Ginseng, also known as Ginnsuu in some regions of Asia, mainly China, is any one of eleven distinct species of slow-growing perennial plants with fleshy roots, belonging to the Panax genus in the family Araliaceae. It grows in the Northern Hemisphere in eastern Asia (mostly northern China, Korea, and eastern Siberia), typically in cooler climates; Panax vietnamensis, discovered in Vietnam, is the southernmost ginseng found.
The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term rénshēn, literally "man root" (referring to the root's characteristic forked shape, resembling the legs of a man). The English pronunciation derives from a southern Chinese reading, similar to Cantonese jên shên and the Hokkien pronunciation "jîn-sim". The botanical name Panax means "all-heal" in Greek, sharing the same origin as "panacea," and was applied to this genus because Linnaeus was aware of its wide use in Chinese medicine as a muscle relaxant.
Both American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) roots are taken orally as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, nourishing stimulants and in the treatment of type II diabetes, as well as Sexual dysfunction in men. The root is most often available in dried form, either whole or sliced. Ginseng leaf, although not as highly prized, is sometimes also used; as with the root it is most often available in dried form. This ingredient may also be found in some popular energy drinks: usually the "tea" varieties or functional foods.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, each type of ginseng is thought to have unique healing properties. American ginseng has more "cooling" properties, which make it valuable for fever and respiratory tract disorders. Asian ginseng has "heating" properties, which are good for improving circulation.
It has been used for treating anxiety, cancer, chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, cognitive ability, diabetes, heart attack, high blood pressure, impotence, infertility, menopause troubles, and stress. It has been shown to prevent nervous disorders in those undergoing morphine treatment or amphetamine withdrawal. It also slows the heart rate and decreases the heart's demand for oxygen.
As an adaptogen, this herb's action varies. It has a stimulating effect on young people with strong qi (vital force), but is tonic, restorative, and even sedative for those weakened by illness or old age. In China, ginseng is best known as a stimulant, tonic herb for athletes and those subject to physical stress, and as a male aphrodisiac. It is also a tonic for old age, and is traditionally taken by people in China from late middle age onward, helping them to endure the long hard winters.
In the West, ginseng is viewed not so much as a medicine, but as an energy enhancing tonic. It is useful for those coping with stressful events, such as taking exams. The roots are taken in teas, tinctures and capsules. Studies show an improvement in cognitive ability with daily usage. It should be noted that this herb has different properties and effects than those of Siberian Ginseng
The dosage often used in research studies is 200 mg a day of a standardized ginseng extract. Some traditional herbalists recommend using ginseng for no more than three weeks at a time, followed by a one to two week rest period.
CAUTION: Insomnia and over stimulation have been reported with the use of large doses. Avoid if you use MAO inhibitor drugs as there may be interactions. Pregnant or nursing women or children should avoid ginseng. People with hormone-dependent illnesses such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus, or prostate should avoid Panax ginseng because it may have estrogenic effects.
Panax ginseng may decrease the rate and force of heartbeats, so it shouldn't be used by people with heart disease unless under the supervision of a healthcare providers. Ginseng may lower blood sugar levels, so it shouldn't be taken by people with diabetes unless under a doctor's supervision. Ginseng may worsen insomnia. Side effects of ginseng may include nervousness, agitation, insomnia, diarrhea, headaches, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations.
Ginseng can increase the effect of blood-thinners (antiplatelet or anti-clotting drugs), such as clopidogrel, ticlopidine (Ticlid), warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, and aspirin, which may result in uncontrolled bleeding or hemorrhage. Certain herbs, such as danshen, devil's claw, eleuthero, garlic, ginger, horse chestnut, papain, red clover, and saw palmetto, can also increase the risk of bleeding if combined with ginseng.
Ginseng may affect heart rhythm and can increase potential side effects from theophylline (and similar asthma drugs), albuterol, clonidine, sildenafil citrate (Viagra).
Panax ginseng may interact with insulin and other drugs for diabetes, such as metformin (Glucophage), glyburide (Glynase), glimepiride (Amaryl), and glipizide (Glucotrol XL).
Ginseng may interfere with the metabolism of monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as phenelzine sulfate (Nardil), tranylcypromine sulfate (Parnate) and isocabaxazid (Marplan). It's also believed to affect levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells) and may interact with antipsychotic drugs such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine) and fluphenazine (Prolixin).
Ginseng stimulates the central nervous system, so it may increase the effects of prescription drugs that do the same (such as medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, and obesity. The combination may raise heart rate and blood pressure.
Ginseng has been found to interfere with the metabolism of drugs processed by an enzyme called cyp3A4. Ask your doctor to check if you are taking medications of this type.
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