Ginseng (panax) has been part of Far Eastern medicine for centuries. It has been used for the treatment of tumours, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, to maintain physical and mental freshness, and for immune boosting and stress management. The word panax comes from the word "panacea", which means "the cure for all ills and the source of long life".
The main active substances in ginseng are saponins, namely ginsenosides. Nearly 50 different types of ginsenosides have been identified - with a wide range of active ingredients, they can have quite a wide range of effects.
So there are lots of known ginsenosides, you know, some that calm the nervous system and some that do the opposite - that's why ginseng can be good for both stress management and energising. There are some ginsenosides that suppress appetite and others that can help people with anorexia (i.e. stimulate appetite). It sounds quite the opposite at first, how interesting, isn't it? It's like ginseng is good for everything.
The 4 varieties of ginseng are the most widely used in medicine:
- White panax ginseng
- Yellow panax ginseng
- American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
- Japanese ginseng (Panax japonica)
White and yellow ginseng are the most researched, with each variety having a slightly different ginsenoside content.
Ginseng may have immune-boosting effects. The immune system's job is to fight infections that enter the body, and this is done by so-called immune cells (T cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, etc.). Some immune cells recognise the infections and then start recruiting a "firing squad" to kill the infections. Studies have shown that the active substances in ginseng can cause hormonal changes that stimulate the levels of infection-killing compounds (free radicals) produced by immune cells or even improve the immune cells "system" for recognising infections.
This gives ginseng general anti-infective properties (fungal, bacterial and viral) and anti-tumour effects. The immune system also destroys tumour cells. It is only in maligant tumours that the immune balance is upset, and ginseng can help to restore this balance.
In addition to boosting the immune system, ginsenosides also have strong anti-inflammatory effects - again, the active ingredients trigger hormonal changes that result in the production of anti-inflammatory substances. Chronic (long-term) inflammation can cause many diseases and can also be associated with tumours. Therefore, the anti-inflammatory effects of ginseng further enhance its anti-tumour effects.
Ginsenosides inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, which is responsible for the production of many inflammatory and pain hormones, so ginseng acts directly at the root cause of inflammation. In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, it also has blood sugar regulating effects - chronic inflammation is (partly) responsible for the development of type II diabetes and insulin resistance. In addition, the active ingredients of ginseng act directly on the beta cells of the pnacreas responsible for insulin production.
Some ginsenosides have been shown to inhibit the growth of fat cells in a similar ways to capsaicin in spicy foods. In line with its anti-inflammatory and blood sugar regulating effects, ginseng may also be beneficial for people who want to lose weight.
Damage to the nervous system is often caused by overactivation of the NMDA receptor, which, when overactive (stimulated by high homocysteine levels), allows too much calcium into cells, which overactivates ('overdrives') the cells, damaging them - this is called excitoxicity. Studies have shown that some ginsenosides can be effective in preventing this process by inhibiting the NMDA receptor from working. In addition, animal studies have shown that ginseng can enhance memory after brain injury (such as Alzheimer's disease). In addition, some ginsenosides can increase levels of a very important brain signal transducer (acetylcholine) - making it easier for two nerve cells to connect - so it has general brain-stimulating properties and can help overcome learning difficulties.
Ginseng is therefore a true 'all-round' herb. Thanks to its incredibly broad spectrum of active ingredients, it can help with a wide range of problems.
The most commonly used dose of panax ginseng in studies is 200-400 mg. It is also used in multivitamin preparations in lower doses of 40 mg, which can also be beneficial. For its beneficial effects on the brain, it should be used in doses of 400 mg.
Ginseng supplementation may cause mild side effects (such as vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, stomach disconfort) due to its complex active ingredient. Studies have shown that higher doses (2-4.5 grams) do not cause overdone in the short term. It is not recommended for use in pregnant women at all, as some ginsenosides may have adverse effects on the foetus - these have been confirmed by cellular studies, but no such association has been found in animal studies. However, in the absence of sufficient information, pregnant and lactating women and children should not use it.