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How Ginseng Works - Stress

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Ginseng was the most important medicine of all in ancient China (and perhaps still is in modern times). They used it to retain their youth, as well as for specific illnesses. It was a calming medicine, that gave them balance and replenished their energy. They were introduced to the American variety 200 years ago (Daniel Boone make his fortune from this trade to China). The Chinese found American ginseng even better at calming the body than their local ginseng - it "nourished the Yin". Symptoms of Yin deficiency are basically those of stress - such as heart palpitations, nervousness, dry throat and gastric burning. Today American ginseng is known in China as the cooling ginseng, because of its calming effects.

Ginseng - stress Native Americans used American ginseng for nervousness, loss of appetite, indigestion, mental exhaustion and to promote natural sleep. And as in ancient China, ginseng was also an aphrodisiac. They even liked to carry a dry root in their pocket as a good luck charm - there's nothing like positive thinking to help cope with stress.

Stress and Ginseng in the Modern Scientific World

Research on how ginseng helps with stress is remarkably modern. Very little was published before 2000. In 2004 the Iwate Medical University in Japan published the results of years of work. They found that substances in ginseng directly affected the adrenal glands, where the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisone are made. It was the saponins in ginseng that had the effect, and they found the nerve messenger chemical acetylcholine was involved (this chemical is also important for good memory - see this section in our website). Basically, acetylcholine also helps sodium ions pass into cells via "cation channels", a process needed for the adrenal gland to make stress hormones. Ginseng saponins (and one of their metabolites creatively dubbed M4) retards this process and slows down the stress hormones. Of the 30 or so saponins in ginseng, the kind called protopanaxatriols had the biggest effect, especially Rg2.

In the research world there's a pretty standardised way to measure stress. It's called the chronic unpredictable stress model, and the unfortunate rodents subjected to it develop high blood cortisone levels. Their adrenal glands are drained of stress hormones, because they're already pumped them out into the body. Researchers have found that treating mice with American ginseng before they were subjected to chronic stress prevented these stress reactions from occurring. But not after - so it seemed ginseng was good at preventing stress but not reversing the effect of previous stress.

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

If you suffer from prolonged stress and anxiety your adrenal glands can become exhausted. They've had to work too hard making all those stress hormones. Although it affects millions of people, it is often unrecognised and can be hard to diagnose. The main symptoms are general unwellness, tiredness and vague "grey feelings" that a good night's sleep doesn't cure. Japanese researchers describe a range of symptoms including poor appetite, dyspepsia, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and depressed immunity. They suggest that ginseng can help by easing the workload on the adrenal gland. Watch this space for more on this.

Some Real Life Examples

These case reports were published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine in 2001 (Vol 29, Nos 3-4, pp 567-569). The patients were seen at the Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago.

Case 1 - 28 year old woman
Suffering from stomach cramps and loss of appetite for six months, her doctor treated her with antihistamines. These did not work, so they explored her stomach by endoscope. Finding disease-causing bacteria, she was put on antibiotics for several weeks. After none of this worked, she then began taking American ginseng. After three to four days her cramps stopped and she felt much better. She continued to take American ginseng and made a full recovery.

Case 2 - 27 year old woman
Over a period of six months, she began losing weight, having trouble sleeping, and had irregular menstrual cycles. Her doctor couldn't find anything on examination, X-rays and blood tests, including liver function tests. She then began taking American ginseng. After a week she began to sleep regularly and her appetite returned to normal. She continued to take American ginseng on a regular basis and her symptoms completely disappeared.

Case 3 - 53 year old man
Had a history of high blood pressure (155/95) and suffered chest pains for the previous three months. He was diagnosed with early stage coronary artery disease but didn't need surgery. After taking American ginseng for two weeks, his chest pains disappeared. One month later his blood pressure was 145/85, and after five months he was still doing well. Note: excellent later research shows that American ginseng has a neutral effect on blood pressure (but does help the heart and arteries).

Of Mice and Men

Here's some research from the Chinese Academy of Medical Science and published in 1998 in Yao Xue Xue Bao 33(3):184-7. Please don't repeat this experiment at home!

Male mice were stressed by hanging them upside down every day from 9am to 2pm. On day 10 day of this "treatment", they mixed them with female mice for two hours from 7pm to 9pm. Not surprisingly, the repeated hanging stress reduced their sexual behaviour and testosterone levels!

BUT, male mice were then treated with one of the main components of Ginseng (Rb1). They hung them in exactly the same horrible way. Bingo - they had normal sexual interest and mounting behaviour and normal testosterone levels. Rb1 helped protect them from the negative effects of stress, and carry on life as normal! More humane research in the USA has found similar results.

Please note:
Any scientific information has been assembled by Simply Ginseng from reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals. We have tried to ensure it is clear, balanced and without bias. This information should not be construed as claims for any of our products. Always consult your health care professional.Use only as directed. Always read the label.
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