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Ginseng; Is It Really Beneficial or an Asian Myth?

For thousands of years, ginseng has been revered in the Orient as an almost magical natural supplement with amazing benefits for those who use it regularly. It is said that ginseng will boost the immune system, enhance vitality, increase physical endurance, increase mental alertness, and treat illnesses like colds, fevers, headaches, and vomiting. It is even believed to be an aphrodisiac. Let’s face it, if ginseng actually had the properties to give all the benefits it is believed to give, people would be taking it with every meal. The fact is however, the benefits of ginseng fall a far sight short of its claims. Commercially, ginseng is taken as tea, in capsules, in liquid form from viles, or even by eating the root itself.

Usually it is taken in doses of around 5 grams at a time. Ginseng is most commonly grown in Asia, particularly in China, Korea, and Japan, although it can also be found in wooded areas from Quebec to Missouri. Ginsenosides, which is the active substance in the root, has been shown to increase endurance and decrease fatigue in mice when given to them in large amounts. One study where large amounts were given to humans noted a small improvement in the endurance levels of those who took it. Also, “Chinese herbal medicine”, published by the US National Institute of Health, claims the use of ginseng can raise unusually low blood pressure and can help prevent shock after heart attacks.

However, there is no good scientific evidence to support any of the claims made of these alleged benefits of consuming this root. It is also very likely that when you buy ginseng at the store, it will have a low concentration of ginsenosides in it. This means that even if ginseng does have some marginal benefit to offer, you will probably not receive any of them. The lancet, a British medical journal, published a study done in Sweden which showed that most commercially sold ginseng products contained only trace amounts of ginsenosides. These findings concluded that the amount of ginsenosides found in these products was too insignificant to be of any benefit. Some of the products, including two sold in the US (“Siberian Ginseng” and “Up Your Gas”), had almost none of this substance at all. For the most part, taking small to moderate amounts of ginseng will not be harmful to you, but you have to ask yourself if dollar for dollar it is worth taking something which is of no real value or benefit to you. We all can fall victim to hype made about a product, especially one that has been around for thousands of years, but when there is no good, proven science to support that products claims, save your money for a more useful purpose.


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