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.

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