The questions that we need to be asking, however, are: is Panax ginseng really effective? And, is it safe to use?
Let us have a look at the evidence in favour (or against) Panax ginseng and if we should indeed be using (or recommending) it.
As the name suggest, the active ingredients of Panax ginseng is derived from the root (Radix ginseng) of Panax ginseng – a popular Korean and Chinese herbal medicine (Attele, Wu, & Yuan, 1999). Recently, it has gained much popularity as an effective ‘weight-reducing’ agent (Attele et al., 1999).
The two commonest of the ginseng from genus Panax in use are Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer) and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius). P. ginseng has been extinct in its wild habitat for quite some time and is only cultivated artificially.
Since ancient times, Panax ginseng is known in the Far East, as a tonic or a “well-being potion” – apparently, it helps improve your “qi”, making you feel better. In more recent times, Panax ginseng has been credited with a number of therapeutic benefits – improved vitality and sexual function, improved immunity, improved cognition and physical performance (O’Hara, Kiefer, Farrell, & Kemper, 1998). Anti-cancer properties have also been attributed to Panax ginseng (Park et al., 2013).
Researchers believe that Panax ginseng causes weight reduction in a dose-dependent manner. Suppression of fat storage in adipocytes (fat cells) and inhibition of adipogenesis (production of fat cells) are believed to be responsible for the weight-reducing abilities of Panax ginseng (Park et al., 2013).
It has to be noted here that although animal studies have conclusively shown body weight reduction with Panax ginseng, similar evidence is lacking or inconclusive in human clinical trials.
Combining Panax ginseng with other weight-reducing herbs (for instance green tea or with Veratrum nigrum) has been suggested to be more effective in humans than Panax ginseng alone (Park et al., 2013).
Recommended dose of Panax ginseng has not been standardized. Furthermore, the dose may also vary according to the condition for which it is prescribed.
Traditionally, 100-200mg capsules containing ginseng extract of 4% ginsenosides are taken orally once of twice daily for almost 12 weeks. Long-term use is not recommended and daily dose should not exceed 1g of dry root.
For improving sports performance, athletes are prescribed 400mg of Panax ginseng daily for a period of 28 days. A break of 1-2 weeks is recommended before the cycle is repeated.
Although, adverse effects per se to the use of Panax ginseng have not been defined, this may very well be due to lack of sufficient research. Some cases of allergic reactions to ginseng have been reported.
Also, it makes sense to avoid Panax ginseng in children and lactating mothers.
Although animal studies have conclusively shown body weight reduction with Panax ginseng, similar evidence is lacking or inconclusive in human clinical trials.
Pending further research, Panax ginseng fails (at the present time) to be labelled an effective “weight-reducing agent” in our books.