Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD
There are two main varieties of ginseng: American ginseng and Asian ginseng. Red ginseng is the Asian variety of ginseng. It’s commonly referred to as an herbal supplement, but the medicinal part of the plant is actually its roots. Ginseng preparations for dietary supplements are made from an extraction of the chemical compounds in the roots.
Since red ginseng is one of the most popular herbal supplements globally, it’s important for consumers to know what claims about its health benefits are based on sound medical research.
Benefit #1: Improved Cognition
What red ginseng is known for is its ability to improve short-term cognition. This means that it can improve mental processing and capacity for a short duration, similar to caffeine. This is the benefit that’s the most researched in the medical literature in regards to red ginseng.
A placebo-controlled study performed on healthy young volunteers found that red ginseng extract improved mental performance and reduced mental fatigue during a series of cognitive challenges. Link to the study here. The study design was very similar to an academic test, which suggests that ginseng could improve test performance in students.
A mouse study from 2016 (link to study here) elucidated one reason why red ginseng may be neuroprotective and improve cognition. It contains a compound called Compound K which inhibited memory and mitochondrial damage induced by the researchers. The study concluded that Compound K “could be useful in prevention and treatment of reactive oxygen species-induced neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
Another recent and fascinating study on red ginseng (link to study here) was an observational study out of South Korea published in the Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy journal. The study found that adults who had consumed ginseng for more than five years and significantly improved cognitive function relative to the control group, even after adjusting for potentially confounding factors like alcohol intake, smoking, socioeconomic status and more.
Benefit #2: Improved Energy
Whether you’re generally healthy or have chronic fatigue, most people in the industrialized world have times when they’re low on energy. Red ginseng has the ability to improve energy without the jitters that accompany caffeine intake. Let’s look at some of the research.
A meta-study from 2018 reviewed ten separate clinical trials on the use of ginseng to treat fatigue. Link to the study here. They found that it was a “promising” treatment because “seven out of ten of the studies reviewed showed significant improvements in fatigue scores.” The researchers also noted that the intake of ginseng had no adverse effect on the trial participants.
A study on red ginseng published in the Journal of AOAC International (link to study here) proved that the anti-fatigue effects of ginseng aren’t limited to those with chronic fatigue. The study participants were professional athletes. Taking 500 mg capsules of ginseng was effective in reducing exercise-related fatigue. The researchers suggested that it was the metabolic affects of ginseng which caused this result: “These findings suggest that metabolomics is a potential tool for the evaluation of the antifatigue effect of [red] ginseng.”
A study from 2012 (link to study here) examined the effect of red ginseng on patients diagnosed with multiple-sclerosis-induced fatigue. The patients took 500 mg daily of ginseng, and after three months their fatigue decreased by 32%, while the patients taking placebo pills saw their fatigue increase. The fact that red ginseng alone could have such a strong effect on those with a chronic disease like multiple sclerosis is incredible.
Benefit #3: Improved Mood
Red ginseng has the ability to not only improve mood in those who are depressed, but also in healthy controls. It has this effect due to the following qualities: anti-inflammatory action, regulation of HPA axis, effect on neurotransmitter system.
Researchers found a general improvement in quality of life in those taking ginseng in a 2002 study (link to study here). Those taking red ginseng scored higher in social functioning and mental health metrics compared with controls. It’s notable that these effects were seen at the four-week mark but not the eight-week mark, which suggests it may be best to cycle ginseng use for maximum effectiveness.
A study in Human Psychopharmacology Journal from 2010 (link to study here) found that red ginseng aided calmness and mood in healthy volunteers. This study was less extensive than the previous (data was only collected on two separate days), but the effects were still significant at specific points (2.5 h and 4 h on day 1 for both test metrics).
An animal study found one potential mechanism for red ginseng’s mood and mental health stabilization effects (link to study here). The study examined various proteins and neurotransmitter levels in the brains of depressed mice, and found that red ginseng exerted an antidepressant effect by normalizing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. BDNF is a protein known to be associated with depression when its levels in the brain fall outside of a normal range.
How to Choose a Red Ginseng
When choosing a red ginseng to take as a supplement, it’s important that you consider its purity. All of the health benefits of a supplement are worthless if it’s high in heavy metals and other contaminants. Illuminate Labs is the only U.S. supplement manufacturer which tests all of our products at a third-party laboratory against European Union benchmarks, and publishes the test results right on each product page. Our Red Ginseng Extract capsules are guaranteed for purity and label accuracy. Don’t believe us? You can see the test results yourself on the page.
Frequently Asked Questions About Ginseng
Does Ginseng Work for Hair Growth?
There is preliminary and in-vitro research suggesting that ginseng may be effective to prevent or slow hair loss, but there is no evidence that ginseng supplementation can increase hair growth in humans who are balding.
Does Ginseng Work for ED?
There is preliminary research suggesting red ginseng may be effective for erectile dysfunction (ED), due to its effect on blood flow. The research isn’t as robust as ginseng’s effects on other conditions like fatigue, but considering there are no side effects, patients with ED may consider trying ginseng before pharmaceutical medications.
Does Ginseng Work for Weight Loss?
There are some small studies suggesting ginseng supplementation may aid weight loss efforts. One study out of South Korea found that obese women taking ginseng had weight loss relative to controls. However it was a small sample size study, and there is certainly not robust evidence suggesting that ginseng can be a primary driver for weight loss in humans.
Does Ginseng Work for Diabetes?
There is a significant amount of research suggesting ginseng is an effective anti-hyperglycemic (blood sugar normalization compound). Its effects are not as powerful as pharmaceutical diabetic treatments, so it’s typically used as an adjuvant (complementary) treatment.
Where Can I Find Pure Ginseng?
Regardless of manufacturer claims, the purity of a ginseng supplement can only be proven with test results. Illuminate Labs provides third-party test results for our Panax Ginseng Extract. If you take ginseng regularly, ask your manufacturer for testing to prove it’s pure and not high in heavy metals or other contaminants.
Does Ginseng Affect Blood Pressure?
Two meta-studies have investigated the use of ginseng in populations with high blood pressure. One found no effect and the other found a modest reduction in blood pressure. Given that there are other herbal products with significant effects on blood pressure, ginseng shouldn’t be a primary consideration for lowering blood pressure naturally.
Is Ginseng Safe During Pregnancy?
A meta-study published in the Journal of Population Therapeutics examined the safety of ginseng supplementation during pregnancy, and concluded that there is no evidence of adverse effect. However, any supplement should be taken with extreme caution during pregnancy, and with the approval of a doctor.
What are Ginsenosides?
Ginsenosides are the active chemical constituent in the ginseng plant genus Panax. They are the primary drivers of the health benefits of ginseng. Most ginseng supplements are standardized for ginsenosides, meaning a minimum quantity of these chemicals is ensured in the finished product.
Do Ginkgo and Ginseng Have Synergistic Effects?
A 2019 study in the Brain and Behavior Journal found that there was in fact a synergistic effect when supplementing ginkgo biloba and ginseng together. The researchers found that the combination led to improvements in physiological and cognitive function.
Does Ginseng Cause Anxiety?
As an herbal stimulant, ginseng may cause anxiety in those predisposed to this condition. For those with anxiety considering supplementing ginseng, it may be useful to try ginseng powder before trying ginseng extract, since the latter form is more concentrated. Ginseng powder will have milder effects.
What is Eleuthero?
Eleuthero, or Siberian Ginseng, is a totally separate plant genus from red (Panax) ginseng. It has different properties and is more of an immune stimulator.
What is Korean Red Ginseng?
This is just another name for Red Ginseng. “Korean Red Ginseng,” “Red Ginseng,” “Asian Ginseng,” “Panax Ginseng” are all words for the same botanical species.
What is Malaysian Ginseng?
Malaysian ginseng actually isn’t ginseng at all. It’s a term for Tonkgat Ali, which is a totally separate plant species from ginseng. The term “Malaysian Ginseng” comes from the fact that both plants are thought of as energy-boosters.
What is Black Ginseng?
Black ginseng is made by processing red ginseng through multiple rounds of heat-treatment. The treatment causes chemical changes in the ginseng. There is less medical research on black ginseng than Panax or American ginseng.
What is White Ginseng?
White ginseng is unprocessed Panax ginseng. Red ginseng (the more popular variety) comes from the same Panax ginseng being aged and undergoing minimal processing. White ginseng can be harvested immediately after maturity.
What is Hong Sam Won?
Hong Sam Won is an energy drink popular in South Korea made with Red Ginseng. It contains no caffeine and has a distinct bright red flavor.
Is Indian Ginseng the same as Asian Ginseng?
No. Indian Ginseng is another term for ashwagandha, which is a totally different plant with different health benefits. The name "Indian Ginseng" came from the fact that ashwagandha has adaptogenic effects like Asian Ginseng.
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