Ginseng: It Helps the Brain and Body Adapt to Stress

Ginseng in Autumn

The subject of ginseng is a broad one. There are three main types: Panax (sometimes called Asian or Chinese ginseng), American and Siberian Ginseng (sometimes called Eleuthero). When many people refer to the herb “ginseng,” they generally mean Panax ginseng. All are members of the Araliaceae family but native to very different geographical locations. All three types are used as an adaptogen, helping the body adapt to stress, and also to support cognitive function. However, they also each have some unique properties as well.

To better understand the different types of ginseng:

American Ginseng

American Ginseng

American:  Native to North America, especially Ontario, Canada. American ginseng has been exported to China for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds of years. It is used mostly as an adaptogenic herb and is also used to treat diabetes, fatigue, cardiovascular issues and support cognition. Note American ginseng has a major drug interaction with blood thinning medications like warfarin.

Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng

Panax: Native to Korea, China, and Eastern Siberia. Panax ginseng is used as an adaptogen; or an herb that helps the body adapt to stress and is especially known to support brain health and cognition. This is an important herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian: Native to Southeast Russia, northern China, Korea and Japan. It is also used as an adaptogen but also widely for cardiovascular support including to treat high or low blood pressure, heart disease, and clogged arteries. It is also used for cognitive health, diabetes, immune support and bipolar disorder.

For the purposes of this exploration, we’ll discuss the benefits of Panax ginseng which is used medicinally:

  • As an adaptogen/for stress management
  • To support the immune system
  • To improve athletic performance
  • To improve cognitive function, memory, focus, and even for those with Alzheimer’s disease
  • To prevent fatigue and support those with chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis
  • To support lung function in those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • To slow the aging process and reduce wrinkles on the skin
  • For anti-cancer properties

There are studies that show Panax ginseng root (4.5-9 grams daily for 12 weeks) improves cognitive performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Supporting brain health is one of the reason’s it’s most often used. Note that ginseng doses are very different across species – American ginseng is commonly dosed at 100-3000 mcg daily for up to 12 weeks. Siberian ginseng is dosed at 300-400 mg concentrated extract daily.

Panax ginseng has also been studied successfully for other types of cognition including abstract thinking, attention, and reaction times particularly in middle-aged adults. There is also hopeful research on Panax ginseng with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and the potential to improve lung function. Panax ginseng has shown effective for treating fatigue in people with both chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple-sclerosis to help boost energy and vitality. The most important part of Panax ginseng for treating health conditions is a compound called ginsenoside.

Produce at the Supermarket-ginseng rootThe research isn’t as strong on using Panax ginseng for athletic performance or certain types of cancer though it has been used in traditional and natural medicine for both these reasons. There is also some promise that Panax ginseng could be used to help treat diabetes though studies are mixed at this time and more research is warranted.

There are some potential side effects of using Panax ginseng medicinally, including insomnia. Also consider several moderate drug interactions with medications so make sure to tell your physician before you start using Panax or other types of ginseng as it may create an interaction. Panax ginseng has been proven safe in studies for up to 6 months but evidence is unclear in the long-term as ginseng may affect hormones over time. It is unsafe for infants and children or while pregnant. That being said, it has been used medicinally for thousands of years for a variety of health conditions in adults and some studies have shown it is quite effective for some conditions.

Have you used ginseng for your health? Let us know in the comments if you have experimented with any variety!

Natural Medicines Database. Panax Ginseng.,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1000. Updated 1/14/2019. Accessed 1/27/19.

Natural Medicines Database. American Ginseng.,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=967. Updated 8/29/2017. Accessed 1/27/19.

Natural Medicines Database. Siberian Ginseng.,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=985. Updated 8/16/2017. Accessed 1/27/19.

About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group  
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