Supplement of the Month: Ginseng

What is ginseng and where is it found?

Ginseng is an herbal supplement that comes from a plant root.  There are two main types: Asian/Korean (Panax) ginseng and American ginseng, which have different benefits. Ginseng does not come naturally from foods. In additional to being an oral supplement, ginseng is also used to make soaps and cosmetics, and it is a flavoring in many beverages.

What are the benefits of ginseng?

Panax ginseng is used to improve thinking, concentration, and memory.  It is also used to enhance well-being and to help people cope with stress; hence, it is known as an “adaptogen.”  Panax ginseng has also been shown to be effective for diabetes, male impotence, COPD, and premature ejaculation.

American Ginseng has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and to decrease the risk of developing symptoms from upper respiratory tract infections.  It also may boost the immune system, improve mood, and increase endurance.

People take both types of ginsengs to increase athletic performance and physical stamina.  They also take ginseng to treat depression, anxiety, cancer, anemia, heart disease, hepatitis C, menopausal symptoms, blood pressure and insomnia.

Are there interactions between ginseng and other food or medications?

Ginseng shouldn’t be taken with other diabetes medications because of its affect on blood sugar levels.  It also may also interfere with warfarin or other medications for depression.  One should also avoid stimulant drugs and caffeine while taking ginseng.

Are there side effects from taking ginseng?

The side effects are generally mild.  Some people experience insomnia, dizziness, stomach upset, or nervousness.

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