Ginseng belongs to the Araliaceae family and is native to China and Korea. The root has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years as a tonic for any deficiency of qi, the vital life force.
It is a popular and widely used plant: in 2003 it was estimated that more than six million Americans regularly consumed ginseng products (RADAD & al, 2006).
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is a neuroprotective agent that preserves the structural integrity of nerve cells (neurons). It improves memory and physical capabilities.
Ginseng is an adaptogenic plant (WIKLUND & al, 1999 ; KIEFER & PANTUSO, 2003 ; RADAD & al, 2006), a tonic used to help restore homeostasis (NOCERINO & al, 2000), enhance physical performance and build vitality (KENNEDY & SCHOLEY, 2003).
It improves protein and lipid metabolism and reduces insulin resistance (OSHIMA & al, 1987 ; OHNISHI & al, 1996 ; LEE & al, 2006). In terms of carbohydrate metabolism, it improves intracellular transport of glucose, modulates insulin secretion, lowers fasting blood glucose, improves glucose tolerance curves and increases the number of insulin receptors (SUZUKI & al, 1989 ; TCHILIAN & al, 1991).
Ginseng’s multiple beneficial effects on the central nervous system have been studied extensively over many years. It decreases free radicals and pro-inflammatory mediators such as IL-1, IL-6, TNF-α and leukotrienes (KIM & al, 1998 ; WAHHAB & AHMED, 2004 ; AALINKEEL & al, 2017), significantly reduces levels of β-amyloid peptides linked to the severity of signs of senile dementia (CHEN & al, 2006 ; AALINKEEL & al, 2017)), and improves attention, exploration and auditory reaction time. Ginseng enhances psycho-cognitive acquisition (D’ANGELO & al, 1986 ; PARK & al, 1994 ; ZHANG & al, 1990, 2008 ; ELLIS & al, 2002 ; CHOI, 2008) and improves performance in tests of visual and auditory reactions, mental arithmetic, logical deduction and motor skills (KENNEDY & SCHOLEY, 2003), because it increases cholinergic function and levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex (RADAD & al, 2006).
It also restores memory after amnesia treatment with scopolamine by acting on serotonin and acetylcholine levels (WANG & al, 2010), inhibits neuronal apoptosis (RADAD & al, 2006 ; CHOI, 2008), and increases neuronal plasticity and levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), increasing the number of synapses in the hippocampus (CHENG & al, 2005). It enhances the brain’s use of glucose (KENNEDY & SCHOLEY, 2003) and protects the brain from the effects of ischaemia and neurotoxins, specifically by preventing calcium over-influx, inhibiting Na+ channels, combating lipid peroxidation, inhibiting the formation of malondialdehyde, and increasing levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalases and glutathione peroxidase (NISHIYAMA & al, 1994 ; KIM & al, 1998 ; RADAD & al, 2003, 2004, 2006 ; VAN KAMPEN & al, 2003).
Ginseng protects neurons from the toxic effects of high concentrations of glutamate (a major neuromediator). Glutamate is toxic when it is present in excessively high quantities, for example during epileptic seizures and in cases of hypoxia, hypoglycaemia and neurodegenerative diseases. It overactivates NMDA receptors, causes oxidative stress and creates calcium over-influx. This promotes the synthesis of proteases, endonucleases and lipases, which damage cells. Panax ginseng significantly enhances neuronal survival by protecting their integrity and reducing free radicals.
Ginseng is an immunostimulant. It increases phagocytosis, natural killer-cell activity, interferon and antibody production, chemotaxis of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) and T cell count (SCAGLIONE & al, 1990, 1996, 2001 ; BLUMENTHAL, 2003 ; KIEFER & PANTUSO, 2003).
In a study involving dairy cows, it was found to increase the efficacy of their innate immune system (HU & al, 2001). Panax ginseng aids vaccination response and reduces the frequency of respiratory diseases (SCAGLIONE & al, 1996).
Ginseng: your brain’s best friend!