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Ginseng

 

Revered by many Korean and Japanese people and eagerly sought after by millions of others, ginseng is often called the "root of immortality." Although 2,000 years of continuous use have given ginseng its own bit of immortality, its effect on the mortality of man is a little less certain. Even enthusiastic Eastern advocates of the root can't claim that ginseng will give you everlasting life. However, it is possible that ginseng will give you a longer life ... and a more lively one as well.


For centuries, ginseng has been one of the world's most popular herbs, consumed by people from hundreds of different generations for thousands of years. Today, millions of people around the world still take ginseng, including some of the world's foremost aging and longevity researchers.


Because ginseng supposedly strengthens all the body's organs and makes them more resistant to disease, it has been given credit for curing almost every illness under the sun, from cancer to impotence. While you have the testimony of millions of people who've trusted ginseng with their health for several thousand years, scientists still have trouble nailing down exactly what, if anything, ginseng does.


Precisely because so many health claims are made for ginseng, it's hard for Western science to take the herb seriously. In fact, many Western researchers still insist that there is very little credible research to back up the claims despite the 3,000 scientific studies that have been done on ginseng in the past 50 years.


Many researchers are also skeptical because ginseng seems to produce no specific effects, treating instead a wide range of conditions. For the most part, Western doctors still believe that any benefits of ginseng come from the placebo effect. In other words, they think it works wonders because the person taking it believes it will.


In contrast, Chinese medicine rates ginseng as one of its most potent healers. Traditionally, the Chinese classify their drugs into three categories: inferior, middle, and superior. Inferior drugs have specific effects for specific conditions. This is exactly the type of drug Western researchers dream about and love to discover or invent. In the Chinese system, middle drugs strengthen body function. Superior drugs work for everything, and it is into this category that Chinese doctors place ginseng.


In Eastern medicine, ginseng is considered an adaptogen. This means it works to keep the body in balance in all circumstances, bad or good. An adaptogen also increases the body's resistance to unhealthy influences. It works only when needed or when the body has a deficiency. Since ginseng does contain antioxidants, it may be those compounds that give ginseng its body-balancing abilities. Researchers also suspect it's ginseng's antioxidant activities that can help protect your heart, liver, and lungs.


Recently, United States Department of Agriculture scientists discovered that the mineral chromium works in a way similar to an adaptogen, by raising and lowering blood sugar as needed. It's very possible a number of foods and nutrients work only as needed, which gives 20th-century credibility to the ancient health claims made for ginseng.


In the late 1980s, a Chinese study suggested that ginseng's antioxidant status might make it a potent anti-aging drug. A recent Chinese study offered support for this theory when it found that ginseng actually slowed the aging process of 71 people over age 60.


Other antioxidants may help you live longer, but with ginseng, you get the double advantage of living longer and feeling like enjoying all those extra years.


Better blood sugar control. Both animal and human studies indicate that ginseng improves blood sugar control. In animals, ginseng improves the release of insulin from the pancreas. For diabetics, this means an improved ability to keep blood sugar levels normal.


Two recent human studies also reported that ginseng significantly lowers blood glucose levels. Lower blood glucose levels mean less work for your kidneys and less risk of developing ketoacidosis, a toxic buildup of ketones (substances produced when the body breaks down fat for fuel) that can be fatal.


In addition, one of those studies found that 100 to 200 milligrams (mg) of ginseng a day significantly improved mood, vigor, wellbeing, and mental and physical performance in newly diagnosed diabetics.


Boosts brain power. At least four different human studies indicate that ginseng can improve memory and concentration.


In 1990, a two-month study conducted in China of 358 people ages 50 to 85 revealed that 50 mg of ginseng given three times a day for two months significantly improved memory and overall health.
 

 

An experiment conducted by Dr. Israel Brekhman, the Soviet researcher who pioneered much of the research on East Asian ginseng, revealed that radio operators who received a ginseng extract transmitted text faster and made fewer mistakes than radio operators not given ginseng.

Cans cancer. Several recent studies suggest that various components of ginseng may be protective against a variety of cancers, including skin cancer; liver cancer; ovarian cancer; and cancers of the larynx, esophagus, pancreas, and stomach.


In fact, in laboratory studies of ginseng's effect on liver cancer cells, researchers were astonished to find that ginseng turned tumor cells into normal-functioning cells. Researchers noted that ginseng had a similar effect on skin cancer cells. According to cancer researchers, the ability of any substance, natural or man-made, to turn cancer cells into normal-functioning cells without damaging other cells is a pretty rare occurrence. As promising as the studies are, researchers hasten to point out that they do not know if the active ginseng components would have any effect on an actual tumor site in a human.


Another study conducted at the Korea Cancer Center Hospital in Seoul revealed that people who regularly consumed ginseng had only half the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, larynx, lung, and ovaries as people who never consumed ginseng. In fact, the longer a person had used ginseng, the lower his risk. A person who had taken ginseng for one year had a 36 percent lower risk of cancer, while a person who had used ginseng for five years or more had a 69 percent lower risk of cancer.


Most ginseng products, except fresh ginseng slices, fresh ginseng juice, and white ginseng tea, were associated with a lower risk of cancer.

Invigorates the immune system. More and more studies suggest that ginseng's anti-cancer activity may be due to its effect on the immune system. Ginseng revs up your immune system by stimulating the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, which help your body combat infections.

Could control cholesterol and help keep heart healthy. There is some speculation among researchers that ginseng may help control cholesterol. A component called sitosterol, which is absorbed by your intestines and lowers cholesterol, has been isolated from ginseng.


In fact, animal studies provide support for the theory. These studies show that long-term use of several ginseng components does decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels. To ginseng users, this may mean a lower risk of clogged arteries and heart disease.
In addition, another study of 358 people ages 50 to 85 found that 50 mg of ginseng three times a day provided effective treatment of coronary heart disease.


Energizes you to help you keep going and going and going ... Ginseng can help you keep going just when you think you can't go any more. It may be especially helpful for people lamenting the lost energy of their youth.


In a study of 120 people ages 30 to 60, researchers found that ginseng significantly improved lung performance and responses to reaction tests in people ages 40 to 60, but not in the younger adults.


Even though ginseng may provide the most benefits to older people, it can even improve the performance of top athletes. It boosts performance by increasing the body's uptake of oxygen, lowering the heart rate, and maintaining glycogen (a storage form of carbohydrate energy) more efficiently, which enables your muscles to work longer before they reach exhaustion.


Dr. Brekhman found that runners in a 2-mile race who took ginseng finished an average of 53 seconds faster than runners who didn't take ginseng. Another study of 12 student nurses found that ginseng slightly improved their speed and coordination while working the night shift.


Stops stress. Some researchers suggest that ginseng's ability to fight off fatigue is connected to ginseng's general ability to relieve stress.


Researchers theorize that ginseng stops stress by indirectly recharging rundown adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys and help your body react and adapt in times of stress. When constant stress has left your adrenals run down and worn out, ginseng gets them going again. Once the adrenals are recharged, they can continue to help your body rebound from stress.


Many animal studies support the theory that ginseng helps the body cope more effectively with stress, preventing illnesses that stress can cause. Early research suggests that ginseng may have a similar effect in humans.


Usurps ulcers. Animal studies have indicated that ginseng may help prevent stress-induced ulcers. Several studies also indicate that ginseng can help prevent stomach damage caused by drinking alcohol. In this case, whole ginseng seems to be more effective than other ginseng products.


May lick liver disease. One study found that ginsenosides, the active components in ginseng, appear to be protective against liver disease. Red ginseng appears to be more potent than white ginseng. Another study conducted at Kurume University School of Medicine in Japan found that ginseng combined with several herbs into a formula the Japanese call Sho-saiko-to provides powerful healing for chronic liver diseases, as well as being protective against cancer.


Acts like an aphrodisiac. Ginseng's most famous claim to fame is its reputed ability to help men overcome impotence. Thus far, there's been very little scientific support for the super sex claims made for ginseng.


Recently, however, Dr. Tony Lee, professor of pharmacology at Southern Illinois School of Medicine, uncovered information that gives some credibility to this age-old claim. According to Dr. Lee, ginseng contains compounds that stimulate nerve cells in the penis, which may help men maintain an erection.


But that's not all ... In addition, some research has indicated that ginseng may be helpful in preventing blood clots, anemia, and swelling caused by fluid retention. It may also help relieve depression.

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