Ginseng is a member of the Araliaceae family.
It is a widespread, perennial herb. There are several variations
of ginseng, such as American, Asian (Panax Ginseng), and Siberian.
The root of the plant is the part that is used. Ginseng has been
around for well over sixty years and study on it began as early
as World War II. The main reason behind ginseng's popularity
throughout the years is because of its so called adaptogen effect.
An adaptogen is anything that improves resistance to stress such
as: heat, cold, trauma, sleep deprivation, infections, many forms
of stress, exertion, and numerous other taxing circumstances
(49). Another interesting note about adaptogens such as ginseng
is that they are suppose to be free of any side effects as well
as helping an organism return to a state of balance and equilibrium.
Simply put, ginseng supplementation has been shown to elevate
mood, increase energy, strengthen the immune system, enhance
mental function, give a positive sense of well being, and possibly,
even help diabetics improve their blood sugar levels. Because
of all these proposed positive effects, many have theorized that
ginseng may be a very important supplement for improving human
performance in athletes.
Due to the many years of investigation and study involving the
supplement ginseng, there have been many highly advanced research
studies that have taken place to shed further light on the topic.
In one of the most classic ginseng studies performed nearly two
decades ago involving human performance, Pieralisi et al (50)
performed a double-blind, randomized, crossover study on 50 healthy
male sports teachers, 21 to 47 years of age. Every day for six
weeks, each subject received either a ginseng vitamin combination
or a placebo. The subjects then performed an exercise test on
a treadmill at increasing work loads. The total work load and
maximal oxygen consumption during exercise was significantly
greater after ginseng supplementation than after the placebo.
Heart rate, lactate levels, and rate of perceived exertion were
significantly less for a given work load in the ginseng group
versus the placebo group. It can be clearly seen from this study
that ginseng preparation increased the subjects' work capacity
by improving muscular oxygen utilization.
Perhaps, one of the most profound studies to date involving ginseng
and its effects on human performance was a study performed by
Ziemba et al (51). This study involved fifteen soccer players
averaging 19 years of age. They were placed into one of two groups:
a placebo group or an experimental group which supplemented with
ginseng. They were then placed on a bicycle ergometer at various
stages until volitional speed or exhaustion was reached. All
subjects were tested on reaction time through the entire study
to assess mental alertness and mental acuity under a state of
extreme exhaustion. It was found that ginseng treatment was found
to shorten reaction time at rest and during exercise, shifting
the exercise load associated with the shortest reaction time
toward higher exercise loads. This study concluded that ginseng
extract does improve psychomotor performance and reaction time
during exercise without affecting exercise capacity.
One of the supposed drawbacks of supplementing with ginseng
is the thought that ginseng simply carries out normal body functions
and reactions on the same level as a multivitamin. In other words,
some have theorized that ginseng is no more effective than a
daily multivitamin. These theories and rumors led Caso et al
(52) to examine these reports and claims in his own study. In
this study, he compared the effects of two different supplements:
a complex multivitamin and another similar vitamin but combined
with ginseng. The study was comparative, randomized and double-blind,
and it involved 625 patients of both sexes divided into two groups
taking one capsule per day for 12 weeks. Group A received the
multivitamin and ginseng combination while group B received the
In this study, different measurements were taken as well as an
11-item questionnaire assessing the quality of life. The results
indicated that Group A had significantly higher subjective measures
of quality of life compared to Group B. It also appears that
for the entire questionnaire, each question showed significant
improvement for subjects in Group A, whereas, those in Group
B, there was no significant difference or increase in any single
question. Blood pressure and weight management were superior
in Group A versus Group B. All in all, ginseng was found to be
more beneficial than a standard multivitamin taken alone. Ginseng
combined with a multivitamin appears to be an excellent supplement
not only for health and performance, but also for psychological
wellness and perception.
One of the more current studies by Hsu et al (53) could have
major implications in regards to advanced human performance examined
whether ginseng supplementation was able to improve endurance
exercise performance as well as other physiological markers.
There were two groups studied for four weeks: a ginseng group
and a control group. Both groups underwent an exhaustive endurance
running program in which they were consistently being tested
at a VO2 max of 80%. Physiological measurements and performance
indicators were studied. It appears that although there was no
change in performance in either group, there was a significant
decrease in creatine kinase leakage in the ginseng group. This
could be of great importance to athletes due to the fact that
high levels of creatine leakage are often associated and indicative
of overtraining in athletes. Of interesting note is that this
study was using American ginseng versus supposedly the higher
quality Asian ginseng. Thus, the results may have been even greater
had the so-called superior Asian ginseng been used. It must also
be considered that this study only lasted four weeks, which is
generally too short a time period to induce measurable increases
in long term performance. Generally speaking, improvements of
physiological markers such as creatine kinase levels may take
a minimum of 6-8 weeks to build up noticeable improvements in
Among the many benefits already discussed on ginseng, it has
been proposed that ginseng may also play a significant role in
nitric oxide production in the human body. In a study by Friedl
et al (54), he investigated the effect of Panax ginseng upon
inducible nitric oxide synthesis. Levels of nitric oxide in the
human body and other immune system functions associated with
nitric oxide were measured in a laboratory setting using specimens
of human cells. There were two conditions in which the cells
were measured: one with ginseng and one without it. It was found
that when the cells were injected with ginseng, levels of nitric
oxide and nitric oxide synthase, which are responsible for the
production of nitric oxide, nitric oxide was significantly higher
than in those cells without ginseng. Although this study did
not go further to test actual human subjects and investigate
the potential outcomes, this study did show great potential.
The authors have theorized from this study that because nitric
oxide plays an important role in immune system function, sexual
health, muscular strength and hypertrophy, as well as other factors,
ginseng may therefore be a vital form of supplementation for
the general population as well as many athletes.
Although there are many different forms of ginseng, there
has been little conclusive evidence demonstrating one's effectiveness
over the other. However, it appears that most scientists have
found Asian ginseng to be the most productive and beneficial
in their studies when compared to other forms of ginseng. In
a review by Bucci et al (55), Asian ginseng was found to be the
primary form of this supplement in quality studies that showed
relevant and positive effects from ginseng. Simply put, most
of the studies listed that used Asian ginseng benefited while
those who used other forms of ginseng often found no difference
between the control and experimental group. Also, most studies
involving ginseng, use the Asian form of ginseng. As of today,
Asian ginseng is the most popular among consumers. Before any
conclusive evidence can be drawn to say that Asian ginseng is
superior, much more research is needed. However, from mere opinion
and speculation among nutritional specialists Asian ginseng seems
to be the most highly recommended.
Summary and Recommendations
Ginseng is one of the most highly studied supplements to date.
There have been hundreds of studies done on this supplement with
a great deal of conclusive and empirical evidence recognizing
its benefits. For this reason, ginseng may be a safe and effective
form of supplementation for any and all populations. Some of
ginseng's positive attributes include: elevated mood, increased
energy, strengthening of the immune system, enhanced mental function,
a positive sense of well being, and possibly even help diabetics
improve their blood sugar levels. It also improves work capacity
and muscular oxygen utilization by lowering heart rate, lactate
levels, and rate of perceived exertion for a given workload.
Other benefits include: improved reaction time, psychological
wellness and perception, increased oxygen uptake, improved post
exercise recovery, indirect increases in muscular strength, decreased
creatine kinase leakage, and increased nitrous oxide levels.
As previously noted, nitrous oxide has a direct impact on strength,
lean muscle mass, and increased hormone levels. All in all, the
many positive effects from ginseng may give a higher value to
this product compared with many other supplements on the market.
However, for best results in athletic performance, ginseng should
be combined with other forms of supplementation described in
this literature review.
Due to the vast array of ginseng studies, dosage recommendations
have been somewhat narrowed down. Experts usually recommend 500mg-2,000mg
per day. Toxicity is not an issue as long as recommended doses
are consumed. Even though ginseng has no ill effects, it is not
recommended for pregnant or lactating women, or for persons with
high, uncontrolled blood pressure. The timing of ginseng supplementation
does not appear to be an issue. However, certain positive attributes
may be enhanced if taken before any form of physical activity.
There appears to be a great number of reputable ginseng products
on the market. As stated above, Asian ginseng appears to be the
superior form of the product. According to consumerlab.com some
of the best ginseng products include but is not limited to: Kinetana
Ginseng, Puritan's Pride Korean Ginseng, Vitamin World Korean
Ginseng, True Nature Triple Energy, and Hi-Ener-G Standardized
Triple Ginseng Formula.
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50. Pieralisi G, Ripari P, Vecchiet L. Effects of a standardized
ginseng extract combined with dimethylaminoethanol bitartrate,
vitamins, minerals, and trace elements on physical performance
during exercise. Clinical Therapy 1991 May-Jun; 13(3): 373-82.
51. Ziemba AW, Chmura J, Kaciuba-Uscilko H, Nazar K, Wisnik
P, Gawronski W. Ginseng treatment improves psychomotor performance
at rest and during graded exercise in young athletes. Int J Sport
Nutr. 1999 Dec; 9(4): 371-377.
52. Caso Marasco A, Vargas Ruiz R, Salas Villagomez A, Begona
Infante C. Double-blind study of a multivitamin complex supplemented
with ginseng extract. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 1996; 22(6): 323-9.
53. Hsu CC, Ho MC, Lin LC, Su B, Hsu MC. American ginseng
supplementation attenuates creatine kinase level induced by submaximal
exercise in human beings. World J Gastroenterol. 2005 Sep 14;
54. Friedl R, Moeslinger T, Kopp B, Spieckermann PG. Stimulation
of nitric oxide synthesis by the aqueous extract of Panax ginseng
root in RAW 264.7 cells. Br J Pharmacol. 2001 Dec; 134(8): 1663-70.
55. Bucci L, Wolinsky I, Driskell J, Turpin A, Beer C, Feliciano
J. Ginseng. Nutritional Ergogenic Aids. 2004; 379-410.
61. Baechle, T., Earle, R., Essentials of Strength Training
and Conditioning. National Strength and Conditioning Association.