Cognitive Benefits Of Consuming Ginseng Regularly

  • Regina LopSenior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

Introduction

Brief overview of ginseng

Ginseng is a herb that originates from East Asia, belonging to the panax genus of the Araliaceae family of plants. Its medicinal properties have been known for thousands of years, becoming a staple medicinal ingredient in Asian culture. The popularity of Ginseng however, has risen significantly in recent decades and grown in popularity globally.1

Historical use and cultural significance

The origins of ginseng and its use is thought to date back to around 5,000 years ago in China. Herbs were widely known for their healing properties at the time and were used for medicinal purposes. In East Asia, Ginseng was a highly sought after herb that acted as a ‘superior tonic’ for chronic diseases and those who were convalescing (recovering health over a period of time).

Its demand established trade between China and Korea. Early records documenting the use of ginseng as a medicinal agent can be traced back to 196 AD in the text “Shen Nong’s Pharmacopoeia” and also 1596 AD in the text “Compendium of Herbal Materia Medica”.2

What is ginseng?

Types of ginseng

There are several different types of ginseng throughout the world. The most common types are Chinese ginseng (P. notoginseng), Korean ginseng (P. ginseng) and American ginseng (P. quinquefolius).3

Active compounds in ginseng

The primary constituents of ginseng that give rise to its characteristic therapeutic properties are the ginsenoside compounds. More than 150 of these compounds have been isolated from ginseng.3,4,5

Traditional uses in medicine

Ginseng has wide applicability as a medicine. Its genus name ‘panax’ is derived from the Greek mythological term ‘panacea’, a Greek goddess that symbolises all-healing. Its pharmacological activity has been evidenced in cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and also the immune system.6

Cognitive benefits

In addition to the multitude of benefits previously mentioned, mounting research, through preclinical studies, has surfaced to support ginseng’s positive effects on cognition. However, more research is needed to understand the effects of ginseng on cognition. 

Improved memory

Studies assessing the relationship between ginseng consumption and memory have shown encouraging results. It’s important to note that different types of ginseng possess their own unique properties.

A study conducted by Reay et al (2010), including thirty volunteers that were administered 400 mg of ginseng, found that aspects of working memory were improved.8

Another study by Namgung et al (2021) assessing the effects of ginseng on cognition, including 52 healthy participants, found that panax ginseng treatment (1g/day) for eight weeks increased grey matter volume in the parahippocampus (a region of the brain important for memory).9

Enhanced cognitive function

Although limited, several preclinical studies have supported ginseng’s cognitive enhancing effects.

A randomised, placebo-controlled study by Bell et al (2022), which included 61 healthy volunteers, found that Cereboost (a ginseng-derived drug) improved cognitive function.10

A study by Chung Park et al (2019) which looked at the effect of panax ginseng in 90 Korean volunteers (45 assigned to ginseng group; 45 assigned to placebo group) with mild cognitive impairment found that ginseng enhanced cognition. Volunteers in the ‘ginseng group’ were administered 3 grams per day of Panax ginseng powder for 24 weeks.11

Stress reduction

Ginseng has shown to be an effective anti-stress agent. How does it achieve this? Ginseng has shown to ameliorate stress through regulating what is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis). This is the interaction between the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland (sits at the base of the brain) and the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys.

These 3 structures in the body interact through hormones (chemical messengers), thus play an important role in the endocrine system. Hormones facilitate communication throughout the body. You can think of it like human interaction – humans communicate through the use of words; cells in the body communicate through hormones or neuronal signals in the nervous system.

The HPA-axis plays a key role in regulating stress through the effector molecule (molecule that produces the effect in the body) cortisol. Ginseng has been shown to act on the stress-related hormone cortisol and through doing this can help manage stress.12,13

Neuroprotective effects

Ginseng has shown to exhibit a range of neuroprotective effects, which include brain function, prevention of neuroinflammation and also reduced oxidative stress. In addition to this, research suggests that it may be beneficial in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson's Disease (PD).

Oxidative stress is a risk factor in several neurological disorders and thus it is a target for the development of therapeutics/treatments. Studies looking at the neuroprotective effects of ginseng have found that it can counteract oxidative stress. It has been found to achieve this through acting on a specific signalling pathway known as the Keap1/Nrf2 adaptive cellular stress pathway.14

Ginseng may also help in AD and PD patients. Preclinical studies have found that it can reduce levels of the characteristic beta amyloid plaque (protein aggregate) found in AD patients. It has also shown to benefit PD patients through inhibiting cell loss in the region of the brain that affects PD patients known as the substantia nigra.15,16,17,18 

How to incorporate ginseng into your diet

Suggestions

We now know the multitude of benefits ginseng has to offer, so how do we incorporate it into our diet? There are several ways ginseng can be added to your diet:

  • Consumed raw - Ginseng can be eaten raw
  • Tea - You can make ginseng tea by adding sliced ginseng to hot water and allowing it to simmer
  • Supplements - There are a range of ginseng supplements on the market that can be taken - powder, tablet and capsule forms are available

Dosage recommendations

The recommended daily intake of ginseng is around 1-2 g of raw ginseng root or 200-400 mg extract per day. It is advised to start at lower doses initially and gradually increase your intake over time. 

Potential side effects and precautions

Like any substance, it is important to be aware that ginseng can cause side effects, although this is fairly uncommon. If symptoms do arise after taking ginseng. If you have any concerns, it is advised that you consult a medical practitioner before consuming ginseng. The following symptoms have been reported:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Upset stomach
  • Allergic reactions

Summary

Ginseng is a highly nutritious herb which has been used for centuries as a herbal remedy, offering a wide range of benefits. Research suggests that ginseng can be beneficial for cognition. Benefits such as improved memory, enhanced cognition, reduced stress and neuroprotection have been documented in available research.

The results from the current literature provide encouragement for further research, which can establish ginseng’s beneficial role in cognition with more concrete evidence. Although research on its cognitive benefits are fairly limited at this time, its many health-related properties make it a great option to incorporate into your lifestyle. 

References

  1. Ratan ZA, Haidere MF, Hong YH, Park SH, Lee JO, Lee J, Cho JY. Pharmacological potential of ginseng and its major component ginsenosides. Journal of ginseng research. 2021 Mar 1;45(2):199-210.
  2. Potenza MA, Montagnani M, Santacroce L, Charitos IA, Bottalico L. Ancient herbal therapy: A brief history of Panax ginseng. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2023 May 1;47(3):359-65.
  3. Shahrajabian MH, Sun W, Cheng Q. A review of ginseng species in different regions as a multipurpose herb in traditional Chinese medicine, modern herbology and pharmacological science. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. 2019 May 25;13(10):213-26.
  4. Kim JK, Tabassum N, Uddin MR, Park SU. Ginseng: a miracle sources of herbal and pharmacological uses. Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine. 2016 Dec;16:243-50.
  5. Hyun SH, Bhilare KD, In G, Park CK, Kim JH. Effects of Panax ginseng and ginsenosides on oxidative stress and cardiovascular diseases: pharmacological and therapeutic roles. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2022 Jan 1;46(1):33-8.
  6. Xiang YZ, Shang HC, Gao XM, Zhang BL. A comparison of the ancient use of ginseng in traditional Chinese medicine with modern pharmacological experiments and clinical trials. Phytotherapy Research. 2008 Jul;22(7):851-8.
  7. Wee JJ, Chung AS. Biological activities of ginseng and its application to human health.
  8. Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2010 Aug;25(6):462-71.
  9. Namgung E, Kim J, Jeong H, Hong G, Kim M, Kim RY, Kim S, Lyoo IK. Effects of Korean red ginseng on human gray matter volume and cognitive function: A voxel‐based morphometry study. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2021 Mar;36(2):e2767.
  10. Bell L, Whyte A, Duysburgh C, Marzorati M, Van den Abbeele P, Le Cozannet R, Fança-Berthon P, Fromentin E, Williams C. A randomised, placebo-controlled trial investigating the acute and chronic benefits of American Ginseng (Cereboost®) on mood and cognition in healthy young adults, including in vitro investigation of gut microbiota changes as a possible mechanism of action. European journal of nutrition. 2022 Feb 1:1-6.
  11. Park KC, Jin H, Zheng R, Kim S, Lee SE, Kim BH, Yim SV. Cognition enhancing effect of panax ginseng in Korean volunteers with mild cognitive impairment: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Translational and Clinical Pharmacology. 2019 Sep 1;27(3):92-7.
  12. Lee S, Rhee DK. Effects of ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. Journal of ginseng research. 2017 Oct 1;41(4):589-94.
  13. Hou W, Wang Y, Zheng P, Cui R. Effects of ginseng on neurological disorders. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 2020:55.
  14. Ong WY, Farooqui T, Koh HL, Farooqui AA, Ling EA. Protective effects of ginseng on neurological disorders. Frontiers in ageing neuroscience. 2015 Jul 16;7:129.
  15. Kim J, Kim SH, Lee DS, Lee DJ, Kim SH, Chung S, Yang HO. Effects of fermented ginseng on memory impairment and β-amyloid reduction in Alzheimer’s disease experimental models. Journal of ginseng research. 2013 Mar;37(1):100.
  16. Shin SJ, Park YH, Jeon SG, Kim S, Nam Y, Oh SM, Lee YY, Moon M. Red ginseng inhibits tau aggregation and promotes tau dissociation in vitro. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity. 2020 Jul 1;2020.
  17. Hu S, Han R, Mak S, Han Y. Protection against 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion (MPP+)-induced apoptosis by water extract of ginseng (Panax ginseng CA Meyer) in SH-SY5Y cells. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2011 Apr 26;135(1):34-42.18.   Zhou T, Zu G, Zhang X, Wang X, Li S, Gong X, Liang Z, Zhao J. Neuroprotective effects of ginsenoside Rg1 through the Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway in both in vivo and in vitro models of Parkinson's disease. Neuropharmacology. 2016 Feb 1;101:480-9.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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