Herb Spotlight: American Ginseng (Panax Quinquefolius)

American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has long been used in the natural medicine practiced by Native Americans. Today it’s also a popular herb in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine to boost energy and fight colds and illness. It’s often used to deal with stress and address exhaustion in all its forms – mental, emotional and physical.

The herb grows in the Eastern U.S. from the southeastern states to Canada. Unfortunately, due to over-harvesting, it is currently an endangered species in the wild. The roots and leaves are used in herbal medicines, however, the roots do not provide health benefits until the plant has reached 5 years of age.

Active ingredients in American ginseng include minerals like zinc and magnesium, essential oils, beta-sitosterol and saponins. Many of these Many of these nutrients have received a lot of attention from researchers, as well as the overall effect of the herb itself. While many of its mechanisms continue to be studied, the research shows it offers a wide range of health benefits and makes for a safe and excellent way to get a natural energy boost.

American Ginseng Boosts Energy

People around the world today take herbal supplements featuring American Ginseng for energy, just as they have in the past. Mayo Clinic researchers put it to a serious test.

They created a multisite, double-blind randomized trial involving cancer patients suffering from cancer-related fatigue. At 8 weeks, the patients taking the American Ginseng had more energy than the placebo group. The patients who saw the greatest benefit were those in active treatment as opposed to those who had completed their treatments.[i] The researchers also reported the herb as safe and without side effects, suggesting it offered cancer patients a way to offset the common fatigue experienced while undergoing cancer treatment.

An extreme test like this supports American Ginseng’s popular use as an energy enhancer. Of course, studies show it does a lot more.

Helps Reduce Colds and Respiratory Infection

Another popular use for American Ginseng has been the prevention of colds and flus. In a review of American Ginseng published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers noted two trials found it reduced the duration of colds by about 6 days. Five trials suggested those who took the herb had 25% less colds than those who didn’t.[ii]

Supports Memory in Adults

One reason many adults love their morning coffee is that the energy boost also makes them mentally sharp. Like coffee, many people who take American Ginseng report it helps them think and remember better. Australian researchers investigated.

In a small study, they gave healthy, middle-aged adults American Ginseng. The ones taking it showed better working memory and cognitive performance than the placebo group.[iii]  Participants in another study showed improved reaction time and calmness.[iv]

No side effects were reported in either study.

Provides Antioxidants

Many of the nutrients and active compounds in American Ginseng are known to have antioxidant effects. Antioxidants support overall health, but researchers have noted a single cup of American Ginseng tea provides antioxidants that specifically protect DNA from oxidative damage.[v]

Improves Blood Sugar and Heart Health

A recent Chinese study tested American Ginseng on blood sugar, in unison with conventional treatment. It reduced HbA1c levels, lowered blood pressure and improved levels of nitric oxide.[vi] These results matched earlier studies that indicated the herb reduced stiffness of the arteries and improved cholesterol levels.[vii],[viii]

Additional Reported Benefits of American Ginseng

With so many benefits, it’s no surprise American Ginseng became so popular. Researchers continue to explore other conditions it might help. For example, with so much attention on liver health and the rise in on-alcoholic fatty liver disease, research on animal subjects reports American Ginseng may help address metabolic syndrome and fatty liver.[ix]

As an adaptogen, it’s likely American Ginseng can offer a lot of benefits to support overall health and in support of a wide variety of therapies. Of course, it’s popularity as an energy enhancer is likely to change. This makes benefits like mental clarity, blood sugar support and improved cardiovascular health a bonus for those who make it a part of their everyday health regimen.

[i] Barton DL1, et al. Wisconsin Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) to improve cancer-related fatigue: a randomized, double-blind trial, N07C2. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Aug 21;105(16):1230-8. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt181. Epub 2013 Jul 13.

[ii] Seida JK1, et al. North American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) Preparations for Prevention of the Common Cold in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:282151. doi: 10.1093/ecam/nep068. Epub 2011 Feb 14.

[iii] Ossoukhova A1, et al. Improved working memory performance following administration of a single dose of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) to healthy middle-age adults. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2015 Mar;30(2):108-22. doi: 10.1002/hup.2463.

[iv] Scholey A, et al. Effects of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) on neurocognitive function: an acute, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Oct;212(3):345-56. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-1964-y. Epub 2010 Jul 31.

[v] Szeto YT1,2, et al. American ginseng tea protects cellular DNA within 2?h from consumption: results of a pilot study in healthy human volunteers. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2015;66(7):815-8. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2015.1088937. Epub 2015 Sep 22.

[vi] Vuksan V, et al. Efficacy and safety of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) extract on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes: a double-blind, randomized, cross-over clinical trial. Eur J Nutr. 2018 Feb 24. doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1642-0. [Epub ahead of print]

[vii] Mucalo I1, et al. Effect of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) on arterial stiffness in subjects with type-2 diabetes and concomitant hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Oct 28;150(1):148-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.08.015. Epub 2013 Aug 22.

[viii] Zhang Y1, et al. [Effect of panax quinquefolius saponin on insulin sensitivity in patients of coronary heart disease with blood glucose abnormality].[Article in Chinese] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2007 Dec;27(12):1066-9.

[ix] Singh RK1, et al. Alcohol extract of North American ginseng (Panaxquinquefolius) reduces fatty liver, dyslipidemia, and other complications of metabolic syndrome in a mouse model. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2017 Sep;95(9):1046-1057. doi: 10.1139/cjpp-2016-0510. Epub 2017 Jun 30.

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