Pennington Nutrition Series
Healthier lives through education in nutrition and preventive medicine 2007 No. 8
G I N S E N G
Ginseng has been used for centuries in Chinese
medicine as an adaptogen, with gentle, non-
specific and broad effects. Its influence is slow
and cumulative. It is a general body tonic and a
herb that promotes longevity.
Types of Ginseng:
• American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
• Asian ginseng ( Panax ginseng)
• Siberian ginseng ( Eleutherococcus senticosus)
American and Siberian ginseng have a cooling
Fresh ginseng: plants less than 4 years old
effect compared to Asian ginseng which has a
White ginseng: plants that are 4-6 years old
Red ginseng: plants are more than 6 years old
Ginseng is grown in northern U.S. and is one of the
most valuable herbal medicine crops in North
Other herbs that are not true ginseng America.
but are used in similar manner:
Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng and does
Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis)
not contain ginsenosides, the active ingredients in
ginseng. Asian ginseng is also known as Korean
Indian Ginseng (Withiania somnifea)
ginseng, Red ginseng, or Wild Manchurian
Brazilian Ginseng (Pfaffia paniculata)
White Ginseng (Adenophora plymorpha)
Red Ginseng (Salvia miltiorrhiza)
Active components of Ginseng
Purple Ginseng (Polynopsis pilosula)
California Ginseng (Aralia Californica)
The active components of ginseng are the
ginsenosides, of which there are more
False Ginseng (Codonopsis pilosula)
than 30 known molecular structures. The
Prince ginseng (Pseudostellaria
most common ginsenosides are : Rb1,
Rb2, Rc, Rd, Re, Rf, Rg1, Rg3, and Rh1.
Fatigue and stress:
The different ginsenosides have varying effects on
the body. Rb1 ginsenosides are anti-stress, anti-
psychotic, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducing.
In Chinese medicine, ginseng is considered as an
adaptogenic. That is, it helps the body to adapt to
stressful conditions, whether the stress is physical
stress or psychological stress. The stress reducing
effect of ginsenosides is in part thought to be due
to the fact that ginsenosides seem to relax blood
vessels and this leads to blood pressure lowering
Ginseng seems to improve the quality of life and
improves alertness, ability to relax, appetite, and
sleep. Ginseng’s effects are subtle and slow. It
Ginseng acts slowly and broadly. An intake
improves physical stamina and ability to do work.
of ginseng may not result in significant
changes until 30 days to 3 months.
Ginseng can also improve recovery from illness.
Central Nervous system effects:
Ginsenosides have varied effects on the
central nervous system. Some are stimula-
tory while others have analgesic effect. It is
the opposing actions of the ginsenosides on
the central nervous system that contribute
to its adaptogenic actions.
Ginseng has been shown to increase blood
flow in the brain, protect nerve cells from
damage, and enhance nerve development,
thereby improving memory and learning.
The specific ginsenosides Rb1 and Rg1 are
thought to increase nerve growth and
protect nerve cells from damage.
Ginseng can be consumed as teas, as
Other ginsenosides act as an analgesic and
capsules and in herbal blends.
have a tranquilizing effect. Ginsenosides
Ginseng can be used as a complimentary
with depressing effect on the central
treatment to Western medications under
nervous system are Rb1, Rb2, and Rc. They
protect the central nervous system from
Check with your doctor first!
Ginseng is a potential anticancer agent. Ginsenosides
induce apoptosis or cell death, they inhibit cell growth
by preventing cell cycle progression and they have
antiangiogenic properties. Ginsenosides have steroid
like structures that reduce the action of carcinogenic
compounds. Ginsenosides also reduce inflammation, a
cause of many cancerous changes, whether it is
preserving DNA from oxidation or inactivation of nuclear
receptors. A ginsenoside Rb1 inhibits blood vessel
formation in cell cultures and reduces lung metastasis
Ginseng has blood thinning
from melanoma. Rh2 has been shown to reduce ovarian properties. Check with your doctor if
tumor growth and Rg3 can potentially be used as a
you are on medications such as
synergistic treatment for prostate cancer with its effect
coumarin or heparin.
Ginseng has various effects on the cardiovascular system.
Ginsenosides reduce platelet aggregation, blood
coagulation and enhance fibrinolysis. Administering
ginseng results in reduced heart rate and decreased
venous pressure. Ginseng intake results in a significant
decrease in stroke volume, cardiac output, and central
venous pressure. There is an increase in total peripheral
pressure. Ginseng causes vasorelaxation and promotes
the release of nitric oxide, an antioxidant. Overall, the
effect of ginseng is in reducing blood pressure.
Ginseng has anti-hyperglycemic tendencies.
Administration of ginsenosides to obese diabetic mice
resulted in significantly reduced glucose levels after 12
days whether the ginsenosides were injected or
administered orally. There was an improvement in blood
glucose level, an improvement in glucose tolerance and
reduction in body weight. Weight reduction may have
been due to increased body temperature and increased
Rb1 may cause birth defects. Rat embryos exposed to ginsenoside Rb1 experienced
birth defects. Excess ginseng intake can lead to over stimulation and lack of sleep. It
can also lead to nausea, diarrhea, euphoria, headaches and hyper– or hypotension.
Drug interactions with Ginseng
Ginseng should not be taken together with antipsychotids,
antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, blood
thinning medications, blood sugar control drugs, central nervous
system stimulating drugs, opioid analgesics, and alcohol.
The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is a world-
renowned nutrition research center.
To promote healthier lives through research and educa-
tion in nutrition and preventative medicine.
The Pennington Center has six priorities in research:
1. Clinical Obesity Research
America’s Pharmacist, August: 43-50, 2006.
British Journal of Pharmacology 134, 1159 -1165, 2001.
2. Experimental Obesity
Human Reproduction 18(10): 2166-2168, 2003
3. Functional Foods
British Journal of Pharmacology 152: 172–174, 2007.
4. Health and Performance Enhancement
Alternative Medicine Review, 9(3): 259-274, 2004.
5. Nutrition and Chronic Diseases
Hypertension 46: 406-411, 2005.
6. Nutrition and the Brain
Integrative Cancer Therapies 2: 13-33, 2003.
Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 26 (9):1104-1110, 2005.
The research fostered by these divisions can have a pro-
Phytomedicine 8 (11): 2007.
found impact on healthy living and on the prevention of
common chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer,
diabetes, hypertension and osteoporosis.
Pennington Nutrition Series No 8, 2007
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Heli J. Roy, PhD, RD
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