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Ginseng: uses, dosage & background

Siski Green / 27 July 2020

Ginseng is widely known as a supplement for erectile dysfunction boosting men’s ‘virility’ but that’s not all it might be good for.

Gisneng root
Ginseng has been recognized as a potent immune system tonic

What is ginseng used for?

Ginseng is taken for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, boosting cognitive function and immunity, helping with symptoms of erectile dysfunction, and a boost to energy too.

What’s the history of ginseng?

Ginseng is harvested at different times and depending on when it is classified as either fresh gingseng (harvested before four years of growth); white ginseng (between four and six years); and red ginseng (six years or older).

It has been harvested and used for centuries in Asia with at least one documentation of its use dating back to 196 AD. There are two types mainly used in supplements and extracts and those are American ginseng and Asian ginseng. Each varies somewhat from the other in terms of their active substances and how those affect the body. It’s thought that the American type of ginseng is better for relaxant purposes, while the Asian variety is more invigorating. Wild ginseng is actually now extinct in China and is endangered worldwide. This is because of the growing demand for ginseng products and the slow growth of the plant. The plant can be and is cultivated too but it’s thought wild ginseng is more beneficial.

What’s the best way to take ginseng?

While you can easily find ginseng supplements in healthfood shops and online, it is also available at some healthfood shops in fresh form (the root), dried or raw. This can be eaten raw or steamed until softer. You can also add it to tea (chopped or grated), to meals. It’s available in powder, tablet and other supplement forms. If you are taking a supplement start with a lower dose and increase it over time, once you are comfortable with the amount you are taking without any undesirable side effects. Raw gingseng should be eaten at small amounts, around 1-2g of raw ginseng or 200-400mg per day.

Different supplements will contain different amounts of the active compounds – look for 2-3% ginsenosides as these are the active compounds that hold benefits.

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Does ginseng really work?

There are studies supporting its use for various problems. It is most commonly recommended for the treatment of erectile dysfunction and appears to show benefits. It’s thought that the benefits might be down to how ginseng reduces oxidative stress, helping to restore normal sexual function. Some studies, such as one in the International Journal of Impotence Research, have shown similar or improved benefits to taking ginseng as trazadone, a medication prescribed for ED, for example.

Ginseng is also lauded for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which may help prevent cancer. The ginsenosides have been shown to reduce inflammation which in itself could be beneficial for a wide range of inflammation-related diseases and health issues. It seems ginsenosides prevent abnormal cell production and growth.

A review of more than 150 scientific articles, published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, found that ginseng can relieve fatigue and improve physical performance, providing extra energy.

Research on whether it boosts immunity hasn’t been done on a large scale but results from small scale studies suggest it may show benefits, including improving the efficacy of vaccinations such as those for the flu and protecting against the common cold.

Where can I get ginseng?

Ginseng is available in healthfood shops, and online, and even in big supermarkets.

How long does ginseng take to work?

As with most herbal supplements it may take some weeks to note a different in whatever health issue you have. With ginseng, however, it is important not to keep taking it long-term. Research suggests that different time scales are advisable for different types of ginseng: Asian ginseng can be taken for up to 3 months at a time, Siberian up to 2 months and American up to 1 month – check your label for advice specific to the product you buy.

What are the side effects of taking ginseng?

If you note changes in yourself such as increased anxiety or nervousness, or insomnia, stop taking the supplement. Similarly, long-term use may also trigger unwanted side effecs such as headaches and dizziness, as well as digestive discomfort.

Are there any contraindications when taking ginseng?

There are no clearly defined contraindications for taking ginseng, but do not take it long-term and if you have any doubt see your GP.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.