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Ginseng – Benefits and Dangers

Ginseng is frequently referred to as the “King of Herbs.” There’s good reason for this since it has so many beneficial effects. At the same time, you should be aware that ginseng is not for everyone. People with certain health issues need to avoid it altogether.

Let’s start by looking at the uses for ginseng. All of the following have been verified in recent clinical research:

  • Ginseng increases cognitive function – numerous studies indicate that regular intake of ginseng improves memory and overall ability to think clearly.
  • Ginseng improves antioxidant status – levels of life-extending anti-oxidants are maintained longer when taking ginseng.
  • Ginseng improves quality of life – in one study comparing taking vitamins alone or vitamins along with ginseng, the group who took ginseng had a higher quality of life score at the end of the study.
  • Ginseng improves immunity – the ability to fight off colds and infections improves when taking ginseng.
  • Ginseng helps lower blood lipids – a 2003 study demonstrated lowered LDL cholesterol levels in those taking ginseng.
  • Ginseng increases energy and sexual enjoyment – subjective reports from numerous studies indicate that ginseng improves these important measures of vital energy. One study even found that ginseng was effective for erectile dysfunction (ED).

In addition, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognizes ginseng’s ability to help regulate blood sugar, manage stress, and improve digestion.

This all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? So what reasons would anyone have for not taking ginseng? There are several.

First, in some people ginseng can increase blood pressure. If your blood pressure is low, this can be a good thing. However, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure should avoid ginseng. If you do start taking ginseng, monitor your blood pressure for several months to make sure that you aren’t having this effect. One way to avoid this is to make sure you don’t take more than the recommended dosage.

Second, women experiencing hot flashes from menopause should not take ginseng since it can aggravate this condition.

Third, if you have a fever or a virus, it’s best not to take ginseng since it will heat up the body. In TCM the goal when you have a ‘bug’ is to expel it from the body. Taking ginseng and other tonic herbs when you are acutely sick this way tends to drive the pathogen further into the body, just the opposite of what you want.

One more thing that some people experience when they take ginseng can be an increase in irritability. People who already have enough vital energy can overdo it and get cranky when they have too much.

I always recommend that you talk with someone familiar with herbal medicine before beginning to take a new herb or herbal formula. It’s a good way to make sure that you always get the biggest benefits and avoid any pitfalls along the way.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • KarenMay 8, 2011, 2:20 am

    This was interesting. Thanks!

  • Dr. BruceMay 8, 2011, 12:02 pm

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks! Hope all is well in your part of the world.

    Dr. Bruce

  • abdullahAugust 25, 2011, 5:50 am

    what are the dangers for heart patients

  • Dr. BruceAugust 25, 2011, 7:12 am

    Hi Abdullah,

    In general, ginseng is safe. But for heart patients, it depends. The most likely problem a heart patient would be an increase in blood pressure. That means checking blood pressure regularly is important. Any sign that blood pressure is going up, they should stop ginseng.

    And, as with most supplements, each person may have a unique response. So any unwanted symptoms when taking a new herb should be looked at closely. If that happens, stop taking it and see someone knowledgeable in herbal medicine.

    Hope that helps!

    Dr. Bruce

  • debOctober 20, 2011, 4:43 am

    What about people who have allergies.
    mold, trees, bees, grass..
    does this herb affect breathing-say increased sinus issues?
    thanks

  • Dr. BruceOctober 20, 2011, 5:35 am

    Hi Deb,

    Thank you for the question.

    Functionally, ginseng supports lung function. By extension that means it should support healthy sinuses. It also supports the immune system. So again it should help reduce allergies.

    However, each person is unique. That means someone could have unwanted reactions to taking it. If you or someone you know takes ginseng and sinus issues increase, then the best idea is to stop taking it. It could be because of the quality of the ginseng. It could also be an adverse reaction to the herb itself.

    Hope that helps!

    Dr. Bruce

  • kristanAugust 8, 2012, 12:46 am

    Could I take ginseng if my cortisol levels are low? because I have read that it reduces cortisol levels

  • Dr. BruceAugust 8, 2012, 7:32 am

    Hi Kristan,

    I can’t offer specific health advice on the blog. That’s mostly because it takes more information (history, pulse assessment, tongue assessment, etc.) to be accurate.

    However, in general, ginseng supports vital energy in all the organs. Anyone taking ginseng should monitor blood pressure for the first few months to assure that it isn’t going up. Also, pay attention to the other cautions mentioned in the article.

    Dr. Bruce

  • SuleimanMarch 10, 2013, 10:00 am

    Hi Dr Bruce
    I am a high blood pressure patient and taking medicine for this. The medicine I am taking for about two years is : Nebilet, nebivolol 5 mg. and Lowvask (amlodipine 2.5 mg).
    I bought Ginseng Extract capsule 500 mg (0riginal), is it safe for me to take it and if yes what is the daily dose.
    Thanks
    Suleiman

  • Dr. BruceMarch 10, 2013, 10:25 am

    Hi Suleiman,

    I make it a practice not to give specific medical advice to individuals by email or on the blog. The reason is that there are too many variables to be able to give you useful advice. I would need to do an entire intake and work up to do that. I hope you understand.

    That being said, if I were going to take ginseng and had concerns about blood pressure, I would make sure to monitor my blood pressure carefully while adding the ginseng. I would also start with the lowest possible dose (usually one capsule) before adding any more. At the first sign that there was any increase in blood pressure not caused by momentary stresses, fatigue, etc., I would stop the ginseng.

    However, please do NOT consider this specific advice for your situation. You should ask your doctor who prescribed the medication what the best course of action is for you.

    Be well,

    Dr. Bruce

  • SuleimanMarch 10, 2013, 2:24 pm

    Thanks for your comment. I will consult with my doctor and let you know.

  • NicolaMarch 11, 2013, 11:10 am

    Hello Dr Bruce,
    I started to take corean ginseng extract two times a day (about 1 gram each time in a little of hot water) two weeks ago because I’m doing a really stressfull job. I’ve already start to feel the benefits.
    Often during the job I’m so busy (I’m cook) and I forgot to take the second dose so I started to take the two dosis at the same time when I get up in the morning (2 gram).
    Is it right or to take double quantity in one solution can give me problems?
    Thanks

  • Dr. BruceMarch 11, 2013, 11:31 am

    Hi Nicola,

    As you have seen in this thread, I can’t offer specific advice on the blog.

    I will say that it is generally best not to double up on the ginseng in one dose. You results may vary.

    Take care.

    Dr. Bruce

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