Ginseng

The famous herbal remedy called the ginseng currently has a well deserved reputation as an effective herb for the treatment of many different disorders affecting the human body. Many cultures have utilized the ginseng for centuries in the continent of Asia, particularly the east Asian cultures of China - where it is most widely used - Japan and Korea, many peoples in the Asian part of Russia towards the far east or the Asian parts of the former Soviet Union also made use of this herb - the ginseng root is used as a virtual wonder herbal remedy or even as a miracle panacea in these parts. One reason for this tradition of multiple uses of the herb may lie in the morphology of the ginseng root, according to the ancient herbal "Doctrine of Signatures" a plant that resembles some part of the body was typically thought to be useful in treating that part of the body, the root of the ginseng has a strange and manlike form, which may be one reason it is considered so useful in the treatment of "man's afflictions"- the thinking being, as it resembles a man, it can treat every disease in a man. At the same time, the actual way in which ginseng is used in Asia has been investigated by Farnsworth, he noted that the ginseng is not seen as a curative herb at all and is not in almost universal use as a herbal medication due to a prophylactic or therapeutic benefit, but for its main role as a supportive herb for the maintenance of health in people - the herb is not used to cure any particular disease and its use is thus as a general immune system booster. Aside from the fact that ginseng is believed to be mildly aphrodisiacal in its effects and is said to boost sexual functioning, the herb largely performs a role similar to and analogous to the role performed by the ubiquitous vitamin tablets used in supplementary treatments in the western world.

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The recent love affair of the Western world with ginseng is explosive and the consumption of ginseng root and herbal products in the West is growing at a phenomenal rate, in all this, the ginseng's adaptogenic effects are the main benefits beings stressed by the proponents and marketers of this herb in the Western world. The herb is believed to help increase the ability of the human body to resist stress, this is due to the adaptogenic powers in the herb, this increased resistance is carried out by inducing a state of higher resistance in the body, the increase in resistance of the body helps in recovering general physical and mental vitality and leads to a general strengthening of all the normal functions in the body - and the body is then able to overcome and defeat infection as well as disease easily or as and when they occur. Although such indirect effects are naturally somewhat difficult to verify scientifically, favorable modification by ginseng of the stress effects of temperature changes, some diet, restraint, physical exercise, and the like have been recorded. Useful pharmacologic effects in such conditions as atherosclerosis, anemia, depression, diabetes, edema, hypertension, and ulcers have also been well documented.

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The root of the ginseng contains large amounts of the active chemical principles - triterpenoid saponins, which are the main agents believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects of the ginseng. The nature of these compounds and their chemical nomenclature is extremely confusing and very complex to understand, for this reason the many different chemicals initially identified by different groups of clinical investigators were given different names even though they were found to be similar in later tests. At the same time, the chemical composition and the relative organic constitution of the Asian and American ginseng species differs to a great extent and the two species have differing levels of similar compounds. For example, Japanese clinical researchers called the active saponins they identified as ginsenosides, while the Russian scientist called these chemical compounds panaxosides. Asian ginseng is therefore credited with having a minimum of eighteen saponins, like the compound ginsenoside Rc, another name for the panaxoside D compound (Russian classification). The name panaquilin C is used to identify exactly the same chemical compound in American Ginseng. No doubt, this is very confusing for the reader, the important factor to remember aside from these confusing details about names is that to the triterpenoid saponins are the compounds responsible for all the pharmacological activity displayed by the ginseng and the user does not need to be confused about names of chemicals.

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The main problem faced by potential users today, is in obtaining an authentic or unadulterated ginseng product in the mass market. The ginseng product called the Korean Red - which is a specially "cured" root, can cost more than $20 an ounce and ginseng root in any form is very expensive - it is therefore advisable to be very careful while buying ginseng products. The direct effect of the high costs is that there is a diverse range of products in the market with ginseng derived ingredients such as commercial ginseng herbal teas, herbal powders, ginseng in capsule and tablets form, the extracts of ginseng etc., this is the reaction of the market forces to the relatively high cost of the real product and reflects the absence of quality control affecting the health food industry - needless to say, some of these products are absolutely useless and do not contain the real ginseng at all, while other products may be useful. The variability of quality in the various ginseng products available in the free market was verified by two independent studies that surveyed the commercial ginseng products available in the market, it was observed in one of these studies that up to 60 percent of those products analyzed could be classed as worthless and at least 25 percent of all the sampled products had no ginseng in the product - the sampling survey involved the complete chemical analysis of about 54 ginseng products sold in the market.

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Ginseng has been extensively studied under test conditions, and between 1968 and 1990, at least thirty seven clinical studies on the ginseng were published, out of this total about fifteen of the tests were carried out under controlled conditions, and eight of these had double blinded control groups. Marked improvements in the physical performance of the test subjects given ginseng was noticed in seventeen of the studies, an improvement in the intellectual performance was observed in the test subjects administered ginseng in eleven of the tests, ginseng was able to improve the mood and the emotional well being of the test subjects in another thirteen of these tests. The nature and methodology of all these studies has been heavily questioned and the most serious questions have been regarding the design quality and the form of the statistical analysis used on the results of these tests. Dosage regimen for the ginseng differs based on the type of herbal product, a daily dosage regimen consisting of 1 to 2 g of the crude ginseng medication, or about 200 to 600 mg of the standardized ginseng extracts - which has been calculated to about 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides content - is suggested by the German Commission E monograph that gives herbal medicine dosages for many kinds of herbal remedies. Physical weakness and fatigue in patients is countered by the ginseng herbal medication, and it is normally given as a general purpose herbal tonic, the ginseng herbal remedy is also restorative in function and is used to buffer and support the physical performance of individuals affected by a reduced stamina level, it is also used to remedy impaired concentration and to boost the memory, the herbal remedy is used as a general tonic to patients under convalescence and is generally given to strengthen and speed up the healing bodies of patients who are recovering from some illness.

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The relative safety of the herb when used as a medication is another potential area of concern. In the year, 1979 a report was prepared about the abuse of ginseng and the so called "ginseng abuse syndrome" in a group of individuals, about 133 in all, all of whom were ginseng users and this threw some light on ginseng and its possible side effects - these potential toxic side effects have caused some concern regarding the real safety of the herb. However, the study and its disturbing results has now been discredited and proven to be false, due to the faulty investigative methodology used during the tests and due also to the absence of a uniform definition of the ginseng. The herbal literature still keeps cropping up with references to this particular study even now, and the frequency of times this report is cited is disturbing indeed as it represents useless and false information. Another researcher, Farnsworth has extensively investigated the many reports which attributing some estrogenic - or female hormone like - effects said to be induced by the ginseng in the body's of users. According to Farnsworth, there is zero experimental evidence to indicate or to support any such estrogen like activity in the ginseng and it is therefore not a phyto-estrogenic herb based on his investigation. Problems like sleep disorders including insomnia, and the rare case of diarrhea, and some types of skin eruptions are the only known and well documented side effects of long term ginseng use. The information pertaining to some side effects induced by the ginseng suffers from the fact that, the majority of the clinical cases which have purportedly reported the presence of other side effects due to ginseng do not show any documentation or species of ginseng employed is not given or they are missing the dosage levels of the herb given to test subjects during the test. Taking all these factors into consideration, it can be said that at least for the vast majority of users and potential users of the herb, perhaps even a prolonged or the excessive dosage of herbal ginseng remedy has relatively low risk for the user and that the herb is generally safe for use with patients.

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