginine,Ginkgo biloba, damiana, and multivitamin/minerals may improve sexual function in menopausal women and women with decreased sex drives. Studies withPanax ginsengalone are needed before strong recommendations can be made.
Poorly described research in patients treated with Shenmai and Shengmai injection (a ginseng preparation) report that there may be some improvement in heart function. More studies are needed before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
Several studies have examined the effects of ginseng (with or without multivitamins) on overall well-being in healthy and ill patients, for up to 12 weeks. Most studies are not high quality, and results are mixed. It remains unclear if ginseng is beneficial for well-being in any patient.