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What Ginseng?

Panax Ginseng, or Ginseng , for short, as it is popularly known, comes from Asian plant roots that have been used for its "medicinal" value for more than 2000 years in China. Literally, the word Ginseng in Chinese means "man-root." Asian Ginseng in English is Panax Ginseng, and the American Ginseng is Panax Quinquefolius. Since the word Panax means "panacea," this has led to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. While some quarters report it as a miracle "cure-all" panacea, official Chinese publications on herbal therapeutics do not make such a claim at all.

What are the types of Ginseng?

The two most common varieties are Asian (Chinese, Korean, etc) Ginseng and American (North American or Canadian) Ginseng. American Ginseng is recommended for daily use, while Asian Ginseng is used on a 3-week on and 3-week off schedule. Many take American Ginseng during the 3-week off Asian Ginseng. Asian Ginseng can elevate blood pressure somewhat, the reason why it is not recommended for those with hypertension (high blood pressure). American Ginseng does not raise blood pressure. As always, please consult your physician before taking any medications or "food supplements," some of which may have adverse side-effects on their own or when taken with other medications.

What is the main element in Ginseng?

The active ingredients in Ginseng are saponins called gensinosides. There are at least 19 of them and todate scientists still do not know which of them are the essential ones that have the beneficial pharmacologic value. Ginseng reportedly contains vitamins, minerals, insulin-like protein called maltol, which is also claimed to be anti-aging. At the recommneded dose, Ginseng is a central nervous system stimulant, but at high doses it acts as a sedative.

Is Ginseng an aphrodisiac?

Contrary to popular belief, Ginseng is not an aphrodisiac (a substance that induces or stimulates sexual desire). It is supposed to increase energy and improve the general health of the person taking it, which could indirectly improve overall performance in any activity. This was why Chinese traditional armamentarium has Ginseng as a "treatment" for sexual dysfunction.

Can Ginseng really help sexual dysfunction?

Probably yes. Investigators at Hamilton's McMaster University have scientifically shown that Ginseng contains chemicals that are vasodilators (they open us arteries and veins, resulting in improved blood flow to all parts of the body, including the pelvic region and sexual organs. Congestion in these areas is associated with sexual arousal.

Is Ginseng as potent as Viagra?

No. Viagra (scientifically known as Sildenafil Citrate) acts in a different manner in effecting engorgement of the sexual organs, and is 100% more potent and more predictable in its effectiveness for erectile dysfunction in men than Ginseng. An hour after taking Viagra a man could have the desired erection. Ginseng cannot do that. Preliminary studies are now showing that Viagra may be effective in women also.

Can a person taking Ginseng also take Viagra safely?

Yes, if there is no medical contraindication for either. If one is taking any form of Nitrates (to open up heart coronary arteries that are narrowed), Viagra is contraindicated, since taking both will lead to irreversible shock and even death.

Can Ginseng be taken safely with Vitamins?

Taking Ginseng, together with vitamins and minerals has been practiced for decades by millions of people around the world and appeared to be safe. There are even preparations now that are marketed as a combination capsules.

Is Ginseng harmful or toxic ?

In itself, Ginseng has not been found to be toxic or harmful. If ingested in excess of the recommended dose (not more than 2 Grams a day), the most common side-effect is mild diarrhea, high blood pressure, insomnia, nervousness, as seen in "GAS." However, American Ginseng capsules, which are processed products and not 100% Ginseng, contain preservatives, stimulants, filters and other unidentified substances, which could be harmful.

What is Ginseng claimed to do?

Ginseng is believed to alleviate exhaustion, fatigue, amnesia, headaches, and the debility of aging, acting as an anti-oxidant, neutralizing free radicals in the body and therefore allowing natural cell repair and self-healing. Some studies also revealed that Ginseng reduces platelet adhesiveness, making blood thinner, thus helping prevent blood clots. There are many laboratory studies done on Ginseng and some medical reports have shown this substance does have some beneficial medicinal value. One thing that is also comforting is the finding that Ginseng, unlike Noni Juice for instance, has not shown serious adverse side-effects. In any medications, drugs, or the so-called "food supplements," they are the short term and long term serious side effects that one should always be concerned about.

Can Ginseng cause cancer?

There are no medical evidences that Ginseng causes cancer. And neither is there any study that shows it can prevent or cure cancer.

Can the different kinds of Ginseng be taken together?

Yes. As a matter of fact, there are commercial preparations where Chinese, Korean and American Ginsengs are combined in a one-a-day oral capsule. Pure genuine Ginseng in Chinese Traditional Drug Stores, by the way, could cost as much as US$1000 per dose! And the wild variety (80 to 100 years old) found in the Manchurian mountain costs about US$100,000 per ounce! The price alone sounds hazardous to one's health and well-being. Most of the preparations in the market are not pure Ginseng.

When is Ginseng contraindicated?

Ginseng should not be taken during pregnancy, or by persons with high blood pressure, headaches, hysteria, schizophrenia, palpitations, or insomnia. Those on prescription medications should check with their physician first before taking Ginseng or other "food supplements."

What is "GAS" ?

Ginseng Abuse Syndrome (GAS) is a condition resulting from a combination of a large dose of Ginseng (up to 15 Grams a day) and a lot of caffeine (coffee). This syndrome was first reported by Siegel in 1979, characterized by elevated blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, skin rashes and diarrhea in 105 of the 133 Ginseng users in his study. Manufacturers' recommended dose is 1.5 Grams to 2 Grams per day in divided doses. Those taking Ginseng should cut back on their caffeine (coffee, cola drink) intake. Most commercial preparations of Ginseng in the market only have insignificant traces of Ginseng in them.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.