Korean, Chinese, Siberian, American ... no, we're not talking about an international summit, but about different types of ginseng. The choices may seem as confusing as international politics, but in fact, the herbs are easier to understand.
No matter the variety, they all share one benefit: they're adaptogens, meaning they help to balance the system, boosting energy when it flags and calming the body in times of stress. All forms of ginseng can also enhance immunity. From there, however, the active ingredients and other benefits begin to differ.
What is the Difference Between Asian and American Ginseng?
Both of these ginsengs are part of the same botanical genus. Chinese and Korean (also called Asian) ginsengs are both Panax ginseng, and the geographical part of the common name simply identifies where the plant was grown. The American variety is known as Panax quinquefolius.
While the two types of Panax aren't identical in a chemical sense, both contain active ingredients known as ginsenosides, which are believed to be chiefly responsible for the herb's medicinal effects. Any of the Asian ginsengs may also be described as "white" or "red." These labels do not indicate different types of plants but describe different preparations of ginseng root: peeled and dried in the case of "white," and unpeeled and steamed in the case of "red."
As with any plant, variations in the many components of a type of ginseng, and the method of processing, may produce somewhat different effects. In the past, Asian ginsengs were the most studied, but in recent years, more researchers have been looking at American ginseng.
Health Benefits of American Ginseng:
1. Blood-sugar control
At the University of Toronto, studies of healthy people and type 2 diabetics found that American ginseng reduced blood-sugar spikes after eating sugar. Among healthy people, ginseng worked best when taken 40 minutes before the meal. Among diabetics, it worked equally well when taken at any point from two hours before eating to the start of the meal. An effective dose was 1,000 mg (higher doses did not improve results). It's possible that lower doses could be just as effective, but were not tested. In animal research, Asian ginseng has been shown to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
2. Erectile dysfunction relief
Brazilian researchers tested Korean red ginseng for mild-to-moderate erectile dysfunction in a group of 60 men. Two out of three improved their ability to perform sexually after taking 1,000 mg of Korean ginseng, three times daily, for 12 weeks.
3. Cancer-related fatigue
Both American and Asian ginsengs have been found to relieve fatigue related to cancer treatment, and both have been shown to improve the lives of cancer patients.
4. Cold and flu prevention
Although Asian, American, and Siberian ginsengs have all been used for cold and flu prevention, most studies have tested proprietary forms: CVT-E002, a North American ginseng grown mostly in Canada and found in Cold-FX, and G2G, an Asian ginseng extract found in Ginsana. This doesn't mean other forms aren't effective, since the plant naturally contains immune-enhancing properties, but not every individual formulation has been the subject of research.
Health Benefits of Siberian Ginseng
The Siberian variety of ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is a distinctly different plant from the others. Years ago, it was dubbed a form of ginseng by a Russian scientist who mistakenly believed that this plant had the same active constituents as ginseng. Despite the faulty reasoning, the name stuck.
The chief active ingredients in Siberian ginseng are eleutherosides. On some product labels, the herb is called Siberian eleuthero, or simply eleuthero, to avoid confusion. Aside from benefits it shares with American and Asian ginsengs, Siberian Ginseng has the following benefits:
- This plant contains chemicals that act like estrogen, and may improve health among postmenopausal women.
- Studies have found that it may help to preserve bone, improve cholesterol, and reduce age-related DNA damage among older women.
- In addition, a study of 93 people found that eleuthero helps fight the herpes simplex 2 virus, which causes genital herpes. Researchers found that people infected with the virus who took eleuthero had fewer outbreaks. And if an outbreak occurred, it didn't last as long.
Ginseng Shopping Guide
Ginsengs are available in capsules, tinctures, liquid elixirs, and teas, and may be combined with other, complementary ingredients. For health maintenance, the most common dose is 500 mg daily, or up to 1,000 mg. If you are taking medications, check for possible interactions with a health practitioner who is trained in herbal medicine.