Dear Health-Minded Readers,
One of my fondest memories as a young teenager were that of my grandparents coming to stay at our house every summer on one of their annual cross-country road trips from their home out west. It was the first time I had ever heard of Korean ginseng, or as its sometimes also called Korean Panax ginseng, an herb native to Korea and China.
Every morning, my grandfather would ritually take his Korean ginseng capsules. He was 82 at the time and still in great physical shape, looking 2 decades younger and full of energy. My grandmother, age 78, also took the same ginseng he did and similarly looked and felt as young. Every day they would be up at 6:00 a.m., ready to tackle the day while the rest of us were still in dreamland.
My thoughts of being a doctor somewhere still in the future, I remember being curious as to how my grandparents, at their age, seemed to have so much get up and go. I wanted to know their secret, if there was one, or was it just good genes?
According to my grandfather, it all had to do with the Korean ginseng. It not only gave them energy to power through their days, to use my grandfather’s words as he winked at me, the ginseng helped stoke the “romance fire” too. Since then, I’ve learned much about the health properties of Korean ginseng and why it gave my grandfather so much stamina. I’d like to share that information with you.
Korean Panax Ginseng – The Wonder Root
Ginseng, or Ren Shen, has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, and Korean Medicine as In Sam for thousands of years as a “tonic” for many health conditions. Korean Panax Ginseng is the form of ginseng most commonly grown in Asia and used for both medicinal purposes and personal use around the world. Do not confuse it, however, with American ginseng and/or Eleuthero (Siberian) ginseng, as these varieties are not the same. Korean Panax ginseng can be taken in capsule or tea form and is felt to benefit the following:
- Boosts immune system function – has superior antioxidant properties.
- Supports cardiovascular health/function – lowers LDL and raises HDL cholesterol.
- Helps fight diabetes – studies show it lowers blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.
- Fights Alzheimer disease – studies show it boosts memory.
- Boosts fertility/sexual function in men – increases sperm count and motility.
- Fights fatigue – conserves glycogen and uses fatty acids instead for fuel.
- Fights depression and anxiety – from its energy boosting capacity.
- Fights certain lung conditions – like cystic fibrosis, and/or Pseudomonas infections.
- May help with certain cancers – breast, stomach, liver, ovarian. More study needed.
Of all the health conditions that Korean Panax ginseng is noted for, the most common use of it in Asian Medicine is improving sexual performance in men. For centuries, it has been touted as improving libido. This is likely because of KPG’s capacity to improve blood flow. Of note, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cite that KPG can boost testosterone levels and improve erectile dysfunction allowing firmer, longer-lasting erections. Further NIH information states that topical applications of KPG in a suspension cream directly to the genitals can help with premature ejaculation.
In fact, a study done in Italy some years ago had shown that men given 4 grams of Korean Panax ginseng for 3 months had improved sperm count and motility of sperm. Other studies done by the University of Maryland also showed that KPG could possibly benefit sperm production in men as preliminary studies in animals had proven that.
Not only do the guys benefit from the herb’s fertility factor, but women do as well. Studies have also shown that ginseng seems to tone the uterus, improve blood flow to the ovaries, and generally improve the chances of fertilization taking place.
There are many varieties of ginseng available on the market today with varying amounts of real product in them and at variable prices. Be sure you are buying authentic Korean Panax ginseng root from a reputable retailer and be sure that the label states pure Korean Panax ginseng.
Possible Side Effects/Interactions
Although the FDA has rated Korean Panax Ginseng as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and KPG is generally attributed as a “well-being medication” there are some possible side effects and interactions associated with taking it that you may encounter. These include:
- Prolonged safety/effect in humans: Unknown in relation to its male/female hormone-tweaking capabilities. Frequent cream use may cause irritation.
- Insomnia: Sleep problems may result because of its energy-boosting capacity.
- Reactions: Stevens-Johnson syndrome and liver damage has been reported in some usage, but rare.
- Drug-interactions: Insulin, Lasix (furosemide), caffeine, alcohol, antidepressants, immunosuppressants, may work differently in tandem with Korean Panax ginseng.
Often times, my male patients will come to me with sexual function issues and my grandfather’s words about Korean ginseng’s “romance fire” always come back to me. For this reason, Korean Panax ginseng has become another agent in my arsenal that I can recommend to help my male patients improve not only their sexual function but their energy and fertility levels. Like many supplements, however, I recommend that you give your body a break from them for several weeks to allow you to clean out on a cellular level, recharge and restore yourself.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.