Twice in this past week I have heard people make comments about ginseng as if all ginseng is the same…a great way to recognize when people don’t really know what they are talking about.  Just because one has good intentions, doesn’t mean they are knowledgeable…be careful.

There are a variety of different types of ginseng that have a variety of effects – before determining what or how to use them – or in what combination with other herbs – consult a herbalist who knows what they are doing.

For instance, Eleutherococcus is called Siberian ginseng but the “active ingredient” (note I hate that term because ultimately all the different compounds work together…which is why taking the whole food or whole herb is so much more effective than taking pharmaceutical, isolated, synthetic, substitutes) is eleutherosides as opposed to the ginsenosides which you will find in Panax or Korean ginseng.

In addition, there is confusion because there are many plants that are commonly called ginseng but different phytonutrient profiles and thus different effects on the body; or different effects when utilized in conjunction with other herbs. For instance, in TCM, Asian ginseng promotes yang energy whereas American ginseng promotes yin energy.  Again a novelist may not know these types of differentiation.

The different effects have to do with the different nutrient/phytonutrient profiles.  For instance, Panax ginseng contains: Vitamins: A, B6, Minerals: zinc, phytonutrients: saponin triterpenoid glycosides (which strengthen the adrenals and prevent excess corticosteroid production); 28 different saponins; acetylcholine, copper, germanum, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, phytosterols, essential oils.  Research also show that the ginsenosides also increase protein synthesis and the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Now, there are 2 main common classifications of the ginsengs are:  Asian and American

The Asian are:

  • Red
  • White
  • Fresh
  • Sun
  • Wild

Amercian

  • Panax quinquefolius

But there are a variety of other plants that have been confused with and called ginseng, which may have similar and/or different effects, include:

Other plants which are referred to as ginsengs may not be adaptogens, for instance:

Now you may ask what an adaptogen does.  Some of the benefits of adaptogens are:

  • Normalizes physical functioning, i.e., it will lower blood pressure if high; and increase blood pressure if low – entirely dependent on the individual
  • Normalizes functions with regard to: stress, performance, energy/fatigue, memory, immune system and adrenal and cardio functioning
  • Normalizes adrenal, cardio, immune, CNS functioning
  • Has anti-oxidant impact
  • Adaptogens can help people handle stress by providing:
    • Antioxidant activity
      Liver protection and antitoxin activity
      Improved blood-sugar metabolism
      Less craving for alcohol or sugar
      Improved immune resistance
      Increased energy and stamina
      Improved muscle tone
      Increased strength
      Faster recovery
      Better focus and concentration
      Less anxiety
      Better sleep
      Better motivation and productivity
      A feeling of well-being
      Better moods  http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/FULL/Adaptogenic_Herbs.shtml

Now we also have other adaptogens like Gynostemma pentaphyllum (aka GP, southern ginseng, jiaogulan or king’s crown or crown herb), which is in the same family as Elethrococcus (Siberian ginseng) but not of the same genus.  It has both the ginsenosides as well as the gypenosides as well as, various amino acids, vitamins and minerals (eg. calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc), phytonutrients (82 saponins vs the 28 found in Panax ginseng) http://www.gynostemma.org/

However, like ginsengs in general GP is considered an adaptogenic herb, ie., it strengthens the adrenals glands and helps the body deal with stress and recover from stress, more effectively.  In addition, it is also recommended for the cardiovascular, digestive, immune, diabetes, reproductive and central nervous system.

Now, while this article focuses on Ginseng, the same issues can be applied to many herbs:

  • Different species have nutrient/phytonutrient profiles
  • Different species have different impacts
  • Different species combine differently with other herbs to create a different impact
  • General cross over in “POP” herbal language gives rise to a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings
  • Herbs can be powerful and very effective, if utilized correctly
  • Unfortunately, the underlying cause(s) of many disorders cannot be resolved overnight – and often involve various types of toxins – and getting rid of toxins can make issues worse in the short term, while the body is eliminating them.
  • While the body is struggling to find a healthy balance, there may be other issues that also need to be taken care of, ie., microbiota, tissue inflammatory issues, etc

Be wise, find a good health practitioner that knows and understands herbs.

Be responsible, do your research, find a good health practitioner.

Here’s to your health!

For more information, contact: Dr Holly at holly@choicesunlimited.ca

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Other References:

http://www.kcweb.com/herb/ginseng.htm

http://www.ijrpbsonline.com/files/RV12.pdf

http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/FULL/Adaptogenic_Herbs.shtml