Korean ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng or Asian ginseng, is a plant native to Northern China, eastern Siberia, and Korea. It is an important adaptogenic herb and is consumed orally as a tea, tincture, or in capsules. Adaptogenic substances help support the immune system and ameliorate the effects of stress, trauma, and pathogens. It is generally not thought of as a curative, but, as a prophylactic supplement, it confers many useful benefits. As a supplement, it is believed to help support mental function, cardiac function, lower sugar levels in type II diabetics, and improve the immune system.
It is thought that the active compounds in ginseng are the ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are steroid glycosides that are only found in Korean ginseng. For these reasons, researchers have focused on them, to better determine what medicinal properties can be accurately attributed to Korean ginseng.
Perhaps the most common reason people take ginseng is to combat fatigue, because it is reputed to provide extra energy and vigor. It can also help athletes improve their stamina. Ginseng is a popular additive in energy drinks, but caution should be used when pairing it with other stimulants because it can cause insomnia.
Patients suffering from adult onset Type II diabetes may find Korean ginseng to be a useful dietary supplement. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, in which sugars are not properly metabolized and collect in the body. This can cause extreme thirst, weight loss, and coma. Initial tests indicate that ginseng may help lower blood sugar levels. When taken before and after meals, some studies have shown that sufferers' blood sugar amounts do not increase to dangerous levels. Diabetics should use caution and consult with their physician before taking the supplement, however, because the long-term effects of such treatment are unknown.
A traditional use for Korean ginseng is as an aphrodisiac. Ginseng is known to contain phytoestrogens, which are a form of dietary estrogen, or a naturally-occurring, non-steroidal estrogen, that is metabolized by the body like the hormone estrogen. Phytoestrogens can produce estrogenic effects in men and women, meaning that it can increase the libido as well as affect the sexual organs. In men, it has been shown to improve gonadal tissue and help facilitate erections. It may also help with erectile dysfunction.
Ginseng may also have an antioxidant effect, and can help with heart function. It may increase blood flow and circulation, thereby improving cardiac function. This herb may also reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), also known as the bad cholesterol, which can prevent its build up in the body.
Many people take ginseng on a daily basis to help maintain mental acuity and concentration. Korean ginseng is often paired with gingko biloba. Ginko biloba is another natural substance known to be beneficial in aiding cardiovascular and brain function.
While Korean ginseng is generally well tolerated, there are some side effects associated with it. Some people have reported low blood pressure, high blood pressure, nausea, and diarrhea as potential side effects. Taking a supplement containing ginseng, prior to going to bed, may cause insomnia. Patients should consult a doctor before taking this supplement with other over-the-counter or prescription drugs.