Ginseng

American Ginseng

Other Names: Panax quinquefolius, five finger root, sang, ninsin, pannag red berry

Composition: Ginseng refers to the dried main root.

Description and History: Use of ginseng can be verified for at least 5,000 years. The name literally means cure-all and the historic and modern uses back this substantial claim. As an adaptogen, ginseng assists the body in adjusting to its surroundings, which will in turn benefit many seemingly unrelated conditions. Through these balancing actions, the immune system is boosted and response to external stress is improved.

Protective: UVB radiation – primarily via sunlight – exerts damage that often extends only to a sunburn but can also be longterm, less immediate damage like aging. This kind of damage all happens on a cellular level. A small pilot study evaluated ginseng for its protective capabilities on this cellular, DNA level. The results were promising based on a single dose of tea infusion, showing protective effects for up to 2 hours after administration (Szeto, et al, 2015).

Cancer Patients: The fatigue associated with cancer and cancer therapies is intense and difficult to combat. A pilot study evaluating 24 patients who held an average age of 58 years old holds hope for these individuals. Supplementing 800 mg of American ginseng orally for nearly a month improved well-being, appetite, and reduced fatigue. More importantly, this was accomplished without any interactions with their cancer-related treatments (Yennurajalingam, 2015). 

Diabetes: Ginseng is effective at controlling blood sugar for type 2 diabetics, but handmade preparations vary in efficacy due to chemical variations of the plant. Because the primary goal of management for type 2 diabetics is stability, such variations can be dangerous. Therefore only standardized products (10% ginsenosides) are recommended for this purpose (Mucalo, et al, 2012). In a 2014 study evaluating the safety of a standardized product against placebo for 74 adults over a 12-week span, the ginseng product produced the same number of adverse effects as the placebo, providing evidence that the supplement is safe, even for long-term use (Mucalo, et al, 2014). 

Alzheimer’s Disease: Ginseng improves cognitive performance in individuals with AD according to several studies. In one trial, it was administered (4.5g powder/day) for 12 weeks and during that time, scores on objective measures of mental function improved (Lee, et al, 2008). However, when the treatment was discontinued, scores began to return to normal. This indicates that continual dosing is required to maintain benefits. 

Contraindications: Ginseng should be avoided during pregnancy. It can impact blood pressure, so those with both hypo- and hypertension should avoid medicinal doses. Additionally, it can cause manic episodes in those with bipolar disorder and should be avoided. It is not recommended for women with a history of hormone-dependent conditions such as breast cancer. It should be avoided for 7 days prior to surgery. 

Interactions: Do not take with caffeine or other stimulants. It has the potential to interact with the following medications: MAOIs, antipsychotic drugs, morphine (it leads to reduced efficacy), and anticoagulants or other blood thinners. Because ginseng lowers blood sugar, those on diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar levels closely if taking ginseng, or avoid the herb altogether. 

Cross-Reference List: Aging

Preparations: Ginseng is taken internally in capsules, syrups, tinctures, and even teas. Because administration of the recommended dose is crucial for efficacy, capsules, tinctures, or standardized products are recommended. 

Dose: Ginseng is administered in doses ranging from 800mg to 4.5 grams. The recommended dose for an otherwise healthy adult is 1-2 grams per day, with a maximum of 4 grams per day. Caution should be taken with the lengthy list of potential interactions and contraindications, particularly for those increasing the dose beyond 1-2g total per day. 

Note: Ginseng is a common name which can refer to multiple different plants. For optimal safety and efficacy, never rely exclusively on the common name of an herb and always confirm that you have the right product by looking for the botanical name for the herb. In the CFH class, all common names are clarified with the botanical name in the herb monograph and for clarity, common names are not used interchangeably. (i.e. “Ginseng” in this class always refers to American Ginseng as outlined in this handout.)

Dig Deeper

Mucalo, I., Jovanovski, E., Vuksan, V., Bozikov, V., Romic, Z., & Rahelic, D. (2014). American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is safe in long-term use in type 2 diabetics. Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. doi:10.1155/2014/969168

Mucalo, I., Rahelic, D.,  Jovanovski, E., Bozikov, V., Romic, Z., & Vuksan, V. (2012). Effect of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. Collegium Antropologicum. 36(4):1435-1440. 

Szeto, Y. T., Sin, Y. S. P., Pak, S. C., & Kalle, W. (2015). American ginseng tea protects cellular DNA within 2 h from consumption: results of a pilot study in healthy human volunteers. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 66(7), 815-818.

Yennurajalingam, S., Reddy, A., Tannir, N. M., Chisholm, G. B., Lee, R. T., Lopez, G., ... & Cohen, L. (2015). High-Dose Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng) for Cancer-Related Fatigue A Preliminary Report. Integrative cancer therapies,14(5), 419-427.

Meet Dr Hawkins

Dr. Hawkins brings 20 years of expertise in the integrative health field to her role as Executive Director of the Franklin School of Integrative Health Sciences and the leader of our clinical research team.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Health from Union Institute and University, a Master’s Degree in Health Education & Promotion from the University of Alabama, a post-graduate certificate in epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a PhD in Health Research from Middle Tennessee State University, and is completing the post-doctoral Global Scholars Research Training Program at Harvard Medical School. She also holds certifications in numerous natural health fields including aromatherapy, aromatic medicine, herbalism, childbirth education, and labor support.