Panax Ginseng is one of the best studied dietary supplements in enhancing physical performance. It can be categorized as an adaptogen, which means that it possesses both restorative and therapeutic properties (1).
When Panax Ginseng is used correctly, it improves ones ability to cope with physiologic stressors as well as improves cognitive function. It allows one to train with greater intensity than one would have without it. It also increase stamina and in the end, can take performance to the next level.
Anyone taking part sports that require high-energy expenditure will definitely want to enhance performance and overcome fatigue, and one of the best ways to do so is by using natural supplements. Panax Ginseng is completely natural and so all athletes can taking it without having to worry about regulation. (2)
What is Panax ginseng?
Panax Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant that has around 11 species growing in North America, East Asia, and far Eastern Siberia. It belongs to the Araliaceae family and is also commonly referred to as Asian Ginseng, Chinese Ginseng, or Chinese Red Ginseng. Panax ginseng should not be confused with American Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, or Panax pseudoginseng. (3)
The plant has unique yellowish-green umbrella-shaped flowers that grow around its straight stem in a circle and bloom best in mid-summer. The fruit is a crimson berry that bears 1 to 3 wrinkled seeds, the size of small peas. The root and the leaf possess most of the medicinal properties. (4)
The genus name of the herb Panax, means ‘cure all’ in Greek, while ginseng in Chinese means man ginseng, because of its human-like appearance of the roots. The man-like appearance comes about as one thick root splits into two, to resemble man’s legs. (5) The roots of the plant are ground into a fine powder and then used to make supplements. The best season for harvesting is during autumn when they are allowed to dry before being processed into powders, tinctures or extracts.
How does Panax Ginseng work?
The secret to Panax Ginseng’s popularity in the athletic field is its numerous health benefits derived from its active compounds, ginsenosides or panaxosides and saponins. It also contains vitamins A, B, C and E, though in small amounts. (6) These active compounds, particularly the panaxosides and ginsenosides are amphiphilic (soluble in water and fats), meaning that they can penetrate the digestive tract into the bloodstream and brain. They then get into the cells where they mainly act by changing gene expression, cell membrane stabilization, and influencing a number of regulators of inflammation and other physiological parameters.
What are the benefits of Panax Ginseng?
Panax Ginseng shows a superior level of regulation of stress as compared to other adaptogens. In a study (7) carried out by Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK, the researchers tested the claim that Panax Ginseng confers a calming effect. The researchers found out that study participants taking 400mg showed improved calmness. The participants reported better overall well-being, higher energy levels, sleep, sex life and personal satisfaction. The calming effect is attributed to the ability of ginsenosides to control the feel-good hormones, serotonin and to boost energy levels.
Panax Ginseng as an adaptogen also supports the adrenal function by making the body more resilient to mental, physical, and environmental stress. When compared to caffeine, Panax Ginseng acts as a thermostat that nourishes adrenal glands, unlike caffeine which stresses them. (8). This way, Panax Ginseng helps to regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, in order to respond to stressful situations.
By efficiently suppressing stress, Panax Ginseng helps to alleviate or treat mood issues like depression and anxiety.
Panax Ginseng works on the brain to offer memory enhancing effects by increasing survival and proliferation of brain cells. As an antioxidant (9), it prevents free radical damage to vulnerable brain cells. This immensely contributes to prevention of memory loss and protects against age-related mental decline. Ginseng is also a promising neuroprotective agent that protects brain health from diseases that rob it of its learning and information-retention ability.
Ginsenosides also prevent accumulation of beta-amyloid and for this reason, Panax Ginseng has been used to improve mental performance in people with Alzheimer’s disease. These active compounds also increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF) (10), which acts as a miracle grower for the brain, by essentially fertilizing the cells to keep them functioning and growing optimally. The fact that it propels the growth of new brain cells has made Panax Ginseng popular not only as a potent adaptogen but also as an agent to improve memory in stroke patients.
In young adults, Panax Ginseng enhances the working memory performance. It does so by alleviating mental fatigue, thus promoting intense cognitive processing. (11) Doses between 100 and 400mg are enough for these neurocognitive changes. Therefore, use of Panax Ginseng not only helps with improving signs of memory loss but also in preventing and boosting a healthy working memory.
Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety, though not life-crippling, can negatively affect one’s competitive edge. The urge to meet the demands placed by individual goals, competitors and the environment itself often cause stress and anxiety. Not all of the anxiety is bad- in acceptable levels it psyches one up both mentally and physically. However, if too much, it harnesses one’s power over situations and directly affects the ability to cope with the competitive environment. What results is self-doubt and a drop in performance.
Panax ginseng is a nourishing stimulant that calms anxiety by affecting the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. It also stimulates the mind, reduces fatigue and improves the lungs’ health to ease the breathing pattern. (12) Other studies have also shown that Panax Ginseng increases oxygen consumption, respiratory exchange ratio, heart rate and perceived exertion. The result is a relaxed mind ready for tough workouts.
Enhances Physical Stamina and Endurance
Most of the athletes who take Panax Ginseng take it for the adaptogenic benefits, to heighten physical endurance and improve stamina. How does ginseng enhance physical stamina and endurance? First, it increases muscular strength and aerobic work capacity by optimizing maximal oxygen uptake by muscular tissues. By increasing oxygen consumption, the rate of ATP production accelerates, consequently improving the total workload and output. (13) Second, Panax Ginseng promotes glucose uptake muscle cells. This is a double benefit as it helps lower blood glucose in people with diabetes and for athletes, it avails raw materials for energy production. (14) Third, it fosters fluid production, which keeps the body hydrated. The need to stay hydrated, to prevent heat illnesses and keep you going especially during high-intensity exercises is critical for performance and long-term health. As a pre-workout supplement, Panax ginseng has a significant impact that enables one to focus and mitigate mental fatigue. The cardiovascular system also benefits through enhanced coronary blood flow and that means more cardiac output. As a post-workout, it reduces muscle damage and inflammation associated with strenuous activities. (15)
Although a stimulant, Panax Ginseng if taken at the right time improves sleep quality. It affects total sleep time, sleep efficacy, the proportion of sleep stages and wakefulness after sleep. These are as a result of a change in melatonin levels after taking Panax ginseng. (16) Melatonin’s job is to regulate night and day cycles or the sleep-wake cycle. Ginseng also indirectly improves sleep by reducing stress, chronic fatigue, and depression.
The best ginseng for sleep is the one that has been steamed and dried, instead of just air-drying. (17) The steaming process releases active compounds that have a stabilizing effect on the sleep-waking cycle. A randomized, placebo-controlled study trial published in the Sleep Medicine and Psychology journal, showed that steamed ginseng appeared to affect the GABA-benzodiazepine-chloride complex. This effect is enjoyed at higher doses as it has anxiolytic and sedative effects.
Increases Energy Levels
When Panax Ginseng is consumed, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream- that’s why it can be taken as a pre-workout to give a quick energy boost. Ginseng achieves this effect mainly by ramping up ATP production at the cellular level. The ability to burn even more energy is higher when oxygen is available- as an athlete, exercise boosts the lung capacity to take in oxygen and increase blood flow. (18) Panax Ginseng also increases insulin sensitivity, making it faster for the muscles to take up more sugar from the blood.
Suggested Dosage, Synergies & Administration of Panax Ginseng
Dosages of Panax Ginseng vary with the supplement form, concentration of the active compounds and purpose of use. Larger doses are used to combat conditions related to chronic exhaustion, erectile dysfunction, and hormonal imbalance. However, it mostly tends to be taken in doses of 200 to 400mg for general purposes. Doses above 400mg confer the most cognitive benefits. (19) For endurance athletes, doses above 2 grams can be used in divided doses, two to three times per day.
If taken once daily, Panax Ginseng is best taken in the morning, to “rev up” the system. In the course of the day, one may consider taking it in between meals. If taken at night immediately just before bed, it can cause insomnia. Therefore, if one has sleep problems, it would be best to schedule panax Ginseng several hours before bedtime.
The positive effects of Panax Ginseng may not be noticed several days after taking the supplements, but it may take a while like weeks. Again, when using Panax Ginseng for a long-term, it is recommended that after 2 to 3 months of continued use, a user should take a break for at least a month. (20) This break is not a hard and fast rule, but a matter of tradition.
Other than taking Panax Ginseng as a capsule, there are several other ways to consume it. It can be stewed in water to make tea or added to various recipes like soups and stews. To make a tea, add hot water to ginseng and let it steep for a few minutes. Also, consider adding it to smoothies.
Maca and Panax Ginseng have synergistic effects- they amplify the main impacts of balancing, tonic and aphrodisiac properties. Panax ginseng also goes well with Kai Xin San, a Chinese herbal decoction specially formulated to relieve depressive-like behaviors. (21) Both of these preparations improve each other’s absorption and circulating levels. On the other hand, Panax Ginseng does not go well with aspirin and other cyclooxygenase inhibitors.
History & Origin of Panax Ginseng
Panax Ginseng has been used in Asian countries for thousands of years, especially China and Korea. The history of this herb can be traced back to 3000BC in China, where it was widely used for its rejuvenating powers. Emperors of the Chinese dynastic cycle would use ginseng as part of their daily diet, creams and body lotions. Shennong, also known as Emperor Yan, the Yellow Emperor or one of the three Emperors, is said to have started the tradition of ginseng.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Panax Ginseng was mainly tonic support for the body during times of increased demand. It was believed to restore, promote good health and vitality, and sustain the body during times of response to external and internal stressors. In fact, to the Chinese natives, Panax Ginseng is often referred to as the lord or king of herbs. (22)
There is an extensive collection of research supporting these uses, and as a result, Panax Ginseng has found its way into modern life use. Today, more than 75, 000 tons of Panax Ginseng are traded in the international market. (23)
Final Thoughts on Panax Ginseng
It has a smooth, erect stem that grows 1 to 2 feet high. The leaves are composed of 4 to 5 oblong-shaped leaflets with toothed edges. The flowers are yellow-green and grow from the axis of the leaves. The root has a man-like appearance and is ground into powder to make supplements.
In general, Panax ginseng is gentle and side effects are not common.