Ginseng has long been one of the foundations of healing in Chinese medicine, and is probably the world's best known herb. The botanical name panax means 'all curing' in Greek. This 5000 year old healer has traditionally been used as a restorative tonic to increase energy, stamina, and well being.
Western scientists have confirmed the efficacy of ginseng for many of the traditional uses. Now researchers are adding to the traditional list, documenting ginseng as highly effective in weight loss, diabetes control and erectile dysfunction.
Characteristics of ginseng
Ginseng is one of the adaptogens, a group of non-toxic, non-habit forming substances that normalize body chemistry and functioning. Adaptogens increase the body's ability to cope with physical, emotional and environmental stress. They work in a synergistic manner, increasing the body's own ability to fight off disease. The greater the body's need for an adaptogen, the increasingly more active the substance becomes.
Ginseng was first found in Manchuria and was referred to by the ancient Chinese as 'Ren Shen', meaning 'Man root' referring to the human-like shape of the ginseng root. To the Chinese, this shape meant the herb was designated for human use. They believed that regular consumption of ginseng led to a long and happy life. Ginseng became so valuable that it was prized beyond gold. It was so popular that the supply of ginseng from the Chinese mainland could not meet the demand, and imports were brought from Korea. When the wild stock was exhausted, commercial cultivation began.
Ginseng is used fresh or dried. Sometimes plant leaves are added with the root, but the root is the highly prized part of the plant.
Ginseng lives up to its name as a cure-all
Ginseng facilitates metabolic equilibrium. Russian research showed that ginseng stimulated physical and mental activities in tired and weak individuals and aided with balancing. It was found to strengthen and protect under prolonged strain. Ginseng works to stimulate and improve the working of the brain with its ability to promote oxygenation. The Russians also found it to increase energy and physical endurance. It stimulates the functioning of the endocrine glands and promotes vigour of the reproductive organs.
Asian researchers have documented ginsengs ability to reduce fatigue and increase stamina. They found that ginseng aids in the formation of red blood cells and helps eliminate anemia. Ginseng strengthens the gastrointestinal system, facilitates liver regeneration, and helps detoxify poisons.
With regards to weight loss, researchers have shown that ginseng actually inhibits cells from completing the fat storage process, and over time fat tissue weight was decreased.
In a randomized clinical study reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers sought to provide evidence of efficacy and safety in the use of ginseng for diabetes. Their research generated a mounting body of evidence to support the claim that Ginseng is useful in improving diabetes control, reducing associated risk factors such as hyperlipidemia and hypertension, and ameliorating insulin resistance.
Furthermore, as reported in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, initiating studies have shown that Ginseng increases insulin production and reduces cell death in pancreatic beta-cells. Studies have also revealed Ginseng's ability to decrease blood glucose in type II diabetes patients as well as in diabetes induced animals.
Ginseng is also helpful in enhancing libido and addressing erectile dysfunction. I recently came across a study which tested the effect of Korean ginseng on men with ‘erectile dysfunction’. 60 men were treated with ginseng or placebo, over a 12-week period. Compared to those taking the placebo, those taking ginseng saw significant improvement in measures of erectile function including ‘rigidity’, ‘penetration’ and maintenance of erection.