Ginseng is a plant that may have some medicinal properties. Diabetes is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood sugar. More research is necessary, but some evidence suggests ginseng may offer a relatively safe, inexpensive adjuvant treatment option for diabetes and its potential complications.

People have used ginseng medicinally for thousands of years, especially in Asian cultures.

Growing evidence indicates that the herb may have antidiabetic effects, such as improving glucose tolerance and insulin resistance, which may be beneficial for managing and treating type 2 diabetes.

In this article, we discuss how ginseng may help with diabetes, how to use it, and what potential risks it carries.

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Ginseng contains a natural pharmacological component that experts call panaxosides or ginsenosides.

There are over 150 types of ginsenosides, which people can usually extract from the roots of the plant but which are also present in the leaves or berries.

Ginsenosides might be able to stabilize insulin and the hormone glucagon to maintain levels of glucose. As such, it may also help improve or delay potential complications of diabetes.

Ginseng could help manage diabetes in several different ways. These may include:

  • Regulating insulin secretion: Ginsenosides may help the pancreas modulate how much insulin it secretes, to achieve better glycemic control and help a person manage their blood sugar levels.
  • Regulating uptake of glucose: These compounds may help the body properly transport glucose into cells, preventing it from building up in the blood. This can also help people keep their blood glucose within optimal ranges.
  • Reducing inflammation: Ginsenosides may decrease insulin resistance, which is a source of inflammation. Reducing inflammation can help manage inflammation-related conditions, such as diabetes, and prevent complications.
  • Lessening effects of free radicals: Uncontrolled diabetes can result in an excessive production of free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to complications. With its antioxidant properties, ginseng can lessen the effects of free radicals.

Ginseng refers to the many different varieties of a short, slow-growing plant with fleshy roots that may provide health benefits.

Most research on ginseng typically relates to either the Asian (Panax ginseng) or American (P. quinquefolius) variants.

Diabetes describes a group of chronic metabolic conditions that interfere with the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin. This typically results in elevated levels of blood glucose, which can lead to serious health complications over time.

The most common types of the condition include:

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, accounting for roughly 90–95% of diabetes cases in the United States.

It occurs when a person develops insulin resistance, meaning the person’s cells are unable to respond effectively to insulin. As blood sugar levels rise, the person may have prediabetes, before developing type 2 diabetes.

Without suitable treatment, chronically high blood sugar levels can result in serious health complications that can impact the whole body.

However, under certain conditions, it is possible for an individual to reverse type 2 diabetes by making certain lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.

People have used ginseng for thousands of years to help with a variety of conditions. However, more research is still necessary to conclude whether ginseng is beneficial.

Currently, there is no conclusive evidence to support its effectiveness. Additionally, many ginseng products can vary in quality and potential health benefits. As such, a person should carefully read product labels, as some products may contain negligible amounts of ginseng.

Ginseng may also potentially benefit the following:

  • Erectile dysfunction: Some evidence suggests that ginseng may be a natural sexual enhancer, help improve cardiovascular risk factors, and help relax muscles necessary for erection.
  • Aging: The authors of a 2017 review note that due to its antioxidant properties, ginseng may reduce the effects of aging.
  • Cognitive function: According to some research, ginseng may promote cognition and thinking processes and could help in the treatment of neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, the findings of a small preliminary 2016 study suggest ginseng may help improve frontal lobe function.
  • Mental health conditions: Stress can contribute to the development of mental health conditions, such as depression. Animal model research indicates that ginseng may help alleviate stress.

More research is necessary to determine the safety of ginseng. It would appear to be safe when used in the short term both orally and topically.

However, questions remain about the safety of long-term use, and some experts may not recommend ginseng for children, infants, or pregnant and breastfeeding people.

Possible side effects of ginseng may include:

Due to its potential interactions with blood sugar, people with diabetes should consult a healthcare professional before using ginseng.

Ginseng may also interact with certain medications, such as:

Typically, ginseng products are available as oral supplements or topical formulations.

A person should read the instructions on the packaging for guidelines on usage. This should include information on how much and how often a person should use the product.

Before using any ginseng products, it is advisable to consult a doctor to ensure it is safe and suitable for a person.

Several natural supplements may also have potential benefits relating to type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • Cinnamon: Some research, which mostly focuses on animal studies and requires more large scale human studies, indicates that cinnamon could help improve insulin resistance and reduce fasting glucose in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
  • Milk thistle: While further research is necessary, scientists suggest that milk thistle may be helpful in lowering glucose levels in individuals with diabetes. It may, however, lead to bloating, diarrhea, and nausea.
  • Ginger: Some evidence notes that ginger could lower glucose levels and may help reduce insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Bitter melon: A 2020 study reports that the people who took bitter melon extract had reduced fasting blood glucose levels, compared with the participants who received placebos.
  • Aloe vera: According to research, aloe vera may help with lowering fasting blood glucose levels and increasing insulin levels.

Ginseng is a medicinal plant that may help a person manage type 2 diabetes. The plant contains active components known as ginsenosides that may stabilize insulin and glucagon to help maintain optimal blood glucose levels.

However, more research is necessary to determine whether ginseng is beneficial. Additionally, researchers note that the quality and effectiveness of ginseng can vary.

If a person is considering ginseng supplements, they should first seek guidance from a healthcare professional.