This ancient Chinese tonic, rediscovered by the Russians after World War II, helps people to withstand stress. It appears to benefit the whole body, sharpening physical and mental performance and restoring vitality during times of overwork or illness.
What it is?
Also called eleuthero, Siberian ginseng is a distant botanical cousin of Panax ginseng, which is better known. Although not as revered (or expensive) as the Panax species, Siberian ginseng has been used in China for thousands of years to enhance the body's vital energy (qi), restore memory, and prevents colds and flu. It is derived fromEleutherococcus senticosus, a plant native to eastern Russia, China, Korea and Japan. Supplements are usually made from the dried roots.
The herb gained prominence among western doctors in the 1950s, after a Russian health researcher, I. I, Brekhman, completed experiments examining its effects on thousands of men and women. His studies demonstrated that Siberian ginseng could help healthy people to withstand physical stress, improve their immune systems, and increase their mental and physical performance. Subsequent research revealed the herb's potential for treating specific ailments.
What it does?
Siberian ginseng contains substances that exert beneficial effects on the adrenals (the small glands on top of the kidneys that secrete stress-fighting hormones). It also raises energy levels and enhances immunity. Studies show that the herb is effective in protecting against all kinds of physical stresses: heat, cold, even radiation. It heightens mental alertness and allows the mind to focus in adverse situations. By reducing the effects of stress and supporting the immune system, Siberian ginseng may also be of value in decreasing the risk of many chronic illnesses.
Siberian ginseng is often recommended as a general revitaliser for people who are fatigues (including those recovering from illness and those who are overworked). It's also recommended for people whose ability to work is impaired, or for those with poor concentration. Studies in Russia involving 2100 healthy men and women aged 19 to 72 who were given extracts of herb found that ginseng improved the following: physical labour performance; proofreading accuracy; radio telegraphists' speed and precision in noisy surrounding; people's ability to adapt to high temperatures, as well as to a high-altitude, low-oxygen environment; and their ability to withstand motion sickness.
Because it also enhances immunity, Siberian ginseng is frequently included in nutritional support programs for people with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. In addition, it may benefit people in the early stage of Alzheimer's disease by increasing mental alertness.
By alerting hormone levels and toning the uterus, Siberian ginseng may play a role in treating menstrual irregularities and the symptoms of menopause. Taken between menstrual periods, it may also be useful in preventing female infertility. The herb may be suitable as a fertility aid for men as well. When alternated with Panax ginseng, it may be of value for some cases of impotence.
Traditionally, the Chinese have used Siberian ginseng to suppress colds and flu. The herb's efficacy may partly be related to its ability to boost the immune system. Russian studies support this use. In a very large study, more than 13000 car factory employees who took the herb one winter reported suffering 40% fewer respiratory tract infections during that period than in previous winters. It has also been used to treat certain heart conditions and to lower blood sugar. Test-tube studies suggest that Siberian ginseng may help to protect against some types of cancer or to boost the effects of conventional chemotherapy drugs. More studies are needed to verify these and other potential benefits.
- Combats stress-related illness.
- Fights fatigue; restores energy.
- Enhances immunity; useful for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
- Supports sexual function; may improve fertility in both sexes.
- Eases symptoms of menopause.
- May boost mental alertness in people with Alzheimer's disease.
- Dried herb/tea.
- Siberian ginseng may interfere with heart medications. in one 74-year-old man, taking the herb along with digoxin caused the drug to accumulate in his body, reaching dangerous levels.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
For stress, fatigue and other complaints: Take 100-300 mg of a standardized extract of Siberian ginseng two or three times a day.
For menstrual disorders: Mix Siberian ginseng with herbs such as chaste tree, dong quai and licorice. Commercial combinations are available.
Guidelines for use:
Siberian ginseng can be taken long term. However, some authorities suggest using it for three months and then stopping for a week or two. German health authorities do not recommend it for people with high blood pressure, though there are few studies to indicate any adverse reactions in this group. Because Siberian ginseng may interact with prescription medications, including some heart drugs, check with your doctor before taking it.
Possible side effects
The herb appears to be very safe at recommended doses. In rare cases, it may cause mild diarrhoea. Some people report feeling restless after taking Siberian ginseng, so don't take it close to bedtime.
- Buy standardized Siberian ginseng (eleuthero) extracts from a reputable company to be sure you're getting a quality product. These supplements contain specified amounts of the active ingredients, dubbed 'eleutherosides'. Look for extracts with an eleutheroside content of at least 0.8%.
- Siberian ginseng is often added to 'adrenal gland' or 'stress' formulas intended to combat stress. Look for the herb in combination with licorice, pantothenic acid and other ingredients.
- Avoid high-potency formulas of Siberian ginseng that exceed recommended daily doses. High doses (more than 900 mg a day) can cause insomnia, irritability, nervousness and anxiety.
- In Germany, Siberian ginseng is approved by medical authorities for use as an invigorating tonic for fatigue, weakness, an inability to work, impaired concentration and convalescence from illness. But it may not be effective in enabling a fit, well-nourished athlete to run any faster or longer. When 20 highly trained American distance runners were given Siberian ginseng, they performed no better in treadmill tests than their peers or placebos.
Did you know?
After the Chernobyl nuclear accident, many Russians were offered Siberian ginseng to help minimize the effects of radiation.