By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but there is a paucity of scientific data regarding its efficacy and health benefits.
The clinical effects of ginseng have been difficult to verify and quantify using the scientific methods that are applied to other drug candidates. This is partly due to the wide variety of ginseng types that have been used in studies. Lack of uniformity between the different types and their components have led to inconclusive data regarding the medicinal benefits of the plant.
There has also been a lack of high quality clinical trials performed to test ginseng, which has not been studied in enough blinded, randomized, controlled trials to prove the associated health benefits.
Ginseng is sold and marketed as a health tonic. Aside from the purported benefits as an aphrodisiac, ginseng is said to have antidiabetic effects and to improve sexual dysfunction in males.
Ginseng is marketed as an adaptogen, which refers to an agent’s ability to increase the body’s resistance and capacity to withstand stress. Some minor studies have shown ginseng to be an effective adaptogen due to its antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. However, several animal studies have failed to demonstrate these properties and have in fact shown a decline in longevity and health in the presence of stress, despite administration of ginseng.
On the other hand, a recent study from the University of Hong Kong found that out of the nine ginsenosides present in ginseng, seven could selectively inhibit inflammation by inhibiting the expression of the inflammatory gene CXCL-10. This is especially true for Asian ginseng, although the effects on humans are unclear.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014