The root of the ginseng plant has been used throughout Asia for many centuries as a beneficial chemical for psychiatric and neurological conditions, and for enhancing vitality. While there are over 30 different varieties of ginseng, the Asian (Panax ginseng), American (Panax quinquefolius), and Siberian (Eleutherococcus Chinensis) are the types of ginseng most often used in manufactured supplements and energy drinks.
Asian Ginseng is native to China and the Korean peninsula. In its original form, it is considered “white ginseng,” though processing the root through extensive steaming and then drying produces “red ginseng,” which is often used in the development of ginseng tea and capsule forms. Asian ginseng has the natural effect of warming the body, and is considered the best variety to use for increasing energy.
American Ginseng grows naturally in the Eastern area of North America, from Ontario all the way down to Georgia. Many people who use this variety experience a cooling effect, and it is considered the best form of ginseng to increase endurance and reduce stress, though clinical studies have not confirmed the chemical effects.
Siberian Ginseng has long been a staple of Chinese herbal medicine and is traditionally processed through immersion in water and then distillation. It has shown to increase energy levels in some users and is used to create tonics, teas and other supplements.
The primary ingredient in all types of ginseng are ginsenosides, which have been shown to provide a wide range of benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer effects.1 Research projects have isolated 20 different ginsenosides contained within most varieties of ginseng, some of which counteract one another. One ginsenoside (Rg1) can cause blood pressure to rise. Another (Rb1) has been shown to depress the nervous system, causing blood pressure to drop. Studies on the effects of ginseng herb report conflicting results.
While ginseng has been shown to offer a number of very beneficial effects2, there are some people who should avoid using ginseng as a dietary supplement. Specifically, women who are pregnant3, or people who are taking blood pressure control medication4 should avoid ingesting large amounts of ginseng, especially when combined with caffeine, as is often the case in energy drinks and tablets.
1 BioLine International Report “Use of Ginseng in Medicine: Perspectives on CNS Disorders”
2 Chinese Herbs Organization
3 WebMD Report “Early Pregnancy Risk With Ginseng”
4 LiveStrong.com Report “Side Effects of Red Ginseng”