Ginseng, an Exemplary Adaptogen

Volumes have been written about and extensive research has been done on Ginseng, particularly the genus Panax Ginseng, or Asian Ginseng, The American ginseng is similar but not the same, with less “warmth” as viewed by Chinese herbal medicine.

As an adaptogen, its benefit is to normalize the body’s physiologic response to emotional, physical, and environmental chronic and acute stressors. Ginseng has therapeutic effects against inflammation, allergy, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer, as well as positive, beneficial, and restorative effects. Uniquely, as an adaptogen, it can both suppress and stimulate an immune response, and can have both an antihypertensive effect and also increase blood pressure to help maintain cardiovascular health. It can suppress anxiety, improve cognition and modulate moods. Because of its antiplatelet and antithrombotic effects, it could interfere with blood thinning medications. However, ginseng has an enhancing effect if taken before and through cancer treatment and before vaccines. It improves T-helper cell (specifically TH-1) function to enhance the effectiveness of many antimicrobial agents, mainly Amoxicillin. It is a vital component in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for the treatment of impotence and to increase sexual performance. A polysaccharide in ginseng actually reduces hyperlipidemia (“high cholesterol”).

Finally, its influence on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is particularly interesting due to the rise in the number of people who have AD recently. AD is characterized by tau pathology (one of the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications), deposits of amyloid beta plaques, inflammation, and neuronal and blood vessel damage. The amyloid precursor protein stimulates clumping (aggregation) of platelets, which can cause thrombi and subsequent blood vessel damage. As I already mentioned, P. ginseng has been found to counteract these damaging effects throughout the body along with improving cognition, so it could be valuable both in the prevention and treatment of AD.

Adaptogens are generalists by their nature. As in all herbal medicine, the effects are subtle and safe if taken in moderation and under the guidance of a knowledgeable herbal medicine or naturopathic practitioner.

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