Ginseng is derived from the root of the Panax group of plants grown in the Far East and North America. According to traditional Chinese medicine, this ancient root, which has traditionally been used as a tonic, was believed to replenish energy and stamina.
Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘Panax ginseng supplements are believed to support the energy levels and cognitive function.
’A supplement may be especially beneficial for people with exam or work-related pressure as it may give you energy to keep you going as well as handle stress. Studies have shown that it may even have a calming effect.’
What does Panax ginseng do?
The root of Panax ginseng contains chemical components called ginsenosides, which are believed to be the active ingredient. It is believed to help improve energy levels and balance the release of stress hormones.
Some studies have shown Panax ginseng may benefit cognitive function. One trial found it improved some aspects of working memory and subjective rates of calmness in young adults. Another study found Panax ginseng improved working memory in adults aged 40 to 60. Other research at the University of Melbourne found Panax ginseng supplements significantly improved working memory in healthy young adults.
Tiredness and fatigue
Perhaps its most well-known benefit, Panax ginseng may help boost energy and reduce feelings of tiredness and fatigue. It is also thought to help with chronic fatigue syndrome, a serious condition which causes persistent fatigue (exhaustion) and affects around 250,000 people in the UK.
One study examined the effect of 1g or2g of Panax ginseng supplements per day in patients with idiopathic chronic fatigue (ICF), and compared them to a placebo group. The results showed that those who took 2g of ginseng felt significantly less fatigued than those on placebo, and mental fatigue symptoms were improved in all, despite some taking 1g and 2g respectively. It's believed this is partly due to the antioxidant properties of ginseng.
Getting Panax ginseng from your diet
The easiest way to include Panax ginseng in your diet is to take it in a supplement form. You can also drink Panax ginseng as a tea or a tincture, available from health food stores. It is also sometimes added to energy drinks.
Ginseng has an excellent safety record. However, it shouldn't be taken if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you suffer from an oestrogen-dependant condition. Ginseng isn't recommended for people with high blood pressure or an abnormality in heart rhythm, or if you're taking medication such as aspirin, warfarin, digoxin, tranquillisers or anti-depressants.
Most people do not develop side effects, but a few people have noticed headaches, insomnia or palpitations when taking ginseng. Do not take ginseng if you have a medical condition or are taking prescribed medication without first checking with a doctor or pharmacist.
A standard dose would be one tablet of 150mg of standardised extract (equivalent to 1,500mg of whole root). Check that the supplement you choose is standardised to contain guaranteed levels of ginsenosides. Some experts recommend you stop taking ginseng for a week every month and then resume your regular dose.