Health Benefits of Korean Ginseng

Ginseng in Korea (Image from Wikimedia Commons)Korean ginseng, also known as Asian ginseng, refers to Panax ginseng that grows in East Asian countries including Korea, China, Japan, and Eastern Russia. Its American counterpart is Panax quinquefolius, popularly known as American ginseng. Although there are different species under the Panax genus, Asian and American ginseng are the most popular. Both of them contain ginsenosides, active compounds that are believed to give ginseng its medicinal properties. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is marketed as a cheaper alternative for Asian and American ginseng but it is entirely different plant (distant relative of Panax) with different effects. In addition, Siberian ginseng doesn’t contain ginsenosides which are the bioactive compounds found in Asian and Korean ginseng.

The most valuable part of the ginseng plant is the taproot which looks like human body with stringy shoots for the arms and legs. It takes six years for the ginseng root to reach maturity. Because of high demand for Korean ginseng, it is now being cultivated for mass production. Korean ginseng that grows in the wild is very rare to find today.

Red ginseng (unpeeled root, steamed before drying) and white ginseng (dried, peeled) are available in liquid extracts as well as in powders or capsules. Dried ginseng root can also be boiled in water to make a decoction. Korean ginseng products are sold online and in drug stores, specialty stores, and even in supermarkets. Korean ginseng extract is also added to different supplements.

For thousands of years, Korean ginseng has been used for various medicinal purposes in Korea, China, Japan, and other parts of Asia. It is one of the most valuable and highly priced herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Korean ginseng is traditionally used as aphrodisiac, adaptogen, and as cure for sexual dysfunction. The number of health benefits attributed to Korean ginseng is increasing as scientists study its effectiveness in treating various human diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Only few scientific studies have been conducted to test the medicinal effects of Korean ginseng extract. Although more studies are needed, the results of preliminary studies on Korean ginseng medicinal properties look promising. Below are some of the health benefits of Korean ginseng.

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Health Benefits of Korean Ginseng

• Active compounds found in Korean ginseng include ginsenosides and saponins. In addition to these two compounds, glycans, polysaccharides, peptides, maltol, flavonoids, vitamins, and essential oil are also found in Korean ginseng extract. Each of these compounds has beneficial effects to human.

• Studies show that Korean ginseng extract is an immune booster. It helps the body fight infection. It has been found that ginseng increases the number of immune system cells (e.g. leukocytes) and improves the immune system’s response to flu vaccine.

• Korean ginseng contains powerful antioxidants that get rid of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules that can damage the DNA and causes cardiovascular diseases. It has been found that Korean ginseng can lower blood pressure.

• Another effect of Korean ginseng is lowering the level of low density lipoproteins (LDL, bad cholesterol) in the blood. LDL is linked to the disease atherosclerosis or the deposition of cholesterol plaques in inner linings of the arteries, causing blood flow obstruction resulting to heart attack and stroke.

• The reason why Korean ginseng is a popular time-honored aphrodisiac is its ability to improve sexual performance, enhances libido, and cure erectile dysfunction. In animal studies, Korean ginseng has been found to increase sperm count, sexual activity, and sexual performance. It also enhance sperm motility – a very important sperm quality that a man should have.

• Several studies suggest that Korean ginseng may reduce the risk of some types of cancer such as lung, ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, and liver cancer. However, it should not be concluded that ginseng causes the reduction of cancer risk; other environmental factors such as food and lifestyle may have contributed to the reduced risk of developing cancer. More studies are needed to find out the relationship of ginseng use and reduced cancer risk.

• People who regularly use ginseng supplements report significant improvements in the quality of their lives in terms of energy, sex life, sleep, personal satisfaction, and well-being. Korean ginseng is sometimes called an “adaptogen,” something that helps the body cope with physical and mental stress.

• Korean ginseng is also a mental booster. People who use ginseng say that they feel more alert. They also reports improved thinking, learning, concentration, and memory. It is best when Korean ginseng supplements are taken with Ginkgo biloba supplements. Ginkgo biloba promotes brain health.

• Several studies suggest that Korean ginseng may lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients.

Side Effects of Korean Ginseng

When taken in high doses, Korean ginseng can cause sleeplessness and nervousness. Other side effects include restlessness, anxiety, euphoria, vomiting, diarrhea, nosebleed, headache, vaginal bleeding, and breast pain. Korean ginseng should not be taken by pregnant and breastfeeding women. Some people can be allergic to Korean ginseng. Symptoms include skin rashes, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, breathing difficulty, and anaphylactic shock. It is highly recommended that people with health problems should use Korean ginseng products under doctor’s supervision.

There are medications known to interact with Korean ginseng. They should not be used together with Korean ginseng without first consulting a qualified physician. These medications include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (e.g. Capoten, Monopril, and Lotensin), calcium channel blockers (e.g. Norvasc & Cardizem), anticoagulants (e.g. aspirin), caffeine (coffee), diabetes medications, stimulants (e.g. amphetamine), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIS, e.g. Marplan & Nardil), and morphine.[ad#afterpost]

References

Asian Ginseng – University of Maryland Med. Center

Ginseng – MedlinePlus