Sunday, August 25, 2013

Red Ginseng May Help with Menopausal Symptoms

Ginseng Classification

While most health-oriented individuals are aware on Ginseng as one of the most potent medicines of nature, very few are familiar with multiple types and specifics of different species, called Ginseng.

Panax ginseng is just one of the several types of ginseng commonly used in herbal medicine. Other types of ginseng include American ginseng and Siberian ginseng. The active compounds in Panax ginseng are believed to be steroid-like components called ginsenosides.

Panax ginseng is available commercially in four forms: fresh, red, white and sun ginsengs. Wild ginseng is used where available. Red ginseng has been peeled, heated either through steaming at standard boiling temperatures of 100 °C (212 °F), and then dried or sun-dried. It is frequently marinated in an herbal brew which results in the root becoming extremely brittle. It is more common as herbal medicine than white ginseng. This version of ginseng is traditionally associated with stimulating sexual function and increasing energy. It is also widely used in East Asian countries and is used to treat a spectrum of illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Red ginseng is always produced from cultivated roots, generally from Korea (therefore, is called sometimes as Korean ginseng).

Red ginseng has such a name because of its distinctive red hue, which originates from the root of the ginseng plant being sun dried. Exposure to natural sunlight is said to maximize the already potent chemical properties of ginseng.

Ginseng has been used as a medicine for over two thousand years. Today, approximately 6 million Americans use it regularly. Some people consider the age of the ginseng roots important. In 1976, a 400-year-old root of Manchurian ginseng from the mountains of China reportedly sold for $10,000 per ounce.

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General Medical Benefits

Although research on Panax ginseng is fairly limited, there's some evidence that the herb may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key study findings:

1. Mental Ability

Panax ginseng may improve cognitive performance during prolonged periods of mental activity, according to a 2005 study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology. In a clinical trial involving 30 healthy young adults, researchers found that those given Panax ginseng were less likely to experience mental fatigue while taking a test (compared to those given a placebo).

In addition, a 2000 study in Psychopharmacology showed that a combination of Panax ginseng and ginkgo biloba may help enhance memory in healthy middle-aged adults.

2. Diabetes

A small 2008 study from Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases showed that Panax ginseng may aid in diabetes management. The study involved 19 people with well-controlled type 2 diabetes. Compared to those given a placebo for 12 weeks, study members who took Panax ginseng supplements for the same time period experienced greater improvements in blood sugar control.

3. Other

There is massive evidence that Panax ginseng can be successfully used to help coping with stress and as a general tonic for improving well-being. Panax ginseng is frequently called as “adaptogen” to reflect its useful “psychological” abilities. There is certain scientific evidence that it might work against stress by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Panax ginseng saponins seem to increase serum cortisol concentrations. Panax ginseng might also increase dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) levels in women.

It is also used for depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), for boosting the immune system, and for fighting particular infections in a lung disease called cystic fibrosis. These infections are caused by a bacterium named Pseudomonas.

Panax ginseng might affect immune function and might have anticancer effects. Panax ginseng appears to stimulate natural-killer cell activity and possibly other immune-system activity. It might also have some antitumor activity. Extracts of Panax ginseng decrease the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), diminish DNA strand breakage, and inhibit the formation of induced skin tumors. Therefore, some people use Panax ginseng to treat breast cancer and prevent ovarian cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, and skin cancer, however the usefulness of the Panax ginseng as anti-cancer remedy yet to be scientifically proven through additional research.

Other uses include treatment of anemia, inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), fever, hangover, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma.

Panax ginseng is also used for bleeding disorders, loss of appetite, vomiting, intestinal problems, fibromyalgia, sleeping problems (insomnia), nerve pain, joint pain, dizziness, headache, convulsions, disorders of pregnancy and childbirth, and to slow the aging process.

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Red Ginseng and Menopausal Symptoms

Red ginsengs potency stems from its phytoestrogen content. Phytoestrogens are a unique chemical which have a chemical structure similar to that of human estrogen. Such a property makes red ginseng popular in the treatment of women who suffer from a deficiency in estrogen. These features of red ginseng draw suggestion that it may be useful to treat unpleasant menopausal symptoms and positively impact general female health.

A recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, led by Sun Young Kim, MD, researcher in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Gangnam Severance Hospital at the Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, explored the use of red ginseng for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. 

72 postmenopausal women between the ages of 45 and 60 years were randomized to receive either red ginseng (3 g of RG, including 60 mg of ginsenosides, per day) or placebo for 12 weeks. Changes in menopausal symptoms were assessed using the Kupperman index and the menopause rating scale.  In addition, cardiovascular risk factors (lipid profiles, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, and carotid intima-media thickness) and serum estradiol levels were measured.

Significant improvements in the Kupperman index and in the menopause rating scale scores were observed in the red ginseng group compared with the placebo group.  In addition, total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol significantly decreased in the group receiving red ginseng. 

This study clearly demonstrated that red ginseng has beneficial effects on both menopausal symptoms and cardiovascular risk factors in postmenopausal women.  Red ginseng has physiologically active components that are absent in raw white ginseng and is therefore superior to traditional ginseng. The authors suggest that the beneficial effects of red ginseng are due to the phytoestrogens they contain.  These plant-like estrogens have chemical structures and functions similar to those of human estrogen.

This study indicates that red ginseng may be attractive option for postmenopausal women who have menopausal symptoms, especially those with elevated cardiac risk factors.  Compared to the data on the effects of soy products, black cohosh, and other herbal remedies on menopausal symptoms, these findings are relatively robust. 

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Dosage Guidelines

Studies examining Korean ginseng have used both the whole root and extracts. reports typical doses used in studies include .5 g to 3 g of the whole root and between 100 mg and 400 mg of standardized extract -- though some conditions might require higher doses. If using the extract, look for products that contain between 4 and 7 percent ginsenosides, the primary active components of the herb.

The standardized extract comes in pill form. As for consuming the whole root, the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture site recommends chewing the root in small pieces. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking ginseng supplements with food, especially if you are diabetic, because of its potential to lower blood sugar.

The University of Michigan Health System recommends 200 mg as a daily dosage to be used for treating menopausal symptoms.

If you want to take ginseng to address a particular health concern, it is important to consult with your physician to determine how long to use the herb for and in what quantity. For general use, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends using Korean ginseng for a period of two to three weeks at a time followed by a two-week rest period.

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Interactions with Drugs

1. Alcohol
Be aware on the certain interactive effect of the ginseng-alcohol combination. Taking Panax ginseng powder 3 grams/65 kg body weight before drinking alcohol seems to significantly increase the clearance of alcohol. People taking Panax ginseng powder have blood alcohol levels about 35% lower compared to people not taking Panax ginseng while drinking alcohol. It is thought that Panax ginseng powder might lower alcohol levels by increasing activity of alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase.

2. Anti-diabetic drugs
Be cautious on this combination. Theoretically, concomitant use might enhance blood glucose lowering effects. It is advised to monitor blood glucose levels closely, if you are taking ginseng.

3. Caffeine
Panax ginseng might have an additive stimulant effect with the caffeine in coffee and tea.

4. Immunosuppressants
Theoretically, concurrent use might interfere with immunosuppressive therapy since panax ginseng might have immune system stimulating properties, undesirable in certain medical conditions.

5. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
Theoretically, Panax ginseng may interfere with MAOI therapy. Concomitant use with phenelzine (Nardil) is associated with insomnia, headaches, tremors and hypomania.

Sources and Additional Information:

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