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Ginseng Supplements: Find Out if They Can Really Boost Your Health

Maybe you’re studying for a test that could lead to a promotion and looking for a boost. Or you’re training for a 5K and want to perform your best. Or you’ve got a flight coming up and want to up the odds that you don’t get sick.

If you look into what might help you, there’s a good chance that ginseng will grab your attention. When you hear the health claims for it, you might think you stumbled across a miracle drug. 

You can find reports saying ginseng improves physical stamina, memory and the immune system. Some claim it can slow the aging process. And other studies suggest that it may help improve cancer, diabetes, heart disease and sexual function.

Some - or even all - of these claims may be true. But here’s the thing. These studies aren’t definitive. “They have a mix of results that aren’t conclusive,” said Jose Velazquez, a dietitian with Banner Health.

It’s important to read the claims carefully when deciding whether to take a supplement. “Not everything is black and white,” Velazquez said. For example, a study could claim that ginseng may improve blood glucose levels. That’s not definitive—it doesn’t mean that ginseng will improve blood glucose levels.

And many health claims are based only on animal studies, so we don’t know if the results would be the same in humans. “Scientists also don’t know if the results they are getting are from a specific strand of ginseng, a mixture of ginsengs or some other combination,” he said. 

“We are working towards getting to know ginseng’s health benefits, but it will take many years of studies and research to provide a definitive answer. In the meantime, we need to be cautious about taking herbal supplements. If you decide to take them, always check with your pharmacist and doctor,” Velasquez said.

Here’s what we know so far about this popular supplement.

What is ginseng?

Ginseng is an herbal supplement that people have used for hundreds of years. It comes from the roots of the Panax plant. Different types of ginseng come from Asia (Panax ginseng), the Americas (Panax quinquefolius) and Siberia (Eleutherococcus senticosus). They all have different makeups, properties, active compounds, potency and potential effects. 

People turn to ginseng in hopes that it will help them increase energy, improve brain function and enhance immunity. Ginseng is considered an adaptogenic, which are substances believed to help you deal with stress and improve overall well-being. But it’s essential to keep in mind that everyone responds to adaptogenics differently.

Here’s why you may want to consider ginseng

“If people want to start taking ginseng as a supplement, I recommend taking it for certain properties such as improving your physical stamina, memory or immune system function,” Velazquez said. “I would not recommend taking it for chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sexual function. We have safe and medically proven medications to treat these conditions.”

He recommends using caution, though. “Although ginseng is a natural herb that has been used for years, we don’t know a lot of things about it and we don’t know that it is entirely safe to use,” he said. 

Here’s what to watch for if you’re considering taking ginseng

There are concerns about every medication and supplement, and that includes ginseng. People taking ginseng have reported unpleasant side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and menstrual changes. 

“If you start taking ginseng and experience any discomfort, you should stop taking it,” Velazquez said. And you shouldn’t take it for more than three months—otherwise, you might experience side effects.

Like all supplements, ginseng isn’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way other foods and drugs are. The amounts of active compounds might not be consistent, and there could be other, unwanted ingredients included in the supplement. So, you want to be careful to choose high-quality supplements from trusted brands. Third-party testing agencies like, NSF or USP can help ensure quality and purity.

Here’s when you might want to skip ginseng 

Ginseng is not recommended for people who have some pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, cancer or autoimmune disorders. Pregnant women should also not take ginseng. 

Ginseng can interact with certain medications, so talking with a health care professional before taking a ginseng supplement is important. Here are some of the medications where interactions are possible:

  • Anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs. Ginseng can increase the risk of bleeding when combined with medications such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin or clopidogrel (Plavix). 
  • Immunosuppressant drugs. Ginseng’s possible immune-enhancing properties could interfere with the effectiveness of immunosuppressant medications like cyclosporine or tacrolimus. 
  • Diabetes medications. Ginseng may affect your blood sugar levels and could interact with medications used to manage diabetes, such as insulin or oral drugs. 
  • Blood pressure medications. Ginseng could affect your blood pressure and combining it with medications like calcium channel blockers or beta-blockers might affect your blood pressure control. 
  • Stimulant medications. Ginseng’s stimulant properties may increase the effects of caffeine, amphetamines or antidepressants. You might notice nervousness, restlessness or insomnia. 
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Ginseng may interact with these antidepressants, leading to high blood pressure, headache or tremors. 

How much ginseng should you take?

If you decide to try ginseng supplements, follow the recommendations on the packaging or talk to a health care professional. Your dosage could vary based on age, health status and the results you hope to see from taking the supplement.

The bottom line

“If you are a healthy person who is not on any medications and you’re looking for ways to improve your health, then ginseng might be appropriate,” Velazquez said. Keep in mind that a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise is the best foundation for overall health and well-being. If you would like to connect with a health care professional to learn more about whether ginseng supplements might be right for you, reach out to Banner Health. 

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