When it comes to medicine, there are three schools of thought. Some of us swear by Western medicines, insisting that pharmaceutical companies hold the answers to all of our ailments and illnesses. Others refute the methods of the West and turn to Eastern medicine for their health care needs. Then there are those of us who appreciate the best that both worlds have to offer, acknowledging that East and West can sometimes meet in perfect balance.
One of the most popular health supplements brought to us by Eastern medicine is Panax Ginseng. Records of this miracle root date back as early as 33 BC. The plant has been used for thousands of years as a “cure all” in Eastern medicine. In fact, the word “panax” translates to “cure all” in Greek, and it is evident that the root has been used to treat a variety of human ailments throughout history. The name "ginseng" is derived from the ancient Chinese word "jen shen", meaning "man root" because the ginseng root often resembles the shape of human body.
What, exactly, can Panax Ginseng do? Panax ginseng has been used for many years as a stimulant and a tonic for Qi deficiency, to treat gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea, vomiting) and respiratory problems, to improve stamina, and to reduce the adverse effects of stress. Small doses are taken daily to ward off physical or mental impairment. Ginseng is widely used in the U.S. to increase energy and vitality, enhance physical performance, increase resistance to stress and improve immune function. Other uses include lowering blood sugar and treating male impotence.
The Key to Memory
Studies have shown that Panax Ginseng can indeed help with memory loss, especially when combined with Ginkgo Biloba. A double blind study was performed in 2000 in the UK. Two-hundred and fifty-six healthy, middle-aged volunteers underwent a controlled placebo study. Those not in the placebo group were given a ginkgo biloba/ginseng combination.
The results of the study were promising. The combination of ginseng and ginkgo biloba was found to produce an improvement of about 7.5 percent in a variety of memory aspects, including long-term memory, when taking the supplement.
Panax Ginseng has also been proven to help alleviate the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's Disease. In a twelve-week clinical study of Panax Ginseng, Alzheimer's patients were randomly assigned to two groups. The researchers gave about 60 participants 4,500 mg of Panax ginseng per day while observing another 40 participants who did not take ginseng for 12 weeks. At four weeks, those in the Panax ginseng group had improved mental test scores by about 3 percent while the non-ginseng group had declined by about 2 percent. At 12 weeks, the Panax ginseng group had improved by about 5 percent while the non-ginseng group still showed a slight decline. Mental scores returned to original levels when participants stopped taking ginseng.
Researchers concluded, “Panax ginseng is clinically effective in the cognitive performance of AD patients.”
The medicinal part in the plant is its slow-growing root, which is harvested after four to six years when its overall ginsenoside content (the main active ingredient in ginseng) is at its peak. There are 13 different ginsenosides in all. Panax ginseng also contains panaxans (substances that can lower blood sugar) and polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules that boost the immune system). "White ginseng" is simply the dried root while the "red ginseng" has been steamed and dried.
- For general health and to combat fatigue, take 100-250mg once or twice a day.
- To support the body in times of stress or during recovery from an illness, take 100-250mg twice a day.
Guidelines for use
- Start at the lower end of the dosage range and increase your intake gradually.
- Some experts recommend that you stop taking ginseng for a week every two or three weeks and then resume your regular dose. In some cases, ginseng may be rotated with other immune-stimulating herbs, such as astragalus or Echinacea.
To date, some side effects have reported with Asian ginseng includng insomnia, diarrhea and skin eruptions. There is some evidence that Asian ginseng may lower blood glucose levels. Until more data is available, ginseng products should be used with caution in patients with diabetes because the risk of hypoglycemia may be increased. Individuals with or without diabetes should probably take ginseng with meals. One case report suggests that ginseng may decrease the anticoagulant effect of warfarin (decrease the INR). One small study found no change in the INR, however, when patients stabilized on warfarin were given a two week course of ginseng. Two cases involving a possible interaction with phenelzine have been reported. One patient experienced headache and tremor and another developed mania.
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