Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
This slow-growing, short plant with fleshy roots can be classified in three ways, depending on how long it is grown: fresh, white or red.
Fresh ginseng is harvested before 4 years, while white ginseng is harvested between 4–6 years and red ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years.
There are many types of this herb, but the most popular are American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng).
American and Asian ginseng vary in their concentration of active compounds and effects on the body. It is believed that American ginseng works as a relaxing agent, whereas the Asian variety has an invigorating effect (1, 2).
It contains two significant compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. These compounds complement one another to provide health benefits (3).
Here are 16 evidence-based health benefits of ginseng.
1. Potent Antioxidant That May Reduce Inflammation
It has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (4).
For example, one test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity in skin cells from people with eczema (7).
The results are promising in humans, as well.
One study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes take 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days.
The men then had levels of certain inflammatory markers tested after performing an exercise test. These levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing (8).
However, it should be noted that the placebo group got a different medicinal herb, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt and more studies are needed.
Lastly, a larger study followed 71 postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then measured.
Researchers concluded that red ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities (9).
SUMMARY: Ginseng has been shown to help reduce inflammatory markers and help protect against oxidative stress.
2. Ginseng May Benefit Brain Function
One study followed 30 healthy people who consumed 200 mg of Panax ginseng daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, they showed improvement in mental health, social functioning, and mood.
However, these benefits stopped being significant after 8 weeks, suggesting that ginseng effects might decrease with extended use (15).
Another study examined how single doses of either 200 or 400 mg of Panax ginseng affected mental performance, mental fatigue and blood sugar levels in 30 healthy adults before and after a 10-minute mental test.
The 200-mg dose, as opposed to the 400-mg dose, was more effective at improving mental performance and fatigue during the test (16).
It is possible that ginseng assisted the uptake of blood sugar by cells, which could have enhanced performance and reduced mental fatigue. Yet it is not clear why the lower dose was more effective than the higher one.
A third study found that taking 400 mg of Panax ginseng daily for eight days improved calmness and math skills (17).
SUMMARY: Ginseng has been shown to benefit mental functions, feelings of calmness and mood in both healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Ginseng Could Improve Erectile Dysfunction
One study found that men treated with Korean red ginseng had a 60% improvement in ED symptoms, compared to 30% improvement produced by a medication used to treat ED (26).
Moreover, another study showed that 86 men with ED had significant improvements in erectile function and overall satisfaction after taking 1,000 mg of aged ginseng extract for 8 weeks (27).
However, more studies are needed to draw definite conclusions about the effects of ginseng on ED (24).
SUMMARY: Ginseng may improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction by decreasing oxidative stress in tissues and enhancing blood flow in penile muscles.
4. Ginseng May Boost the Immune System
It may strengthen the immune system.
Some studies exploring its effects on the immune system have focused on cancer patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy treatment.
One study followed 39 people who were recovering from surgery for stomach cancer, treating them with 5,400 mg of ginseng daily for two years.
Interestingly, these people had significant improvements in immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms (28).
Another study examined the effect of red ginseng extract on immune system markers in people with advanced stomach cancer undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy.
After three months, those taking red ginseng extract had better immune system markers than those in the control or placebo group (29).
Furthermore, a study suggested that people who take ginseng could have up to a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and up to a 38% higher survival rate compared to those not taking it (30).
It seems that ginseng extract could enhance the effect of vaccinations against diseases like influenza, as well (31).
Even though these studies show improvements in immune system markers in people with cancer, more research is needed to demonstrate the efficacy of ginseng in boosting resistance to infections in healthy people (32).
SUMMARY: Ginseng may strengthen the immune system in people with cancer and even enhance the effects of certain vaccinations.
5. Ginseng May Have Potential Benefits Against Cancer
It may be helpful in reducing the risk of certain cancers (33).
A review of several studies concluded that people who take ginseng may have a 16% lower risk of developing cancer (35).
Moreover, an observational study suggested that people taking ginseng could be less likely to develop certain types of cancer, such as lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, liver and lung cancer, than those who do not take it (36).
Ginseng may also help improve the health of patients undergoing chemotherapy, reduce side effects and enhance the effect of some treatment drugs (34).
While studies on the role of ginseng in cancer prevention show some benefits, they remain inconclusive (37).
SUMMARY: Ginsenosides in ginseng seem to regulate inflammation, provide antioxidant protection and maintain the health of cells, which could help decrease the risk of certain kinds of cancer. Nevertheless, more research is needed.
6. Ginseng May Fight Tiredness and Increase Energy Levels
It has been shown to help fight fatigue and promote energy.
Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue (38, 39, 40).
One four-week study explored the effects of giving 1 or 2 grams of Panax ginseng or a placebo to 90 people with chronic fatigue.
Those given Panax ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue, as well as reductions in oxidative stress, than those taking the placebo (41).
Another study gave 364 cancer survivors experiencing fatigue 2,000 mg of American ginseng or a placebo. After eight weeks, those in the ginseng group had significantly lower fatigue levels than those in the placebo group (42).
Furthermore, a review of over 155 studies suggested that ginseng supplements may not only help reduce fatigue but also enhance physical activity (43).
SUMMARY: It may help fight fatigue and enhance physical activity by lowering oxidative damage and increasing energy production in cells.
7. Could Lower Blood Sugar
American and Asian ginseng has been shown to improve pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues (44).
Moreover, studies show that ginseng extracts help by providing antioxidant protection that reduce free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes (44).
One study assessed the effects of 6 grams of Korean red ginseng, along with the usual anti-diabetic medication or diet, in 19 people with type 2 diabetes.
Interestingly, they were able to maintain good blood sugar control throughout the 12-week study. They also had an 11% decrease in blood sugar levels, a 38% decrease in fasting insulin and a 33% increase in insulin sensitivity (46).
Another study showed that American ginseng helped improve blood sugar levels in 10 healthy people after they performed a sugary drink test (47).
It seems that fermented red ginseng could be even more effective at blood sugar control. Fermented ginseng is produced with the help of live bacteria that transform the ginsenosides into a more easily absorbed and potent form (48).
In fact, a study demonstrated that taking 2.7 grams of fermented red ginseng daily was effective at lowering blood sugar and increased insulin levels after a test meal, compared to a placebo (49).
SUMMARY: Ginseng, particularly fermented red ginseng, may help increase insulin production, enhance blood sugar uptake in cells and provide antioxidant protection.
8. Easy to Add to Your Diet
Ginseng root can be consumed in many ways. It can be eaten raw or you can lightly steam it to soften it.
It can also be stewed in water to make a tea. To do this, just add hot water to freshly sliced ginseng and let it steep for several minutes.
It can be added to various recipes like soups and stir-frys, too. And the extract can be found in powder, tablet, capsule and oil forms.
How much you should take depends on the condition you want to improve. Overall, daily doses of 1–2 grams of raw ginseng root or 200–400 mg of the extract are suggested. It’s best to start with lower doses and increase over time.
Look for a standard ginseng extract that contains 2–3% total ginsenosides, and consume it before meals to increase absorption and get the full benefits.
SUMMARY: Ginseng can be eaten raw, made into tea or added to various dishes. It can also be consumed as a powder, capsule or oil.
9. Flu prevention
Findings suggested that red ginseng extract could improve the survival of human lung epithelial cells infected with the influenza virus. However, many studies of the preventive actions of ginseng against viruses were later discredited as unreliable.
10. Heart Health
In an RCT with 50 heart attack patients, 3 g/day red ginseng following heart surgery increased circulating angiogenic cell action (cells that make new blood vessels) and reduced inflammation levels, indicating improved blood flow [R].
In a trial of 17 healthy people, 3 g Korean red ginseng improved artery stiffness but did not change blood pressure [R].
Supplementation with 3 g/day of red ginseng decreased total and LDL cholesterol levels as well as artery thickness in a DB-RCT with 72 people [R].
However, in a DB-RCT with 80 people, 3 g/day Korean red ginseng did not improve artery stiffness [R].
Similarly, in a DB-RCT of 48 people, 4.5 g/day Korean red ginseng did not affect blood pressure, lipid profile, oxidized LDL, artery stiffness, or fasting blood sugar levels [R].
11. Menopausal Symptoms
Some menopausal women experience various sexual symptoms such as impaired sexual function. Supplementation with 3 g/day of Korean red ginseng extract improved sexual arousal in a DB trial of 32 women. However, the treatment caused vaginal bleeding in 2 people [R].
Supplementation with 3 g/day of red ginseng improved menopause symptoms in a DB-RCT with 72 women [R].
However, in a DB-RCT of 384 women, ginseng slightly reduced feelings of depression and improved well-being but did not affect menopause symptoms [R].
12. ADHD and Learning
Korean red ginseng, 2 g/day, reduced the inattention and hyperactivity scores in a DB-RCT with 70 people) [R].
Ginseng treatment increased the learning performance for impaired rats and may improve spatial cognitive impairment [R].
13. Anti-Cancer Effects
A meta-analysis of 9 studies found that ginseng consumption was related to a decreased risk of developing cancer and that this effect was not specific to a particular organ [R].
In a DB-RCT of 643 people, 1 g/week of red ginseng extract reduced the risk of developing non-organ-specific cancer, but only in the male subjects [R].
Another study found consumption of certain types of ginseng but not others were associated with decreased risk of certain cancers (lip, oral cavity, pharynx, esophageal, stomach, colorectal, liver, pancreatic, laryngeal, lung, and ovarian) [R].
- In mice, panaxydol, a compound found in ginseng, increased cancer cell death [R].
- Ginseng root extract reduced the number of skin tumors in mice compared to mice not treated with ginseng [R].
14. Weight Loss
Ginseng therapy was associated with increased psychological performance and mood, and decreased body weight and fasting blood glucose in patients with newly diagnosed non-insulin-dependent diabetes [R].
However, in a DB-RCT with 36 people, 100 or 200 mg/day ginseng did not affect body weight because both the treatment groups and the placebo group lost weight [R].
15. Stress Response
Ginseng treatment helps with physical performance and increases resistance to stress and aging by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which increases elevated plasma corticotropin and corticosteroid levels [R].
16. Alcohol Toxicity
Ginseng and seabuckthorn increased enzymes (ADH and ALDH) that break down alcohol in mice with acute alcohol intoxication, which helps lessens the effects in the brain [R].
Safety and Potential Side Effects
According to research, ginseng appears to be safe and should not produce any serious adverse effects.
However, people taking diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar levels closely when using ginseng to ensure these levels do not go too low.
Additionally, ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulant drugs.
For these reasons, talk to your doctor before supplementing with it.
Note that due to the lack of safety studies, ginseng is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Lastly, there is evidence suggesting that the extended use of ginseng could decrease its effectiveness in the body.
To maximize its benefits, you should take ginseng in 2–3-week cycles with a one or two week break in between (14).
As a stimulant, ginseng may cause nervousness and/or sleeplessness, as well as high blood pressure, anxiety, vomiting, and diarrhea in high doses.
Symptoms of excessive ginseng use include mastalgia (breast pain), skin reactions, and vaginal bleeding [R].
It may interact with ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, blood thinners, stimulants, MAOIs, and morphine.
SUMMARY: While ginseng appears to be safe, people taking certain medications should pay attention to possible drug interactions.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- Alzheimer’s disease: 4.5 to 9 grams of Panax ginseng root daily for 12 weeks has been used.
- For chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): 100 mg to 6 grams of Panax ginseng three times daily for up to 3 months has been used.
- Mental function: 200 to 400 mg of a specific Panax ginseng extract (G115, Pharmaton SA, Lugano, Switzerland) taken once daily or in two divided doses for up to 12 weeks, or 200 to 960 mg as a single dose, has been used.
- Erectile dysfunction: 1400 to 2700 mg of Panax ginseng, taken in two or three divided doses per day for up to 12 weeks, has been used.
- Flu: 200 mg of Panax ginseng extract (G115) daily, starting 4 weeks before getting a flu shot and continuing for 8 weeks after, has been used. Also, 1 gram of Panax ginseng extract three times daily for 12 weeks has also been used.
- For multiple sclerosis-related fatigues: 250 mg of Panax ginseng twice daily for 3 months has been used.
- For sexual arousal: 3 grams of Korean red ginseng, a form of Panax ginseng, daily for 8 weeks has been used. A specific combination product (ArginMax for Women, The Daily Wellness Company), taken daily for 4 weeks, has also been used.
APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
- For premature ejaculation: a cream (SS-Cream) containing Panax ginseng and other ingredients has been applied to the glans penis one hour before intercourse and washed off before intercourse.
The Bottom Line
Ginseng is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine.
It is commonly touted for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It could also help regulate blood sugar levels and have benefits for some cancers.
What’s more, it may strengthen the immune system, enhance brain function, fight fatigue and improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
It can be consumed raw or lightly steamed. It can also easily be added to your diet via its extract, capsule or powder form.
Whether you want to improve a certain condition or simply give your health a boost, ginseng is definitely worth a try.