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
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
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
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.
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.