Table of Contents
Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is a herbal extract that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries. It is one of the best-known dietary supplements for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been available in Europe and the U.S. for decades, where it is often added to sports beverages and energy bars. Ginseng can be classified as fresh, white, or red, depending on how long it is grown for.
Most, if not all, of Ginseng’s benefits result from its ability to remove reactive oxygen species from the bloodstream – its antioxidant effects. It is also an effective anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating supplement. The top benefits include its ability to improve energy levels, to support a healthy mind and body, to promote a healthy immune system, and to enhance men’s sexual vitality.
The recommended serving size is typically between 200 – 600 mg per day. It is not recommended to exceed this serving size. Common side effects of larger servings include headache, dizziness, upset stomach, and insomnia. Side effects may increase with increased serving size. This supplement may interact with a number of different medications.
2. What Are Ginsenosides?
Ginsenosides are the active compounds found in the extract of Panax ginseng. It is the ginsenosides (along with additional gintonin) that are responsible for this supplement’s beneficial effects in humans – especially the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Several large studies have explored the benefits of ginsenosides and their mechanisms of action and effects in humans.
In mammals, some ginsenosides are treated as antigens, which is partly responsible for the immunomodulatory effects. Evidence suggests that they are also active at some steroid-type receptors, and that they undergo extensive metabolism in the body to improve their efficacy.
There are at least eleven active Ginsenoside compounds present in Panax ginseng extract, including:
- Compound K
3. Human Effects
3.1.Powerful Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory
Ginseng Extract has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits in humans. Antioxidants help to protect your body against harmful toxins called reactive oxygen species, that are generated in biochemical reactions. Anti-inflammatories help to reduce excess inflammation from the immune response to allergens and stress.
Numerous animal studies and test-tube studies have confirmed the effective results of Ginseng extract as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
For example, one study found that Korean red Ginseng extract produced a significant reduction in age-associated markers of oxidative stress in older rats – resulting in improvements in organ functions. Another study found that Ginseng extract reduced signs of aging in cultured human skin cells.
In one study with human participants, 71 postmenopausal women aged 45-60 years received either Ginseng or placebo for 12 weeks to observe the antioxidant benefits. During the study, researchers evaluated several markers of oxidative stress, as well as effects on insulin resistance. The results showed a statistically significant improvement in oxidative stress for the group who received Ginseng, compared to the placebo group.
Similarly, the effects of Ginseng on exercise-induced muscle damage was measured in 18 male college students after high-intensity exercise. The group who received Ginseng had significantly reduced muscle damage and inflammatory response compared to the placebo group.
Again, several studies have indicated that Ginseng extract may be effective in improving energy levels. This is also supported by thousands of years of anecdotal evidence from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where Ginseng has long been used for its energizing effects.
A recent systematic review examined 10 studies with human participants regarding the effects of Ginseng on energy levels and fatigue. Studies were included if participants had fatigue and had used Ginseng as an intervention. From the 10 studies reviewed, there was a modest efficacy in reducing fatigue, with a very low risk of adverse effects.
An area of interest in research is the use of Ginseng extract for cancer-related fatigue. In 2013, a phase III clinical trial was developed to evaluate the efficacy of Ginseng extracts on fatigue in 64 cancer patients. After 8 weeks, a statistically significant improvement was visible and greater benefits were reported by those receiving Ginseng versus those receiving placebo.
A similar study was conducted in the same year that also showed improvements in energy levels, possibly related to Ginseng’s antioxidant effects.
It’s important to note that a 2016 review by Korean researchers examined the results from 12 studies into the energizing effects of Ginseng, and found mixed results. The authors noted that the small number of participants in the studies was not sufficient to draw conclusions on Ginseng’s energizing effects, despite the sound theoretical mechanisms and animal-model evidence for its energy-booster effects.
3.3.Boosts Cognition and Mood
A result of Ginseng extract’s powerful antioxidant effects is that it is able to confer neuroprotective and cognitive benefits on the brain.  This means that the compounds in Ginseng extract, including ginsenosides and compound K, help to protect your brain against harmful toxins and stress. 
In one study, researchers examined the effects of long-term Ginseng use on mood, social functioning, mental health, and cognitive function in 30 healthy participants. After 4 weeks, the results showed improvements across the board. After 8 weeks, however, the results diminished, possibly indicating that tolerance may develop after long-term continuous use.
In a similar study, two different serving sizes of Ginseng were evaluated for their effects on mental performance and energy levels during a 1-minute long mental test. Interestingly, the smaller serving proved to be more effective at improving cognitive performance, and the reasons why are not yet clear.
In a 2010 study, thirty healthy young volunteers received Ginseng at either 200 mg, 400 mg, or placebo, for 8 days, to test the effects on cognition during a maths test. Results were measured on day 1 and day 8. The 200 mg serving size was effective for improving mood, while the larger serving was better at producing calm and improved test scores. Importantly, this is a very small sample size and is only preliminary evidence.
3.4.Supports a Healthy Immune System
It is now well-known that Ginseng extract can help to support a healthy immune system. In fact, it is now understood that Ginseng regulates almost all aspects of the immune system, including macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T cells, and B cells – in addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Ginseng is an ‘immuno-modulator’ that especially improves capability of helper T cells and NK cells. This means that it helps to improve the capability of your body’s immune system to discover and destroy potential threats like toxins, allergens, and pathogens. Additionally, Ginseng may be effective at modulating ‘over-active’ immune systems that cause excessive inflammation and allergies.
In one study, 51 volunteer patients from Korea with advanced stomach cancer received either Ginseng supplements or placebo for three months. At the end of the study, the group who received Ginseng supplementation had improved immune markers compared to the placebo group.
Ginseng’s potent immunomodulator effects have been of interest to researchers in the field of oncology.
Further studies have indicated that Ginseng’s immunomodulator effects may be beneficial in boosting the efficacy of vaccinations, like the influenza vaccination. Again, this is to do with the supplement’s ability to modulate the immune response, which is a vital factor for vaccinations.
3.5.Men’s Sexual Health
Recent research shows that Ginseng may be effective at supporting men’s sexual health and vitality. While it doesn’t affect androgen or testosterone levels, its antioxidant effects appear to be beneficial.
Loss of sexual vitality in men is often a sign of oxidative stress in the body – sometimes due to obesity or high blood cholesterol levels. By acting as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, Ginseng helps to improve blood flow through the body and to protect blood capillaries from the harmful effects of oxidized LDL cholesterol.
These effects have been studied both in animals and in humans.  In one study, 86 Korean patients volunteered to receive either Ginseng extract or placebo, twice a day, for 8 weeks. Erectile function and overall satisfaction scores where significantly improved in the active group compared to the placebo group.
More in-depth studies will be beneficial for understanding the full scope of benefits for men’s sexual vitality and health, as well as the underlying mechanisms behind these effects.
4. Safety and Toxicity
While Ginseng extract supplements are generally considered safe for use at the recommended serving size, some side effects are rarely experienced. The most common side effects include headache, insomnia, and an upset stomach. Some less common side effects may include menstrual problems, chest pain, rapid heart rate, high or low blood pressure, appetite loss, diarrhoea, itching, rash, dizziness, and mood changes. The likelihood of experiencing negative side effects increases with serving size.
Do not exceed the recommended serving size for this supplement.
Furthermore, there is a possibility for this supplement to interact with medication and with other dietary supplements. If you are taking any medication, be sure to consult with your doctor before using this supplement. Dangerous interactions may include warfarin, phenelzine and alcohol (although these interactions have only been reported by people using supplement stacks that include Ginseng along with several other ingredients).
Please ensure that you have fully read and understand the possible side effects before using this supplement. Keep out of reach of children.
Citations and Supporting Literature
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