Korean ginseng, aka Panax ginseng, is one of the most widely used botanical supplements and one that has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine. As the word ‘Panax’ originates from the Greek word for panacea (all healing), this is the first clue that this plant can provide a plethora of benefits. So, let’s explore these benefits so you can see whether it would be a good supplement for you.
What are the Benefits?
It is no exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of published investigations into Panax ginseng. Because of the depth of evidence, it would be impossible to look at every study, but what we can do is confidently summarise its benefits.
Just like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola and other forms of ginseng (Siberian and American for example), Panax ginseng is an adaptogen. Adaptogens are plants that can strengthen the body in the wake of physical and mental stress.
There are a number of research studies that have shown ginseng’s ability to reduce tiredness and fatigue. One of the largest was conducted in 90 men and women with chronic fatigue. For a month, the participants were randomly assigned to take either the supplement or a placebo. At the end of the study, it was found that those taking the supplement reported significantly less physical and mental lethargy (1).
This powerful botanical has also shown to help the recovery of cancer survivors. Daily supplementation for 8 weeks in the 64 participants markedly decreased fatigue, allowing them to do more physical activity and strengthen their body following the illness (2).
Nootropics are ingredients that can improve mental performance and this category of supplements have become increasingly popular in recent years. Students, office workers and older adults are just some examples of people who can benefit from nootropic supplements.
Korean ginseng is certainly a nootropic, given that research has shown that as well as reducing mental fatigue, it improves reaction times, concentration and processing speed too (3). These benefits seem to be accentuated when taken alongside Ginkgo Biloba, another nootropic herb (4).
The studies cited above were performed in young healthy adults, but more meaningful findings have been seen in older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. In 40 participants, it was discovered that 3 months of daily supplementation saw meaningful improvements in cognitive functioning and behavioural symptoms. These benefits were maintained 6 months later when the researchers performed the testing again (5).
With mental health issues rightfully becoming a big topic of conversation in recent years, scientists are always investigating how diet and lifestyle factors can improve our wellbeing. There is evidence from a 2002 study that Korean ginseng can help. For 4 weeks, researchers provided 200mg of ginseng per day or a placebo. At the end of the study, the participants receiving the supplement reported improved mental health, social functioning and overall quality of life compared to those receiving a placebo (6).Similar results have been seen in people with stress and anxiety (7).
Panax ginseng works to improve cognitive function and mental health through two key mechanisms. The ginsenosides, which are the active compounds of the plant, are structured similarly to certain hormones found naturally in the body and these ginsenosides have the ability to influence hormone receptors. These beneficial compounds also help to direct glucose into our cells to provide the fuel we need to function at our best (8).
One of the ways that adaptogens help strengthen the body is by supporting the immune system. One investigation showed that ginseng helped to amplify the benefits of the flu-jab. 227 volunteers were given either a 100mg supplement or a placebo every day for 12 weeks. After 4 weeks all 227 participants received the flu-jab.
In the following weeks, it was found that nearly 3 times as many people in the placebo group became ill compared to the ones that took the ginseng supplement. This shows that the daily supplement helped to improve the effectiveness of the vaccine. The scientists believe that this was down to the fact that the group taking the supplement saw a 2-fold increase in the amount of natural killer cells present in the blood (9). Natural killer cells are part of the adaptive immune system and help to protect the body against viral infections.
Panax ginseng is popularly taken by men due to its ability to improve erections. One study in 119 men with erectile dysfunction showed that 8 weeks of supplementation led to significant improvements in sexual function and a reduction in premature ejaculation (10).
Another study has shown ginseng to be as effective as prescription medication for erectile dysfunction, whilst a similar published investigation has reported that overall sexual satisfaction was improved (11,12). Experts believe that the ginsenosides within Korean ginseng exert their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in blood vessels, helping them to function normally. Similarly, this botanical can stimulate nitric oxide production which also helps blood flow by dilating blood vessels.
Blood Sugar Regulation
As type 2 diabetes is unfortunately such a common health condition now, affecting almost 10% of the world’s adults, there is obviously great interest in how it can be effectively managed. There are a number of studies showing that ginseng can provide meaningful benefits.
A meta-analysis published in 2016 showed that Korean ginseng supplements are beneficial for type 2 diabetes because not only do they reduce fasting blood sugar levels, they also improve insulin sensitivity (13). Being responsive to insulin is very important, given that this pancreatic hormone is responsible for shuttling excess glucose out of the blood and into the cells. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels can lead to a whole host of health complications as it damages cells throughout the body.
Meta-analysis studies are widely accepted to be the pinnacle of scientific evidence given that they pull together the results of numerous studies that attempted to answer the same research question and based on these come to a strong conclusion. So if a meta-analysis shows that something provides a meaningful benefit, you can be confident that this is a good representation of the research topic as a whole.
What is important to note is that these improvements in blood sugar regulation have been seen without the volunteers making other positive lifestyle changes. So it would be expected that pairing a ginseng supplement with a better diet and regular exercise would lead to even greater improvements.
How Much Should I Take?
It is very important before taking any supplement to understand what dose is going to provide the most benefit. This is much easier with vitamins and minerals as all governments provide recommended amounts and you can easily see what percentage of your daily amount a supplement provides. With botanical supplements however, there is no recommended dose and some supplement companies provide tablets and capsules that are unfortunately not strong enough to provide any real benefit.
With Korean ginseng, the research indicates that 200-400mg of extract is the sweet spot. However, this is not the only important thing to look out for. Earlier we mentioned how the benefits of ginseng are down to its concentration of ginsenosides. As the ginsenosides content is highest in the roots, always search for a 100% root extract that is standardised to contain a consistent level of ginsenosides. A lot of research studies have used a root extract which provides 10% ginsenosides.
Here at Brainpower Supplements, we are very proud to have just launched our Korean ginseng supplement that provides 300mg of root extract per daily serving and is standardised to provide 12% ginsenosides. What we are most proud of though is that our supplement is organic certified, something that very few Korean ginseng supplements are.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Before taking a supplement, it is a good idea to research any potential side effects. As Panax ginseng has been used for centuries for a whole host of different reasons, it is a good indication that it has a pretty good safety profile.
This has been confirmed by a study that looked at over 50 individual pieces of research into this botanical (14). As expected, it was reported that there were very few side effects experienced and the ones that were documented were typically mild. In the majority of cases, the side effects were related to stomach complaints like diarrhoea and cramps.
However there have also been rare cases of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) in type 2 diabetics which can be serious if not rectified quickly. For reasons like this, it is always recommended that you run it by your doctor or pharmacist before taking a new supplement, especially if you are on medication or have a medical condition.
Unlike some supplements that are surrounded by a lot of hype but do not stand up to scientific scrutiny, Korean ginseng has strong evidence to underpin its traditional use. So whether you are using it as a nootropic, to support mental health, boost libido or manage blood sugar levels, you can buy with the peace of mind that it is a tried and tested natural supplement.
Just remember to be wary of cheap extracts that are not 100% root and are not standardised to provide a high concentration of the all-important ginsenosides. If you have any further questions that our article doesn’t cover, then please reach out to one of the Brainpower Team. We are a friendly bunch who have a passion for nutrition and want to support our customers with the finest ingredients at doses that are going to provide a meaningful benefit.Sources