There are two main varieties of ginseng: American ginseng and Asian ginseng. Red ginseng, scientific name Panax ginseng, is the Asian variety of ginseng. It’s typically taken as an herbal supplement, but can also be steeped to make tea or used as a culinary spice.
But does red ginseng have proven health benefits? What benefits are actually shown in clinical research? Is the supplement form or the food form more likely to cause benefits? And how do real users describe the effects of red ginseng use?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review medical studies on red ginseng and highlight three research-backed benefits.
We'll give our take on the most effective way to take ginseng, share a real user's review and answer some frequently asked questions about the herb.
Benefit #1: Improved Cognition
What red ginseng is most 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 with the most research backing in medical studies.
A clinical trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that red ginseng extract improved mental performance and reduced mental fatigue during a series of cognitive challenges. The study design was very similar to an academic test, which suggests that ginseng may improve test performance.
Trial participants taking 200 milligrams (mg) of red ginseng experienced 50% less mental fatigue than those taking placebo pills, and committed 20% fewer test errors.
An animal study from 2016 elucidated one reason why red ginseng may be neuroprotective and improve cognition. It contains something called Compound K which prevented damage to brain cells involved with memory. The study authors 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, published in the Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy journal, found that adults who had consumed ginseng for more than five years had significantly improved cognitive function compared to those who didn't consume ginseng, 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 modern 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 clinical trials on the use of ginseng to treat fatigue. The study authors described ginseng as a “promising” treatment because “seven out of ten of the studies reviewed showed significant improvements in fatigue scores.”
A clinical trial on red ginseng published in the Journal of AOAC International proved that the energy-boosting effects of ginseng aren’t limited to those with chronic fatigue, but can benefit healthy adults as well.
Professional athletes who took 500 mg of ginseng experienced less exercise-related fatigue. The researchers suggested that ginseng's impact on metabolism caused this result: “These findings suggest that metabolomics is a potential tool for the evaluation of the antifatigue effect of [red] ginseng.”
A 2012 clinical trial examined the effects 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.
Benefit #3: Improved Mood
Red ginseng has been studied for its effects on mood in both depressed and healthy patients. The supplement possesses the following qualities: anti-inflammatory action, regulation of HPA axis, and effects on neurotransmitters.
Researchers documented a general improvement in quality of life in those taking ginseng in a clinical trial published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy journal.
Those taking red ginseng had higher social functioning and mental health scores than those taking placebo pills. 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 2010 clinical trial found that red ginseng improved calmness and mood in healthy volunteers.
An animal study suggests one potential mechanism for red ginseng’s mood and mental health stabilization effects. 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 which may be associated with depression when its levels in the brain fall below a normal range.
A YouTube video from popular health influencer Thomas DeLauer highlights some of the other research-backed benefits of red ginseng:
Our Red Ginseng Recommendations
As stated in the intro of this article, red ginseng can be taken either as a dietary supplement or as a culinary spice.
Most of the medical research that we've reviewed on red ginseng involved an extracted version. This means that the active chemical constituents like ginsenosides are concentrated for a more potent effect.
Illuminate Labs sells a Red Ginseng Extract supplement for only $15 on a subscription basis. Our supplements are all third-party tested to ensure purity and label accuracy, which is especially important for herbal supplements grown outdoors. Test results can be found in the product images.
Real, Unsponsored Red Ginseng User Review
A YouTube creator named "Your Inception" tried red ginseng and explained the effects he experienced:
Red Ginseng FAQ
Is red ginseng a blood thinner?
Ginseng appears to be a mild blood thinner based on medical research. A clinical trial found that it reduced the effect of pharmaceutical medication Warfarin, which is prescribed for blood thinning.
We recommend that patients on blood thinning medication speak with their doctor before taking ginseng supplements.
Does red 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 red 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 major side effects, patients with ED may consider speaking with their doctor about ginseng treatment before starting pharmaceutical medications.
Does red ginseng work for weight loss?
There are some studies suggesting ginseng supplementation may aid weight loss efforts. One study out of South Korea found that obese women taking ginseng had improved weight loss relative to controls. However it was a small sample size study, and there is certainly not robust evidence suggesting that ginseng is a primary driver for weight loss in humans.
Does red 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 red 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 Red Ginseng Extract supplement. If you take ginseng regularly, ask your manufacturer for testing to prove it’s pure and not high in heavy metals or other contaminants like pesticides.
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.
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 only 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. Some ginseng extract supplements are standardized for ginsenosides, meaning a minimum quantity of this chemical compound 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 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 considered 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” arose 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 Red Ginseng?
No. Indian Ginseng is another term for ashwagandha, which is a totally different plant with different health benefits. The name "Indian Ginseng" stems from the fact that ashwagandha has adaptogenic effects like red ginseng.