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Ginseng refers to 11 different varieties of a short, slow-growing plant with fleshy roots. Ginseng may restore and enhance well-being.

The herb has a light-colored, forked-shaped root, a relatively long stalk, and green leaves in an oval shape.

Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius, L.) and Asian ginseng (P. Ginseng) may boost energy, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, treat diabetes, and manage sexual dysfunction in men.

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People have traditionally taken ginseng to help with a range of medical conditions.

More research is needed to confirm if it has any benefit as a supplement. Researchers believe that ginsenosides, chemical components found in ginseng, are responsible for any clinical effects of the herb.

Western scientists and health professionals often question the medicinal properties of ginseng. There is no conclusive evidence about its true effectiveness.

Ginseng products can vary in their quality and potential medicinal properties. A person should check the ingredients of any ginseng product before purchase, as some products may contain a small or negligible amount of ginseng, and some could contain other substances.

Researchers suggest that ginseng may have the following health benefits:

Increased energy

Ginseng may help stimulate physical and mental activity in people who feel weak and tired. One study of 21 men and 69 women found that ginseng showed good results in helping people with chronic fatigue.

A 2014 study of people receiving cancer treatment found that ginseng helped reduce cancer-related fatigue. However, researchers only documented the energy-boosting effects of ginseng in people currently undergoing treatment. Ginseng did not show statistically significant improvements in people who had already finished cancer treatment.

Sharper cognitive function

Ginseng may improve thinking processes and cognition. A 2018 report examined the accuracy of this claim.

This report concluded that, based on human and aminal studies, ginseng components have the potential to treat some cognitive deficits. These studies showed ginseng could reduce oxidative stress, which could lead to enhancement in cognitive function.

A 2016 study on the effects of Korean red ginseng on cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease found promise as well.

The study involved 14 people, three men, and 11 women, with a median age of 74.93 years old. The patients received 4.5 grams of Korean red ginseng for 12 weeks.

The study concluded that the Korean red ginseng helped improve frontal brain lobe function.

Anti-inflammatory effects

Ginseng may reduce inflammation. According to a 2020 study, ginsenosides, the active components of ginseng, may target pathways in the immune system that could reduce inflammation.

Treatment of erectile dysfunction

Men may take ginseng to treat erectile dysfunction.

A systematic review tested the effects of red ginseng on erectile dysfunction. The review demonstrated that the number of trials, total sample size, and the quality of the experimental methods were not enough to demonstrate ongoing clinical benefit.

A 2012 study of 119 men with mild-to-moderate erectile dysfunction found that ginseng berry extract improved overall sexual function. The study lasted 8 weeks, during which some of the group received Korean ginseng berry extract, and others received a placebo.

More research is needed to determine if ginseng is a reliable treatment for erectile dysfunction.

Flu prevention

Research on the effects of ginseng on mice suggests a possible link between ginseng and the treatment and prevention of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Findings of another study suggested that red ginseng extract could improve the survival of human lung epithelial cells infected with the influenza virus.

It is undetermined exactly how the anti-viral mechanisms in ginseng work based on the above study.

Lowering blood sugar

A 2014 study suggests that ginseng may help lower blood sugar and help treat diabetes. Ginsenosides may affect insulin production in the pancreas and improve insulin resistance using other mechanisms.

Another 2014 study showed similar benefits of ginseng on lowering blood sugar. Some participants took 2.7 grams of fermented red ginseng each day, while others took a placebo. Researchers found that ginseng was effective in lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin levels after a meal compared to the placebo.

More clinical studies and standardization of ginseng root are needed to determine whether ginseng is a possible complementary therapy for diabetes. Researchers also need to investigate what specific doses might be effective.

Although ginseng is generally safe to consume, people have reported the following side effects:

Women may also experience swollen breasts and vaginal bleeding.

People may experience a moderate interaction when using ginseng with a class of antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Ginseng can alter the effects of blood pressure, diabetes, and heart medications, including calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine. Never take ginseng and heart medications at the same time without first consulting a doctor.

The herb can also increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood thinners, such as warfarin or aspirin.

While researchers have not confirmed the various potential health benefits of ginseng supplements, it is usually safe for a person to take the herb in small doses.

Ginseng supplements are available to purchase online. A person should compare brands and individual products to ensure the supplement they are purchasing is suitable and safe for them. Always speak to a doctor before taking a new supplement.