Ginseng Health Benefits and Side Effects

Written by: Christopher Karam | ✔️ Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Riad M., M.D - G.P and Micheal B., M.D | Last Updated: 2020 June 01

What Is Ginseng?

Ginseng (Panax ginseng), also known as Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng) or Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng) has been used in traditional North America and Asian medicine for centuries.

Most people use it to improve cognitive functions such as thinking, concentration, memory, as well as physical endurance.

Ginseng root has amazing nutritional and health benefits that can boost your immune system, fight infections, and help men who suffer from erectile dysfunction.

Korean and Asian ginseng are also both used to help with symptoms of depression, anxiety, fever, stabilizing blood sugar levels, as well as improve infertility and indigestion.

chinese ginseng root tea mat

There are 11 slightly different species of ginseng, all belonging to the genus Panax of the family Araliaceae. The botanical name Panax means “all-heal” in Greek.

The original ginseng plant belongs to the Panax genus species. The Siberian ginseng and crown prince ginseng, have distinctively different functions.

There are two main types of ginseng: American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian Ginseng (Panax Ginseng). Both varieties of ginseng contain ginsenosides, which is a type of antioxidant in the class of saponins.

This is the compound that gives ginseng its health-boosting and medicinal qualities. These two varieties of ginseng have similar health benefits but have varying active components.

Red ginseng is used for increasing energy and reducing fatigue, while white gingeng is used more for its high concentration of antioxidants, benefiting brain health, immune system strength, and minimizing the effects of erectile dysfunction.

Cultivation of Ginseng

Growing ginseng takes many years before it’s ready to be harvested, as wild ginseng plants take a full year to shed the flesh that encases the root, at which point the roots have enough energy to sprout.

Fresh asiang ginseng roots are harvested around every 4 years, while white ginseng is harvested between 4 to 6 years and red Korean ginseng is harvested after 6 or more years. Cultivated ginseng is expensive because it takes so long to grow.

While American and Korean ginseng roots vary in their concentration of active ingredients, their healthy plant-based compounds have multiple beneficial effects on the body.

American ginseng has soothing and relaxing health benefits, whereas the red Korean ginseng variety has more of an invigorating and energizing health effect.

Ginseng contains two significant compounds called gintonin and ginsenosides. These plant-based compounds complement one another which is the source of ginseng’s health benefits.

Ginseng extract contains a lot of gintonin, gintonin has beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which improves blood sugar, reduces the risk of diabetes, and stabilizes blood pressure.

While pure ginsenosides such as Rb1, Rg1, Rg3, Rh1 improves brain health, cognitive functions, spatial memory, and correcting brain metabolic alterations primarily focusing on the cerebral cortex and hippocampus segments of your brain.

The health benefits of pure ginsenosides combat cognitive decline, memory loss, cognitive deterioration, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Native Americans used the ginseng root as a stimulant and headache remedy, as well as a treatment for infertility, fever, and indigestion, the same reasons for why we use ginseng today.

Approximately 6 million Americans take advantage of the proven health benefits of asian ginseng daily, most of which is taken through a gingseng supplement.

panax ginseng root plant

The unique and beneficial plant-based compounds of the Panax species are called ginsenosides, and they’re currently under clinical research to investigate their potential for medical use.

Both red Korean, Asian, and American ginseng contain ginsenosides, but they include different types in different amounts.

Research has varied, and some experts aren’t yet convinced that there’s enough data to label the medical capabilities of ginseng, but for centuries people have believed in its beneficial compounds and results.

Additionally, Ginseng is often sold as an herbal supplement. Herbal and health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.

There are limited regulations and manufacturing standards for many supplements, including ginseng. Most manufactured herbal supplements are contaminated with toxic chemicals, heavy metals, or other drugs and medications.

Ginseng Health Benefits

There are tons of health benefits of having ginseng be a part of your daily diet. It’s also very easy to include it in your meals or morning routines.

Ginseng supplements are available in the form of capsules, energy drinks, powder, infused wines, and many others. Making it easy for you to add ginseng to your diet conveniently, without all of the calories, nutritional facts, and macronutrients.

Alternatively, you can also add shaved ginseng roots to your soups, while ginseng powder can be sprinkled over your main meals like your salads and pasta.

1. Improves Brain Function

Ginseng can help improve your brain functions such as memory, behavior, and helps elevate your mood. Asian ginseng stabilizes and lowers blood sugar levels, giving you consistent energy levels throughout the day.

Panax ginseng contributes to improving your memory by increasing survival length, proliferation, and replication speed of brain cells. It also has antioxidant which prevents free radical damage and oxidation to your brain cells.

This immensely contributes to the prevention of memory loss and protects against age-related mental decline.

Ginseng is also a promising neuroprotective agent that protects brain health from diseases that rob it of its learning and information-retention ability.

Ginseng stimulates your brain cells, improves concentration, and cognitive activities. Evidence shows that taking Panax ginseng root daily for 12 weeks can improve mental performance in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Some test-tube and animal studies show that components in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals.

One study followed 30 healthy people who consumed 200 mg of Panax ginseng daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, they showed improvement in mental health, social functioning and mood.

However, these benefits stopped being significant after 8 weeks, this suggests that ginseng effects will stagnate with extended use.

Another study examined how single doses of either 200 or 400 mg of Panax ginseng affected mental performance, mental fatigue and blood sugar levels in 30 healthy adults before and after a 10-minute mental test.

ginseng root bunch farm

The 200-mg dose, as opposed to the 400-mg dose, was more effective at improving mental performance and fatigue during the test.

This final study done at the Department of Neurology at the Clinical Research Institute in South Korea investigated the effectiveness of ginseng on the cognitive performance of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

After ginseng treatment, the participants showed improvements, and this upscale trend continued for three months. After discontinuing ginseng treatment, the improvements declined to the levels of the control group.

2. Improves Mood while Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Ginseng helps calm your mood, reduces stress, and relieves anxiety which can have serious health benefits and positive impacts on your physical as well as mental health. Many demands, goals, financial situations, as well as the environment itself often causes stress and anxiety.

Anxiety isn’t harmful to your health in every case. Acceptable and maintained levels of stress and nervousness increasing both mental and physical strength.

However, if too much, it harnesses one’s power over situations and directly affects the ability to cope with the competitive environment.

Panax Ginseng shows a superior level of regulation of stress as compared to other adaptogens. In a study carried out by Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK, the researchers tested the claim that Panax Ginseng delivers a calming effect.

The researchers found out that a study conducted with healthy participants who took 400 mg of ginseng supplements daily showed improved calmness due to reduced stress. The participants reported better overall well-being, higher energy levels, better sleep, sex drive, and personal satisfaction.

The calming effect is attributed to the ability and effectiveness of its ginsenosides to control the feel-good hormone, serotonin and to boost your energy levels.

Panax Ginseng is an adaptogen that also supports the body’s adrenal function, making you more resilient to mental, physical, and environmental stressors.

When compared to caffeine, Panax Ginseng acts as a thermostat that provides nutrition to the adrenal glands, unlike caffeine which stresses them. This way, Panax Ginseng helps to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, to respond to stressful situations.

A controlled study was conducted at the Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Center in the United Kingdom to study the health benefits and side effects of ginseng.

This research study involved 30 healthy volunteers who were given three rounds of treatments of ginseng and placebo.

The study was determined that ginseng was able to improve mood and mental function in all individuals consuming ginseng and minor benefits in the placebo group.

The results found that 200 milligrams of ginseng for eight days slowed the fall in mood, but also slowed the participants’ response to mental arithmetic. The 400 milligram dose improved calmness and improved mental arithmetic for the duration of the eight-day treatment.

ginseng root bowl

An additional study done at the Division of Pharmacology at the Central Drug Research Institute tested the effects of Panax ginseng on rats with chronic stress. They found that it has significant anti-stress properties and can be used for the treatment of stress-induced disorders.

The 100 mg dose of Panax ginseng given to healthy rats reduced their ulcer index, adrenal gland weight, and plasma glucose levels. Making it a powerful medicinal option for chronic stress, a great natural remedy for ulcers, and heals adrenal fatigue.

3. Contains Potent Antioxidants That May Reduce Inflammation

Ginseng has beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Some test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells.

For example, a test-tube study found that Korean red ginseng extract reduced inflammation and improved antioxidant activity in skin cells from people who suffer from eczema.

One study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes take 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days.

The healthy men then had levels of certain inflammatory markers tested after performing an exercise test. These levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing.

Lastly, a larger study followed 71 postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then measured.

These researchers concluded that red ginseng can help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities.

Another animal study measured ginseng’s anti-inflammatory benefits. Korean red ginseng was tested for its anti-allergenic properties on 40 mice with allergic rhinitis, a common upper airway inflammatory disease typically seen in children and adults.

ginseng root table hd

At the end of the trial, the Korean red ginseng reduced the nasal inflammatory allergic reaction in these mice, showcasing ginseng as being among the healthiest anti-inflammatory foods.

4. Helps with Weight Loss and Appetite Suppression

Weight loss and appetite suppression are the most common health benefits of ginseng. Ginseng may be used as a natural appetite suppressant while also boosting your metabolism and reducing blood sugar levels, helping the body burn fat at a faster rate.

However, ginseng shouldn't be depended on to take care of your weight loss goals (unless you're below 10% body fat).

Without a proper diet, relying on ginseng alone won’t help you in losing weight, especially not when you've just started.

There was a recent study done at the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research that measured the anti-diabetic and anti-obesity effects of Panax ginseng berry in adult mice.

The healthy mice were injected with 150 milligrams of ginseng berry extract per kilogram of body weight for 12 days. By the fifth day, the mice taking the ginseng extract had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels.

After day 12, the glucose tolerance in the mice increased and overall blood glucose levels decreased by just over 53%.

The treated mice also showed signs of weight loss, starting at 51 grams and ending the treatment at 45 grams.

A similar study done in 2009 found that Panax ginseng plays a vital role in the anti-obesity effect in mice, which suggests that when wanting to improve your management of obesity and related metabolic syndromes, its best when supplemented with ginseng.

ginseng root panax supplements

5. Improves Lung Function and Efficiency

Receiving ginseng treatments have shown to significantly decrease lung bacteria in our respiratory system, and studies involving rats have shown that ginseng can stop the growth of a common lung infection called Pseudomonas Aeruginosa.

In one 1997 test study, rats were given ginseng injections daily for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks the treated group showed significantly improved bacterial clearance in the lungs, strictly caused by all of its antioxidants.

6. Boosts Your Immune System

One of the most impactful health benefits of ginseng is its ability to strengthen and boost your immune system, helping the body fight off various infections and diseases.

The roots, stems, and leaves of ginseng have been used for maintaining immune homeostasis and enhancing resistance to illness or infection.

Several clinical studies have shown that American Panax ginseng improves the performance of cells that play a role in immunization. Ginseng regulates each type of immune cell which includes macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, T and B cells.

Supplementing with ginseng helps produce antimicrobial compounds that work as a defence mechanism against bacterial and viral infections.

Many pieces of research involving mice showed that ginseng decreased the number of harmful bacteria found in the spleen, kidney, and blood of the mice.

Numerous research papers have reported that ginseng may also inhibit the growth of many viruses, such as the influenza virus, HIV, and rotavirus.

panax ginseng berries

Ginseng Side Effects and Detriments

According to many research papers, ginseng appears to be safe and is most likely not likely to produce any serious adverse side effects.

However, people using diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar levels closely when using ginseng to ensure these levels don't drop too low.

On top of that, ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of certain anticoagulant drugs because of its ability to thin your blood. For these reasons, it's best to talk to your health care provider before supplementing with ginseng.

Note that due to the lack of safety studies, ginseng is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or currently breastfeeding.

Long term exposure to ginseng will decrease its effectiveness over time. So it's best to take ginseng in cycles, such as 1 dose every 2-3 days rather than daily.

You should consider stopping your use of ginseng and call your healthcare provider at once if you're experiencing any of the following common side effects:

  • Severe skin reactions

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Swelling in your face or tongue

  • Burning in your eyes

  • Skin pain followed by a red or purple skin rash that may cause peeling

Some other moderately rare side effects when supplementing with ginseng include:

  • Increased Heart Rate

  • Insomnia

  • Headaches

  • Swelling

  • Change in Blood Pressure

  • Diarrhea

  • Chronic Sleep Irritability

  • Severe Skin Rashes

  • Nervousness

  • Diarrhea

red ginseng panax ginseng roots

Rating and Recommendation

Extremely Recommended

To summarize ginseng, it has lots of nutritional and health benefits while having lots of negative side effects, like a double-edged sword.

We highly recommend taking ginseng supplements instead of using an actual ginseng root in your meals. Ginseng supplements have all of the nutritional facts and health benefits without the taste and cost of buying and shaving the actual root plant.

Here’s the list of health benefits of ginseng:

  1. Improved brain function

  2. Improves mood while reducing stress and anxiety

  3. Contains potent antioxidants that may reduce inflammation

  4. Helps with weight loss and appetite suppression

  5. Improves lung function and efficiency

  6. Boosts immune system

  7. Can help fight against certain types of cancer

  8. Lowers blood sugar levels

Here’s the list of side effects of ginseng:

  1. Causing severe skin reactions

  2. Sore throat

  3. Swelling in face or tongue

  4. Burning of the eyes

  5. Skin rashes

  6. Increased heart rate

An easy way to incorporate ginseng into your meals is by shaving or grating it into your meals. Another way to incorporate ginseng into your drinks is by taking a ginseng root and steeping it in hot water to infuse it, making it a ginseng tea.

See how your body reacts to small doses, and increase your ginseng intake over a few days. If you haven't experienced any of the side effects, you can safely consider getting ginseng supplements.

However, if you've experienced any of the previous symptoms, you must stop consuming ginseng roots and supplements immediately and talk about it with your doctor.

For those who can safely ingest ginseng, are going to reap a wide range of health benefits. To be safe, you should supplement with ginseng every 2nd day, but no more than 3 to 4 times per week.

Frequently Asked Questions

Ginseng is a root plant from the Panax genus family. There are 2 variations, red Korean ginseng and white American ginseng.

Red ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Used to give more energy, reduce stress and inflammation, as well as boosting immune system strength.

White ginseng is used for relaxation, improving mood regulation, reducing anxiety, and for losing weight.

Although red Korean ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, modern research is inconclusive about its ability to treat any medical condition.

It's also not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used as a prescription drug.

Red and white ginseng both have many similar health benefits. The only difference being that red Korean ginseng gives you energy while white American ginseng relaxes and calms you down.

These health benefits include:

1. Improved brain function

2. Improves mood while reducing stress and anxiety

3. Contains potent antioxidants that may reduce inflammation

4. Helps with weight loss and appetite suppression

5. Improves lung function and efficiency

6. Boosts immune system

7. Can help fight against certain types of cancer

8. Lowers blood sugar levels

Ginseng has a list of side effects if not taken responsibly. It's possible to have an allergic reaction to ginseng so it's best to get tested before buying any supplements.

It's also possible to have conflicting side effects if ginseng is taken along with prescription medicines, if you take any prescription drugs you need to check first with a health care professional before using ginseng regularly.

Ginseng is a stimulant, which can induce nervousness, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, stomach pains and upsets, diarrhea, itching, and many other symptoms.

Other side effects of ginseng include:

1. Causing severe skin reactions

2. Sore throat

3. Swelling in face or tongue

4. Burning in your eyes

5. Skin rashes

6. Increased heart rate

Ginseng is an aphrodisiac, promoting sexual drive and function which is why it's used for treating sexual dysfunction and erectile dysfunction disorders.

An aphrodisiac substance is a type of food that's consumed to increase sex drive and fertility. Widely used to treat infertility related dysfunctions such as impotence and erectile dysfunction (ED).

It's also been used in ancient Chinese medicine to enhance sexual behavior, improving sperm count and health quality, and help individuals suffering from treatment-related infertility.

Articles and Sources

1. J Natl Cancer Inst. (2013 August 16) Wisconsin Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) to improve cancer-related fatigue: a randomized, double-blind trial, N07C2.

2. Nat Prod Rep. (2015 February 02) Recent advances in ginseng as cancer therapeutics: a functional and mechanistic overview.

3. Drugs Exp Clin Res. (1996 January 06) Efficacy and safety of the standardised Ginseng extract G115 for potentiating vaccination against the influenza syndrome and protection against the common cold [corrected].

4. J Ginseng Res. (2012 January 01) Chemical Diversity of Panax ginseng, Panax quinquifolium, and Panax notoginseng.

5. Acta Pharmacol Sin. (2013 November 11) Yin and Yang of ginseng pharmacology: ginsenosides vs gintonin.

6. Molecules. (2011 March 04) Effects of Panax ginseng on tumor necrosis factor-α-mediated inflammation: a mini-review.

7. Asian J Androl. (2007 March 02) Study of the efficacy of Korean Red Ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

8. Am J Chin Med. (2014 January 01) Efficacy comparison of Korean ginseng and American ginseng on body temperature and metabolic parameters.

9. Nutr Neurosci. (2012 November 06) Heat-processed ginseng enhances the cognitive function in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer's disease.

10. J Pharm Pharmacol. (2013 March 03) Potentiation of antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of cultured wild ginseng root extract through probiotic fermentation.

11. J Ginseng Res. (2017 October 04) Effects of ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis

12. BMC Complement Altern Med. (2013 March 18) Red ginseng abrogates oxidative stress via mitochondria protection mediated by LKB1-AMPK pathway.

13. Immune Netw. (2011 February 01) Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidative Effects of Korean Red Ginseng Extract in Human Keratinocytes.

14. J Ginseng Res. (2012 October 04) Ginseng, the 'Immunity Boost': The Effects of Panax ginseng on Immune System

15. Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S (2011 February 08) Biological Activities of Ginseng and Its Application to Human Health

16. J Ginseng Res. (2013 March 01) A comprehensive review of the therapeutic and pharmacological effects of ginseng and ginsenosides in central nervous system

17. Aging Dis. (2017 December 06) Ginseng: An Nonnegligible Natural Remedy for Healthy Aging

18. J Ginseng Res. (2018 July 03) Pharmacological and medical applications of Panax ginseng and ginsenosides: a review for use in cardiovascular diseases

19. J Ginseng Res. (2013 April 02) Actoprotective effect of ginseng: improving mental and physical performance

Ginseng Nutrition Facts

Serving Size 100 g (about 3.5 Oz or 0.44 Cups)

Amount Per Serving
Calories 80 Calories from Fat 9
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1 g 2 %
Saturated Fat 0 g 0 %
Polyuns. fat 0 g
Monouns. fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0 %
Sodium 13 mg 1 %
Total Carbohydrate 18 g 6 %
Dietary Fiber 2 g 8 %
Sugars 1.5 g
Protein 2 g
Vitamin A 0 % Vitamin C 8.5 %
Vitamin E 0 % Vitamin K 0 %
Calcium 1 % Iron 3.5 %

Calories per gram:

Fat: 9 | Carbohydrate: 4 | Protein: 4

Source: USDA's Nutrient Database

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