The Amazing Health Benefits of Ginseng:
Certain herbs have beneficial adaptive properties that they pass on to those who consume them to support healthy function. Ginseng has been given the Greek name of Panax which means “all curing” as it has remarkable adaptogenic qualities that benefit individuals no matter what phase of life or stressors they are encountering.
There are three major types of ginseng: American, Chinese and Siberian. All of these are considered adaptogenic herbs due to their ability to help us adapt effectively to physical, emotional and environmental stressors. Ginseng root was so valuable to the Chinese for its medicinal qualities that it was prized beyond gold.
Ginseng is a Powerful AdaptoGen:
Often time the whole plant is consumed together but the root is the highest prized part of the plant that contains the richest source of adaptogenic molecules. The major active compounds in ginseng are ginsenosides which are saponin molecules in the roots of the plant. These saponins contain a 4 trans-ring rigid steroid skeleton. The various ginsenosides are referred to as Rb1, Rb2, Rb3, Rc, Rd, Re, etc.
Ginseng enhances the overall circulatory patterns in the body which brings fresh oxygen to major regions and improves cellular energy production. It also helps calm and balance the adrenal function allowing for optimal stress hormone release. This mechanism has been shown to improve blood sugar signaling in individuals with diabetes and boost energy levels in those with chronic fatigue syndrome (1, 2, 3).
It has also been thought to strengthen the digestive system, facilitate liver regeneration and detoxify poisons. It also boosts red and white blood cell formation and has the ability to prevent or help to eliminate anemia and improve immunity (4). It also enhances blood flow to the brain which reduces inflammatory neurodegenerative states and improves creative thinking and memory (5).
The Health Benefits of American Ginseng:
American ginseng grows wild throughout the Appalachian and Ozark regions of the United States and into regions of Canada. It is also commonly found in areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
American ginseng is thought in Oriental Medicine to take on the yin characteristics of cooling, relaxing and calming qualities. Studies have shown that it contains more Rb1, Rd and Re ginsenosides in comparison to Chinese ginseng. But has no Rf and much lower ratio of Rg:R1 than Asian ginseng (6). This cooling effect is good for people with anxiety, anger, high stress and high blood pressure among other things. It is also particularly good for the lungs and spleen.
Chinese Ginseng is Energizing:
This is also called Panax ginseng and is thought in Oriental Medicine to have the yang qualities of warming, stimulating and energizing. This is due to the increased Rg1:Rb1 ratio. Rg1 is a stimulant of the central nervous system while Rb1 is a depressant of the central nervous system. This is the biochemical rationale for the increased stimulation people get from Chinese or Asian ginseng (7).
Chinese or Asian ginseng is particularly good for those with cold hands, low energy, low libido and mental lethargy (8, 9, 10). The increased central nervous system activity will benefit these conditions.
Siberian Ginseng and Eleuthero:
Siberian ginseng is also called Eleuthero and is found in Northeastern Asia regions of China, Japan and Russia. This is from the same family but a different genus than the Panax species. This is used commonly by Russian athletes and has been credited for improving their strength, stamina, coordination and balance.
Siberian ginseng contains eleutherosides which are chemically different from ginsenosides. These eleutherosides contain polysaccharides that help stimulate the immune system. This herb grows in colder climates and helps the plant adapt effectively to this environmental stress. In humans, it helps boost our mental function and ability to overcome cold and flu symptoms (11, 12).
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