Asian Ginseng and Diabetes

Asian ginseng commonly grows on mountain slopes and is usually harvested in the fall. The root is used, preferably from plants older than six years of age. It has been a part of Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. The first reference to the use dates to the 1st century A.D. It is commonly used by elderly people in the Orient to improve mental and physical vitality.

Constituents

Ginseng’s actions in the body are thought to be due to a complex interplay of constituents. The primary group are the ginsenosides, which are believed to counter the effects of stress and enhance intellectual and physical performance. Thirteen ginsenosides have been identified in Asian ginseng. Two of them, ginsenosides Rg1 and Rb1 have been closely studied. Other constituents include the panaxans, which may help lower blood sugar, and the polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules), which are thought to support immune function.

Long-term intake may be linked to a reduced risk of some forms of cancer. A double-blind trial found that 200 mg per day improved blood sugar levels in people with type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. Human trials have mostly failed to confirm its purported benefit for the enhancement of athletic performance. One preliminary trial suggests it may help those in poor physical condition to tolerate exercise better. In combination with some vitamins and minerals, 80 mg per day was found to effectively reduce fatigue in a double-blind trial. Another double-blind trial also found it helpful for relief of fatigue and, possibly, stress. Although there are no human clinical trials, adaptogenic herbs such as Asian ginseng may be useful for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. This may be because these herbs are thought to have an immuno-modulating effect and also help support the normal function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the hormonal stress system of the body.

It may also prove useful for male infertility. A double-blind trial with a large group of infertile men found that 4 grams per day for three months led to an improvement in sperm count and sperm motility.

Asian ginseng may also help men with erectile dysfunction. A double-blind trial in Korea found that 1,800 mg per day of Asian ginseng extract for three months helped improve libido and the ability to maintain an erection in men with erectile dysfunction.

The most researched form of ginseng, standardized herbal extracts, supply approximately 5–7% ginsenosides. Ginseng root extracts are sometimes recommended at 200–500 mg per day. Non-standardized extracts require a higher intake, generally 1–4 grams per day for tablets or 2–3 ml for dried root tincture three times per day. Ginseng is traditionally used for two to three weeks continuously, followed by a one- to two-week “rest” period before resuming.

Side Effects or Interactions

Used in the recommended amounts, ginseng is generally safe. In rare instances, it may cause over-stimulation and possibly insomnia.16 Consuming caffeine with ginseng increases the risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset. People with uncontrolled high blood pressure should use ginseng cautiously. Long-term use of ginseng may cause menstrual abnormalities and breast tenderness in some women. Ginseng is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Asian Ginseng and Diabetes


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