Ginseng is a plant whose roots contain substances called ginsenosides and gintonin, believed to have benefits for human health. Ginseng root extracts have been used for thousands of years by traditional Chinese medicine as herbal remedies to promote well-being. Ginseng is available in many forms, such as supplements, teas, or oils or used as a topical application.
There are many varieties of ginseng plants – the main ones are Asian ginseng, Russian ginseng, and American ginseng. Each variety contains specific bioactive compounds with unique properties and effects on the body.
For example, it has been suggested that high doses of American ginseng might reduce body temperature and help with relaxation,1 while Asian ginseng might invigorate psychological functions,2,3 physical performance, and cardiovascular and immune functions.
The benefits and impact of ginseng on health and well-being may differ also based on the type of preparation, fermentation time, dosage, and individual intestinal bacteria strains that metabolize the bioactive compounds after ingestion.
These differences are also reflected in the quality of the scientific studies conducted on ginseng’s health benefits. This makes it difficult to compare results and limits the conclusions that can be drawn from these studies. As a result, there is an insufficient amount of conclusive clinical evidence to support guidelines for ginseng as medical treatment.4,5,6,7
Let’s have a look at the available information and put it in perspective to understand what is known about the health benefits of ginseng in its many forms as an oral dietary supplement.
Ginseng might be beneficial to blood pressure but more research is necessary to clarify contradictions in evidence
Several studies investigated the efficacy of ginseng on specific cardiovascular risk factors, heart function, and cardiac tissue preservation. However, the current scientific evidence on the relationship between ginseng and blood pressure is contradictory.
It has been found that Korean red ginseng may improve blood circulation through its vasodilatory action. Vasodilation occurs when the blood vessels dilate as a consequence of the smooth muscles that line the vessels relaxing. In turn, the resistance to the circulation of blood flow within the blood vessels decreases, i.e., the blood pressure decreases.
Specifically, a study in patients at risk of developing high blood pressure and atherosclerosis found that taking red ginseng daily regulated vascular function by modulating the concentration of nitric oxide and the levels of fatty acids circulating in the blood, and in turn decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure.8
On the other hand, another study found that red ginseng was not effective in reducing blood pressure in people already suffering from hypertension.9 Additionally, a systematic review comparing multiple randomized controlled trials found that ginseng has a neutral effect on cardiac function and blood pressure.10
In future studies, standardized preparations should be compared to shed more light on the actual ginseng tea effects on blood pressure.10 Furthermore, as lower doses might be more effective, the specific dose-dependent profiles should also be studied.8
Ginseng might have some potential to control blood sugar levels
The effects of ginseng on blood sugar have been tested both in healthy people and in diabetic patients.
A review of the scientific evidence found ginseng to have some moderate potential to improve glucose metabolism.4 However, according to the authors, the studies that were evaluated were not of high quality.4Additionally, it was difficult for the researchers to compare studies because of the different forms of ginseng used.4
A study found that a 12-week supplementation of Korean red ginseng in newly diagnosed patients with type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose metabolism may be beneficial in controlling blood sugar levels.11 Moreover, in patients with type 2 diabetes with controlled levels of blood sugar, a 12-week supplementation of red ginseng, in addition to usual therapy, was found to improve the regulation of plasma insulin and glucose metabolism.12
However, no further improvements in prolonged glycemic control were found12. Considering the current scientific evidence, it has been suggested that future research should fully demonstrate safety and efficacy for clinical applications.13
Ginseng might be beneficial against inflammation and to regulate the immune system
Ginseng seems to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties. Inflammation is a cellular process prominent in cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune and cardiocirculatory disorders. As well, anti-oxidative properties may protect against free radicals which are unstable molecules that contribute to degenerative disease, carcinogenesis, and cardiovascular disorders.
There is some research suggesting that ginseng root extracts may not only interfere with the molecules causing inflammation,14 but also have a protective and preventive effect against it.15 Additionally, it has been shown that these properties can also be potentiated by fermenting the ginseng root.16
The Asian red ginseng species may have anti-cancer potential, suggested by research that shows it may interfere with the mechanism cancer cells use to grow and proliferate.17 A 16% reduced risk of developing cancer, with no specificity to any organ, has been associated with the consumption of ginseng.18
Several studies found a moderate effect of ginseng in regulating the immune response.4 For instance, a 3-month supplementation of ginseng tea capsules potentiated the effect of a vaccine against influenza19. Moreover, its anti-oxidative properties might make ginseng beneficial in autoimmune disorders such as atopic dermatitis.20
Are there substantial ginseng tea benefits? Can we say a cup a day keeps the doctor away? Overall, the research suggests that ginseng might be beneficial to overall well-being and potentially have some preventive properties, but further research is necessary to acquire high-quality scientific evidence and draw extensive conclusions.
1. Park, E. Y., Kim, M. H., Kim, E. H., Lee, E. K., Park, I. S., Yang, D. C., & Jun, H. S. (2014). Efficacy comparison of Korean ginseng and American ginseng on body temperature and metabolic parameters. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 42(1), 173–187. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X14500128
2,Sorensen H, Sonne J. A double-masked study of the effects of ginseng on cognitive functions. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 1996;57:959–68
3.Ellis JM, Reddy P. Effects of Panax ginseng on quality of life. Ann Pharmacother. 2002;36:375–9.
4. Shergis, J. L., Zhang, A. L., Zhou, W., & Xue, C. C. (2013). Panax ginseng in randomised controlled trials: a systematic review. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 27(7), 949–965. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.4832
5. Arring, N. M., Millstine, D., Marks, L. A., & Nail, L. M. (2018). Ginseng as a Treatment for Fatigue: A Systematic Review. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 24(7), 624–633. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2017.0361
6. Sadeghian, M., Rahmani, S., Zendehdel, M., Hosseini, S. A., & Zare Javid, A. (2021). Ginseng and Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. Nutrition and cancer, 73(8), 1270–1281. https://doi.org/10.1080/01635581.2020.1795691
7. Yang, J., Shin, K. M., Abu Dabrh, A. M., Bierle, D. M., Zhou, X., Bauer, B. A., & Mohabbat, A. B. (2022). Ginseng for the Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Clinical Studies. Global advances in health and medicine, 11, 2164957X221079790. https://doi.org/10.1177/2164957X221079790
8. Cha, T., Kim, M., Kim, M. et al. Blood pressure-lowering effect of Korean red ginseng associated with decreased circulating Lp-PLA2 activity and lysophosphatidylcholines and increased dihydrobiopterin level in prehypertensive subjects. Hypertens Res 39, 449–456 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/hr.2016.7
9. Rhee, M. Y., Kim, Y. S., Bae, J. H., Nah, D. Y., Kim, Y. K., Lee, M. M., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). Effect of Korean red ginseng on arterial stiffness in subjects with hypertension. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 17(1), 45–49. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2010.0065
10. Komishon, A. M., Shishtar, E., Ha, V., Sievenpiper, J. L., de Souza, R. J., Jovanovski, E., Ho, H. V., Duvnjak, L. S., & Vuksan, V. (2016). The effect of ginseng (genus Panax) on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Journal of human hypertension, 30(10), 619–626. https://doi.org/10.1038/jhh.2016.18
11. Bang, H., Kwak, J. H., Ahn, H. Y., Shin, D. Y., & Lee, J. H. (2014). Korean red ginseng improves glucose control in subjects with impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance, or newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal of medicinal food, 17(1), 128–134. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2013.2889
12. Vuksan, V., Sung, M. K., Sievenpiper, J. L., Stavro, P. M., Jenkins, A. L., Di Buono, M., Lee, K. S., Leiter, L. A., Nam, K. Y., Arnason, J. T., Choi, M., & Naeem, A. (2008). Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng) improves glucose and insulin regulation in well-controlled, type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of efficacy and safety. Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD, 18(1), 46–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2006.04.003
13. Yoon SJ, Kim SK, Lee NY, et al. Effect of Korean Red Ginseng on metabolic syndrome. J Ginseng Res. 2021;45(3):380-389. doi:10.1016/j.jgr.2020.11.002
14. Jung, H. L., Kwak, H. E., Kim, S. S., Kim, Y. C., Lee, C. D., Byurn, H. K., & Kang, H. Y. (2011). Effects of Panax ginseng supplementation on muscle damage and inflammation after uphill treadmill running in humans. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 39(3), 441–450. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X11008944
15. Dong, G. Z., Jang, E. J., Kang, S. H., Cho, I. J., Park, S. D., Kim, S. C., & Kim, Y. W. (2013). Red ginseng abrogates oxidative stress via mitochondria protection mediated by LKB1-AMPK pathway. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 13, 64. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-13-64
16. Park, B. G., Jung, H. J., Cho, Y. W., Lim, H. W., & Lim, C. J. (2013). Potentiation of antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of cultured wild ginseng root extract through probiotic fermentation. The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology, 65(3), 457–464. https://doi.org/10.1111/jphp.12004
17. Wang, C. Z., Anderson, S., DU, W., He, T. C., & Yuan, C. S. (2016). Red ginseng and cancer treatment. Chinese journal of natural medicines, 14(1), 7–16. https://doi.org/10.3724/SP.J.1009.2016.00007
18. Jin, X., Che, D. B., Zhang, Z. H., Yan, H. M., Jia, Z. Y., & Jia, X. B. (2016). Ginseng consumption and risk of cancer: A meta-analysis. Journal of ginseng research, 40(3), 269–277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jgr.2015.08.007
19. Scaglione, F., Cattaneo, G., Alessandria, M., & Cogo, R. (1996). Efficacy and safety of the standardised Ginseng extract G115 for potentiating vaccination against the influenza syndrome and protection against the common cold [corrected]. Drugs under experimental and clinical research, 22(2), 65–72.
20. Hong, C. E., & Lyu, S. Y. (2011). Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Korean Red Ginseng Extract in Human Keratinocytes. Immune network, 11(1), 42–49. https://doi.org/10.4110/in.2011.11.1.42
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