Monday, March 5, 2012

Eleuthero, or Siberian Ginseng: Does it Help with Alzheimer’s?

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is a medicinal herb said to offer a wide range of health benefits. Although it is also sometimes referred to as "Siberian ginseng," eleuthero does not belong to the same family as "true" ginseng, which includes Korean or Asian ginseng and American ginseng. In Chinese medicine it is known as cì wǔ jiā (刺五加). While it was previously widely marketed in the United States as Siberian Ginseng due similar herbal properties to those of Panax ginseng, it is currently considered illegal in the United States to market Eleuthero as Siberian Ginseng since term "ginseng" should only refer to Panax species.

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Historical and Modern Use

Eleuthero use dates back 2,000 years, according to Chinese medicine records. Traditionally, it was used to prevent respiratory tract infections as well as colds and flu. It was also believed to provide energy and vitality.

In Russia, Eleuthero was originally used by people in the Siberian Taiga region to increase performance and quality of life and to decrease infections.

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In more modern times, Eleuthero's ability to increase stamina and endurance led Soviet Olympic athletes to use it to enhance their training. Explorers, divers, sailors, and miners used Eleuthero to prevent stress-related illness. After the Chernobyl accident, many Russian citizens were given Eleuthero to counteract the effects of radiation. Eleuthero had been used traditionally as an immune-enhancing agent. It was also employed as an anti-inflammatory, in cardiovascular disease, to restore concentration, memory, and cognition, and as a remedy for stress, depression, fatigue, or complete nervous breakdown.

Eleuthero is highly valued as an adaptogen, a substance that normalizes adverse conditions of the body. It is also used as a stimulant. Russians prescribe it for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy due to its anti-radiation effect. Modern studies conducted by Russian scientists show that Eleuthero relieves stress, lowers toxicity of some common drugs that tend to produce side effects in humans, increase mental alertness, improve resistance to colds and mild infections, and be beneficial in cases where a person is continuously in contact with environmental stresses. Eleuthero extract was shown to stimulate cellular immunity. It
was found to stimulate T-cell production, especially helper cells. Thus Eleuthero is touted for numerous immune-related disorders. German scientists have found that this herb may be useful for treatment in the early stages of AIDS. It is found to retard the spread of the virus by a synergistic action of the elevated numbers of both helper and cytotoxic T cells.

Limited Studies

From some limited laboratory studies it is clear that this herb may help boost the immune system, shortening the time of typical viral or bacterial infections. Smaller studies have shown that eleuthero may indeed prove beneficial as a memory enhancement tool, and might increase athletic performance. The elderly may find quality of life increased when taking eleuthero, and several studies suggest that the herb may reduce genital herpes outbreaks.

Though there are small studies performed on eleuthero, it still needs more complete and complex study in order to determine just how effective it may be.

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How it Works?

Siberian ginseng contains many chemicals that affect the brain, immune system, and certain hormones. It might also contain chemicals that have activity against some bacteria and viruses. There is a brief explanation of the plant components and related health effects:
  • The constituents in eleuthero that have been most studied are the eleutherosides. Seven primary eleutherosides have been identified, with most of the research attention focusing on eleutherosides B and E. Eleuthero also contains complex polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules). These constituents may play a critical role in eleuthero’s ability to support immune function.
  • Eleuthero contains choline, a brain chemical for learning and memory retention. This helps improve mental performance and alertness.
  • Eleuthero contains saponins which inhibit the growth of cancer cells and can convert diseased cells into normal ones.
  • Eleuthero is an “adaptogen” (an agent that helps the body adapt to stress). It is thought to help support adrenal gland function when the body is challenged by stress.
  • Eleuthero has been shown to enhance mental acuity and physical endurance without the letdown that comes with caffeinated products. Research has shown that eleuthero improves the use of oxygen by the exercising muscle. This means that a person is able to maintain aerobic exercise longer and recover from workouts more quickly. Preliminary research from Russia indicates it may be effective for this purpose.
  • It gives the body a better ability to cope with stress by normalizing body functions and exerting beneficial effects on the adrenal glands (the ones that secrete stress-fighting hormones).
  • Eleuthero has compounds similar to estrogen that help control menopause symptoms like hot flashes.
  • Other properties in this herb help support sexual function by improving sexual performance, sexual desire and fertility in both men and women.

Side Effects

As with all medications, Siberian ginseng may cause some side effects, which necessitates discontinuing the use of the herb or at least consulting a physician before continuing to take it. Common side effects include drowsiness, insomnia, mild diarrhea, and headache. More severe side effects include nosebleeds, confusion, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and vomiting. However, most people take eleuthero without any severe side effects, and do find it boosts their immunity to common illnesses, increases exercise performance, and aids in memory and concentration.

It is commonly not recommended to take Siberian ginseng without consulting with medical professionals if you have the following medical conditions:
  • You are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • You have a heart condition or high blood pressure.
  • You have breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer.
  • You have endometriosis or uterine fibroids.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You have a psychiatric condition such as mania or schizophrenia.

Suggested Dosage

There are no scientifically recommended dosages due to the lack of the valid research data. For reference, the following doses have been studied in scientific research:
  • For herpes simplex type 2 infections: Siberian ginseng extract standardized to contain eleutheroside E 0.3% in doses of 400 mg per day.
  • For the common cold: 400 mg of a combination of Siberian ginseng plus a specific andrographis extract, standardized to contain 4-5.6 mg andrographolide (Kan Jang, Swedish Herbal Institute) three times daily.

Herbalists suggest the following doses:
  • Dried, powdered root and rhizomes of 2- 3 grams per day.
  • Concentrated solid extract standardized on eleutherosides B and E, 300-400 mg per day.
  • Alcohol-based extracts, 8-10 ml in two to three divided dosages.
  • Eleuthero is taken continuously for six to eight weeks, followed by a one- to two-week break before resuming.
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The preliminary data offers a good potential for the herb to be a good supplement for the Alzheimer’s patients through its health benefits directed to the brain performance improvement. However, the scientific data mostly from Russian studies has not been ultimately validated by the international scientific researches. In any case, the herb is known by multiple health benefits with relatively low side effects, so it might be useful to include it in your diet, on the trial basis at least.

Sources and Additional Information:

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