Thursday, June 3, 2010
Why Do People Use Ginseng?
The word Panax comes the Greek word meaning "all-healing". In much of Asia, ginseng is prized as a revitalizer for the whole body. This is partly due to the shape of the root, which resembles the human body.
Mental and Physical Performance
Ginseng is known as an adaptogen, which means it increases resistance to physical, chemical, and biological stress and builds energy and general vitality.
A study examined 323 people who had had at least two colds in the prior year. Participants were instructed to take two capsules per day of either the North American ginseng extract or a placebo for a period of four months.
The mean number of colds per person was lower in the ginseng group than in the placebo group. The proportion of subjects with two or more colds during the four-month period was significantly lower in the ginseng group than in the placebo group, as were the total symptom score and the total number of days cold symptoms were reported for all colds.
In one study, Panax ginseng in dosages of 100 or 200 milligrams were given to 36 people with newly-diagnosed non-insulin dependent diabetes. After eight weeks, there were improvements in fasting blood glucose levels, mood, and psychophysical performance. The 200 milligram dose also resulted in improved hemoglobin A1C levels (a test that measures how well blood sugar has been controlled during the previous three months).
In one research study of 90 men with erectile dysfunction, 60% of the participants reported improvement in their symptoms compared with 30% of those using the placebo. Unlike prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction which are usually taken when needed, ginseng only appears to be useful for erectile dysfunction if taken on a continuous basis.
The dosage often used in research studies is 200 mg a day of a standardized ginseng extract.
Some traditional herbalists recommend using ginseng for no more than three weeks at a time, followed by a one to two week rest period.
Side Effects and Safety of Ginseng
Pregnant or nursing women or children should avoid ginseng. People with hormone-dependent illnesses such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus, or prostate should avoid Panax ginseng because it may have estrogenic effects.
Panax ginseng may decrease the rate and force of heartbeats, so it shouldn't be used by people with heart disease unless under the supervision of a healthcare providers.
Ginseng may lower blood sugar levels, so it shouldn't be taken by people with diabetes unless under a doctor's supervision. Ginseng may worsen insomnia.
Side effects of ginseng may include nervousness, agitation, insomnia, diarrhea, headaches, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations.
Ginseng can increase the effect of blood-thinners (antiplatelet or anti-clotting drugs), such as clopidogrel, ticlopidine (Ticlid), warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, and aspirin, which may result in uncontrolled bleeding or hemorrhage. Certain herbs, such as danshen, devil's claw, eleuthero, garlic, ginger, horse chestnut, papain, red clover, and saw palmetto, can also increase the risk of bleeding if combined with ginseng.
Ginseng may affect heart rhythm and can increase potential side effects from theophylline (and similar asthma drugs), albuterol, clonidine, sildenafil citrate (Viagra).
Panax ginseng may interact with insulin and other drugs for diabetes, such as metformin (Glucophage), glyburide (Glynase), glimepiride (Amaryl), and glipizide (Glucotrol XL).
Ginseng may interfere with the metabolism of monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as phenelzine sulfate (Nardil), tranylcypromine sulfate (Parnate) and isocabaxazid (Marplan). It's also believed to affect levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells) and may interact with antipsychotic drugs such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine) and fluphenazine (Prolixin).
Ginseng stimulates the central nervous system, so it may increase the effects of prescription drugs that do the same (such as medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, and obesity. The combination may raise heart rate and blood pressure.
Ginseng has been found to interfere with the metabolism of drugs processed by an enzyme called cyp3A4. Ask your doctor to check if you are taking medications of this type.