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Ginseng – The Plant That Gives Back

Fresh Ginseng Root

Founded in the mountains of Manchuria, China over 5,000 years ago, Panax ginseng quickly became popularly known for its ability to supply those who eat it with strength and a feeling of rejuvenation. As time passed, Ginseng became so widely demanded that international trade was created for the plant, allowing it to be exchanged for Chinese silk and medicine. By the early 1900’s, Ginseng had become so desired that the demand could not be met by wild supply, forcing Korea to begin cultivation of the plant for commercial purposes, which still continues to this day.

According to Chinese medicine, Chinese and Korean ginsengs have slightly different properties, despite being the same plant simply cultivated in different regions. The two different types of ginseng are red and white; white simply being the powdered or dried root of Korean ginseng, while red is steamed and dried with heat or through sunlight. According to Chinese herbalism, red ginseng is believed to be slightly stronger and more stimulating in the body than white.

Overall, the benefits of ginseng have not been extensively researched, but many studies show that ginseng does have a positive impact on the body. Many people take ginseng in hopes of naturally reducing blood sugar, preventing colds and the flu, treating heart disease, fatigue, blood pressure and even cancer. On average, it takes about eight weeks in order for the full effect of ginseng to take effect.

The Multi-Million Dollar Market of Ginseng

Fast-forward to modern day, and you will find that Ginseng is now being distributed throughout 35 countries in the world. The exact accuracy of the world Ginseng market is unknown, as there are no accurate statistics on production and distribution amount from each country. Generally speaking, the countries which produce the most ginseng are Korea, China, Canada and the US, with their total fresh ginseng production being approximately 79,769 tons, making it more than 99% of 80,080 tons, the total ginseng production around the world.

In total, the world ginseng market is estimated to be worth over $2 million. From this, the size of the Korean market is over $1 million, making Korea the largest distributor in the world. Due to the global increase in healthy foods and alternative medicine, the consumer market of ginseng is expected to continuously expand throughout the years.

Benefits and Side Effects of Ginseng

Ginseng is commonly regarded as having the ability to enhance and restore normal well-being, and is one of the most common herbal remedies in the world today. Ginseng is traditionally known for its ability to aid numerous medical conditions; however, there is little scientific research to support the effectiveness of ginseng towards these ailments.

A study done by the Mayo Clinic showed that use of Ginseng helped cancer patients with feelings of fatigue. Each day, these patients were given a capsule containing 2,000 milligrams of ginseng. Not much progress had been made initially, but the study concluded that by the eight-week mark, there was a 20-point improvement in fatigue in the patients, measured on a 100-point standardized fatigue scale.

Researchers writing in the BioMed Central’s Journal of Translational Medicine have shown that the herb contains anti-inflammatory effects. A team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong have shown that Ginseng contains seven ginsenosides, which shows immune-supressive effects. These ginsenosides target different levels of immunological activity, contributing to the diverse actions of ginseng in humans.

An experiment performed by the Laboratory of Experimental Pathology in Seoul, Korea had linked the use of Ginseng to a lower risk of cancer. For users who had consumed fresh ginseng extract, the risk of lip, oral, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, lung and ovary cancer were reduced significantly.

Taking 3 grams of American ginseng up to two hours before a meal can lower blood sugar after a meal in patients with type 2 diabetes. However, it seems that larger doses do not seem to have a greater effect.  Taking 100-200 mg of American ginseng by mouth for 8 weeks might also help pre-meal blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.

During flu season, taking 200mg twice daily for 3-4 months has been shown to prevent cold or flu symptoms in adults between the age of 18 and 65. When infections do occur, ginseng extract also seems to help make symptoms milder and last a shorter length of time.

Ginseng has been shown to have the potential to boost immune function, lower cholesterol, increase antioxidant capacity and mental acuity, and improve reproductive and hormonal disturbances.

How is Ginseng consumed?

Ginseng has the potential to be consumed in a number of ways. Although considered a medicinal herb, it is also incorporated into both cooking and teas. Whole ginseng root, ginseng tea cut, and ginseng slices are most commonly used in soups and teas. Alternatively, these same items can be both eaten and ‘chewed on’ without any preparation.

Dosage of ginseng varies based on the desired result of consumption. For general preventative medicine purposes, doses of 200 to 400mg daily are recommended. For the purpose of reducing blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, taking 3 grams up to 2 hours before a meal is correct. For preventing upper respiratory infections such as the common cold or flu, 200mg of ginseng extract is recommended twice a day.

American ginseng contains ginsenosides that affect insulin levels in the body, while also lowering blood sugar.

What are its side effects?

When taken by mouth, ginseng can cause side effects such as diarrhea, itching, insomnia, nervousness and headache. In certain individuals, ginseng may also cause rapid heartbeat, decreased blood pressure and increased blood pressure. For those with diabetes, it is possible that ginseng may lower blood sugar too much. For those with schizophrenia, high doses of ginseng have been linked with sleep problems and agitation.

There have been few reports of severe reactions and a very low incidence of adverse events reported in clinical trials. Allergic reactions have also been reported.

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