The one ginseng to rule them all.
Panax Ginseng claims the vaunted title of “True Ginseng,” as it is an actual member of the Ginseng plant family, boasts the most significant scientific research into its use, and confers a more well-understood array of benefits than American Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, and other varieties.
Just what secrets does this traditional herb hold?
What is Panax Ginseng?
The perennial plant Panax Ginseng offers a range of cognitive and physical boosts when used as a supplement. Many of these effects are well known, as they have been propagated through popular media.
Chances are, you’ve already heard that Ginseng can improve your mood, enhance some brain functions, and bolster your immunity.
What you might not know is that there is a growing body of evidence showing that it may also reduce blood glucose levels and help control symptoms of menopause (among other things).
Still, there are some claims that you might want to take with a grain of salt—erections and testosterone, for example. Sure, there is data suggesting that it may boost testosterone levels somewhat and may have a secondary effect on erectile function.
The overblown talk of using Ginseng to become an unrivaled “sex god,” though, might be something you want to scrutinize closely.
Then there are more fanciful claims that the jury is out on: cancer protection, hangovers, HIV treatment. There might be some preliminary or tangential evidence supporting these claims, but more study is needed before you can take them as a legit certainty.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of credible reasons to consider adding Ginseng to your daily routine, something that isn’t difficult to do. Ginseng is legal and readily available in raw, powdered, or capsulated form.
While the NIH cautions against using it long-term (and harps on the fact that there is no conclusive evidence support any of its supposed health benefits), plenty of people swear by its efficacy.
In addition to its scientific name, Panax Ginseng, this variety also goes by the common names Asian Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, and Oriental Ginseng.
Ginseng comes in many forms, and there’s no firmly established standard dose. That made it difficult to lock down how much to take and what variety to use.
Normally, I’m a fan of mixing stuff into tea, but this time I didn’t feel like measuring things out on the scale. I went with the 300mg capsules and started to my trials.
Day one, I started with a lower dose. I tried it early in the morning and took it with no food to ensure that it would work quickly. I had read that 200-400 milligrams could trigger some of the cognitive benefits, but in my case I felt…nothing.
I read further and discovered that the cognitive and mood boosting effects were thought to be linked to Ginseng’s anti-fatigue properties and ability to counteract “acute mental stress.” Ah.
I commenced round two of my tests, waiting until I was tired and then trying out a similar dose. I noticed a slight uptick in my alertness levels, but nothing as powerful as caffeine and not as focus-inducing as something like Modafinil.
I then read that you have to take the Ginseng throughout the day to maximize some of the effects, so I tried three similar doses spread out and noticed that I was able to remain sharp when engaging in taxing mental tasks for longer than normal.
By the end of the day, I still got tired, but I didn’t feel like I was crashing, just coming down gently.
I can’t comment on the anti-menopausal effects (for obvious reasons). I don’t suffer from ED, so I can’t speak to those abilities of the Ginseng (though, as we’ll get into, there’s some evidence to believe it works).
As for the long term effects like decreasing blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and antioxidants. I’d need more time to see if they were all they were cracked up to be.
You’ll find some conflicting reports from across the net. Some will readily claim that Ginseng offers some intense acute effects that feel like a powerful mood booster/cognitive supplement.
Most of these reports, though, are accompanied with the caveat that they took well above the standard range of dosages.
From folks that stick to tried-and-true Ginseng amounts, you’ll find a more measured array of responses, with the most common being similar to my experience: a heightened ability to perform difficult mental tasks and an even level of increased energy.
No crazy performance peaks, no awful crashes either. It’s no wonder drug. They still get tired. But the ability to get back on task is improved noticeably.
As usual, Reddit r/Nootropics is the place to go if you want anecdotal personal experiences (take with a grain of salt, of course).
Benefits and effects
The list of supposed benefits is long and far-reaching. There is no way we could cover them all, and many have little evidence behind them. We can touch on some of the most notable studied effects, however.
This is the one that most people crave most. Take Ginseng, receive a mental boost. It can function this way, but there are stipulations. One study, “The Effects Of Panax Ginseng On Quality Of Life” determined that:
“P. ginseng improves aspects of mental health and social functioning after four weeks of therapy, although these differences attenuate with continued use.”
The subjects that took Ginseng did have an increase in mental functions over the placebo group, but after eight weeks this change became insignificant. It’s possible that the boost evens out after a period of a few weeks. Other studies have shown similar mixed results.
They say that Ginseng will boost your mood. It’s supposed to make you mellow, relaxed, and better able to focus without stress. One study found that Ginseng might have an effect on well-being, as some of the subjects in the study showed a general trend towards increased calmness. Another study, however, found different results.
The aptly titled, “Ginseng Does Not Enhance Psychological Well-Being In Healthy Young Adults,” found that “Ginseng supplementation had no effect on positive affect, negative affect, or total mood disturbance.” Adding that:
“The present findings do not support claims that chronic ginseng supplementation–at either its clinically recommended level or at twice that level–enhances affect or mood in healthy young adults.”
The anecdotal evidence is still out there, but researchers have been able to reproduce this effect in the lab as of yet.
Combat Erectile Dysfunction
This has been well studied, and all of the studies that I found had similar conclusions. The verdict? Ginseng in amounts of 2-3 grams daily can help those with erectile dysfunction get it up.
We’ll take a look at one study in particular, “Study Of The Efficacy Of Korean Red Ginseng In The Treatment Of Erectile Dysfunction.” With a group size of 60 patients, they noted that those given a dosage of 3 grams daily scored “significant improvement” on the International Index of Erectile Function after treatment. Their conclusion:
“Our data show that KRG can be an effective alternative to the invasive approaches for treating male ED.”
As I mentioned, the list goes on and on. There have been plenty of studies on the effects of Panax Ginseng, and if you want to check more of them out, feel free to do so. Some of the benefits are mild, but interesting to read about nonetheless.
How It Works
There are many compounds within Ginseng that go to work on the body. The most important, according to professionals, are the Ginsenosides.
The “Pharmacology Of Ginsenosides” provides a nice primer on exactly that, if you were interested in delving into the science.
It is believed that Ginsenosides have a wide range of effects on the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, and immune system, leading to benefits for the body and mind that have been observed in humans.
The interaction of Ginsenosides with glucose, for instance, is one hypothesis about its ability to affect energy levels and focus. The increased blood flow, on the other hand, is the most common explanation for the erectile benefits afforded by Ginseng.
You’ll notice the acute benefits of Ginseng shortly after taking it, and they last throughout the day if you spread it out into smaller doses.
Some of the other effects take time to build and require that you continue taking Ginseng for a few weeks before you see any progress. As mentioned, some of these effects attenuate with time.
You don’t have to take Ginseng with food, but you will have to watch your doses as different ranges seem to work differently.
You can achieve mild effects through doses of 200-400 milligrams. You might feel slightly perkier, but nothing amazing. For increased cognitive function and all-day sharpness, three doses of 400 milligrams throughout the day seem to be the way to go.
Those seeking to combat erectile dysfunction require more Ginseng, about 3 grams daily spread out in even doses.
There are side effects, but most are mild. These include the standard supplement woes: agitation, diarrhea, headaches, nervousness, etc.
In rare cases, more severe side effects will present themselves. These include allergic rashes, abnormal heartbeat, intense changes in blood sugar, insomnia, and an exacerbation of autoimmune disorders like MS.
Women who are pregnant are advised against taking Ginseng, as there is some evidence to show that it can cause birth defects and disrupt breast feeding.
As researchers don’t understand how the herb affects children, they too are recommended to stay away for safety reasons.
It depends on your end goals, but users have found a few helpful stacks that boost the effects of Ginseng or complement it with other useful qualities.
Ginseng & Mucuna Pruriens
The Mucuna is another herb that boosts neurotransmitter availability in the brain, specifically dopamine and serotonin. These enhance the cognitive benefits of Ginseng, as well as adding an increase to mood and calmness.
Use your Ginseng as normal, and add a 200-milligram dose of Mucuna to see the additional benefits.
Ginseng & Caffeine
If you want to reap the energy benefits and add more of a “high octane” boost, Caffeine is the way to do it. A cup of coffee along with your typical Ginseng dose will give you a load of upfront energy that tapers off to a steady level once the caffeine dies down. Alternatively, you could mix some Ginseng with a cup of tea for a milder effect if you so choose.
Ginseng & Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo’s effects are still being debated, but those that feel it’s helpful also say it stacks well with Ginseng to create a stronger cognitive effect. The normal Ginseng dose along with 350 milligrams of Ginkgo should do the trick.
Ginseng doesn’t have the market on brain-boosting herbs cornered. Be sure to check out these alternatives:
The Ginkgo root is used to cure all sorts of “thinking disorders” from Alzheimer’s to depression. Mankind has been using it for thousands of years as an herbal medicine, and the current understanding is that the manner in which it increases blood flow has benefits throughout the entire body.
Another traditional Chinese herb used to increase physical vigor and cognitive vitality. It has some neuroprotective effects and is believed to reduce fatigue and allow for greater performance in stressful situations.
For those looking for increased circulation and the benefits that come with it, Ginger is another suitable alternative. It can be mixed into tea or soups, tastes pleasant, regulates a number of functions throughout the body.
A good choice if you’re a fan of the “all natural” stuff.
Unlike some other supplements, it’s clear that Ginseng does have a noticeable and researched effect on the body.
There’s more work to be done to determine how deep some of the unproven health claims go, but at the least, we know it can affect energy levels, has an influence on mood, and can help guys with ED overcome their issue.
As a daily supplement, I think it’s fine, but it’s also important to keep in mind that some of the benefits may trail off after a while, necessitating a break.