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Ginseng is an herb with many different varieties, the most common being American ginseng and Asian ginseng. These plants are known to have outstanding medicinal properties, including benefits for cancer patients.
There are 11 types of ginseng, all of which belong to the Panax genus. In Greek, Panax means “all-healing,” which is appropriate for this amazing herb. For centuries, people have used ginseng to treat depression and fatigue, improve memory & endurance, and boost immune function.
While filming for our documentary Eastern Medicine: Journey Through Asia, we spoke with Dr. Chien Fu Chen, who lists ginseng as one of the most important herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Ginseng is a powerful antioxidant as well as an anti-inflammatory. Some studies have shown that Panax ginseng can also improve immune function in patients recovering from conventional cancer treatments like surgery and chemotherapy. One doctor that we interviewed uses double fermented ginseng, which can make this herb even more effective in fighting cancer.
Though various types of ginseng extracts or derivatives have shown anticancer properties in human cancer cell lines, there are no published clinical trials evaluating ginseng’s efficacy in a human population. Ty and I have seen this time and time again with herbs and other natural treatments. They are just not given the scientific attention they need, if they’re not lining the pockets of big pharma.
Ginseng has, however, been studied as a chemopreventive and an agent to improve quality of life among cancer patients.
According to a study published in the Chinese Medicine Journal, ginseng’s secret weapon for fighting cancer is revealed through compounds called “ginsenosides.” Numerous studies demonstrate the beneficial effect of ginsenosides against deviant molecular processes that are responsible for cancer.
In fact, new studies are being published every day regarding its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. New research is also demonstrating its potential to kill cancer cells, as well as inhibit cancer’s uncontrolled growth, invasiveness, and angiogenesis.
Benefits of Ginseng
#1. Increased Energy
A 2013 study published in PLoS One found that Panax ginseng (or Indian ginseng) may help to combat fatigue in cancer patients. Other studies have shown that ginseng can reduce oxidative stress and combat chronic fatigue. Even a few grams have been shown to increase energy.
By reducing oxidative stress and increasing energy at the cellular level, ginseng can help give you more physical energy. People have used teas and extracts made with ginseng for years to increase vitality. But the energy benefits may go beyond the physical.
Ginseng may help improve memory, concentration, and cognitive function. A daily dose of Panax ginseng root has even been shown to improve symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies have shown a direct correlation between ginseng intake and decreased mental fatigue.
Studies have shown that too much ginseng may reduce its effects. Subjects receiving a 200mg dose had better mental performance than those taking 400mg. However, the 400mg dose seemed to improve the subjects’ math skills. But these aren’t the only effects ginseng can have on the brain.
#3. Mental Health
There’s evidence that ginseng can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. In the same study mentioned earlier, a 400mg dose appeared to promote calmness in the subjects. Research published in the Journal of Pharmacological Sciences showed that Panax ginseng can help treat chronic stress.
Stress can be a root cause of many diseases, including cancer. Chronic stress can lead to hormone disruption and metabolic issues as well. According to the research, ginseng extract may be your best bet for fighting stress.
Another leading cause of chronic disease is inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to the formation of cancer, Alzheimer’s, asthma, heart disease, chronic pain, digestive disorders, and diabetes. Fortunately, ginseng has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Korean Red ginseng extract increases antioxidant activity and helps to reduce inflammation, making it a favorite among athletes. It may also help children who have received chemotherapy.
Its anti-inflammatory power can also help repair some of the brain damage that can damage cognitive function and even lead to dementia.
#5. Weight Loss
Ginseng can also help with healthy weight loss. Packing a one-two punch, Panax ginseng can both suppress appetite and improve metabolism. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer, but a healthy diet of ginseng can certainly help you shed the extra weight and get back to an active lifestyle.
Increased metabolism is another amazing benefit of ginseng. Healthy metabolism is important for more than just weight loss. It can also help your body process nutrients more effectively. Additionally, metabolism can improve energy and even stimulate cell regeneration.
#6. Lowered Blood Sugar
High blood sugar is a major problem in the Western world – and a risk factor for heart disease and cancer. More than 100 million Americans suffer from diabetes, often caused by excess blood sugar. Worst of all, cancer uses sugar as fuel. For cancer patients, excess blood sugar can be detrimental.
But studies have shown that American ginseng can help to combat high blood sugar (or hyperglycemia). This may be because ginseng helps with pancreatic production of insulin. This makes it an effective natural treatment for diabetes. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that Panax ginseng can help regulate blood glucose, making ginseng an essential food for cancer patients.
The ways in which ginseng combats cancer are abundant. Many of the benefits listed above – antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-stress properties – are contributors to a reduced risk of cancer. Ginseng may be especially effective at treating colorectal cancer, which currently affects over 135,000 people in the U.S. alone.
But it can also help cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment. As many as 90% of all cancer patients report a debilitating fatigue, as the immune system struggles against inflammatory cytokines and the hormone known as cortisol becomes unbalanced. Ginseng helps to reduce these symptoms, largely by supporting the immune system.
Adaptogens are herbs that help control the body’s stress response, adjusting hormones and other substances either up or down depending on what the body needs. Indian ginseng (aka ashwagandha or withania somnifera) dates back to 4,000 B.C. and benefits include: narcotic, diuretic, anthelmintic, astringent, tonic, aphrodisiac, thermogenic, and stimulant properties
An Ayurvedic superstar, Indian ginseng helps the body self-adapt rather than pharmaceutical drugs that alter a cellular function or gene expression in order to “fix” symptoms.
#9. Immune System
When it comes to cancer, injury, or nearly any ailment, the body’s natural immune system is the best way to get back to full health. Treatments ranging from vitamin C injections to immunotherapy all work to boost immune function, while conventional drugs like chemotherapy and antibiotics work against it.
Interestingly, many of the studies evaluating the effects of ginseng on immune function have focused on patients with stomach cancer. This is because most of the immune system resides in the gut. Ginseng may work to help the gut bacteria necessary for a strong immune system thrive. One study found that those taking ginseng had a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and a 38% higher survival rate after conventional treatment.
How to Get Enough Ginseng
Ginseng root is the source of all products. It can be consumed raw, as a powder, extract, or tea. Ginseng is a common ingredient and is common in Asian cuisine. Raw ginseng can be sliced and steeped in hot water to make a powerful herbal tea. The quality and concentration of ginseng products can fluctuate, so make sure you get your products from a reputable source.
There can also be side effects when consuming too much ginseng, and each person has a different tolerance. The common recommended daily dose is 1-2 grams of raw ginseng, or 200-400mg of extract, but you should always consult a professional before making significant changes to your diet.
Side Effects of Ginseng
Ginseng is generally considered safe for consumption, and side effects are relatively rare. However, there are some adverse effects to watch for: headaches, insomnia, irritability, skin rashes, dizziness, dry mouth, lowered heart rate.
Ginseng is a food that is easy to add to your diet and offers a host of amazing benefits!
From improved brain function and mood to increased immunity, just a few grams of this natural root can significantly improve your health. Most importantly, ginseng may help to prevent cancer, and can promote healing for patients who have undergone conventional treatments.
Editor’s Note: This article was initially published in September 2019 and was updated in May 2021.
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There are 11 types of ginseng, all of which belong to the Panax genus.
Ginseng has been studied as a chemopreventive and an agent to improve quality of life among cancer patients.
Benefits of Ginseng:
- Increased Energy
- Mental Health
- Weight Loss
- Lowered Blood Sugar
- Immune System
Ginseng can be consumed raw, as a powder, extract, or tea.