Ginseng And Its Role In Managing Diabetes

  • Najma Ahmed Bachelor of Science - BSc, Pharmacology, UCL
  • Nithursha NagendrabalanMaster of Sciences in Cancer, University College London, England
  • Shazia Asim PhD Scholar (Pharmacology), University of Health Sciences Lahore, Pakistan

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Overview

Diabetes is a condition marked by high blood glucose levels, that are carefully controlled by the hormone insulin. The medicinal herb ginseng has drawn interest due to its wide range of pharmacological characteristics. Bioactive substances called ginsenosides, extracted from the roots of Panax ginseng, have the potential to treat many illnesses, including diabetes.

Ginseng has the potential to help manage diabetes because of its capacity to alter blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and strengthen antioxidant defences. Though research highlights the potential benefits of ginseng, prudence is advised, especially about its effectiveness in particular populations. Comprehending the data and constraints regarding ginseng's impact on diabetes is essential for making well-informed healthcare decisions.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is defined by elevated blood glucose (sugar) levels, primarily regulated by the important hormone insulin, responsible for lowering blood glucose levels. When insulin is insufficient or absent, diabetes develops.

Diabetes is primarily divided into two types:

  • Type 1 Diabetes, also known as Insulin-Dependent Diabetes (IDDM) or juvenile-onset diabetes, typically manifests as a severe and unstable condition. Pancreatic cells that produce insulin are accidentally attacked and destroyed by the immune system. The body cannot efficiently control blood sugar levels without enough insulin, which can result in problems like ketosis. Insulin therapy is necessary for the management of Type 1 diabetes to keep blood glucose levels steady
  • Alternatively known as Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes (NIDDM), type 2 diabetes often develops later in life and is associated with lifestyle factors and genetic predisposition. In contrast to Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes is characterised by impaired glucose management because the body's cells do not respond to insulin, even if insulin synthesis may not be absent. Type 2 diabetes may initially be managed through dietary modifications and lifestyle changes, and in some cases, oral hypoglycemic medications may be prescribed1

Diabetes has several different origins, which stem from a confluence of environmental variables and genetic predisposition. The complicated nature of diabetes onset and control is highlighted by the complex interaction between genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors. Diabetes affects at least 171 million people globally, or 2.8% of the population, as of 2000, and by 2030, that number is expected to reach 11.4% of the population.3

Causes

Several risk factors for diabetes type 2 include:2

  • Physical inactivity: Exercise influences metabolic health and is frequently linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Individuals with a history of heart attack or stroke may have a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity: A high proportion of body fat impairs normal glucose metabolism and increases the risk of developing insulin resistance
  • Family history and ethnicity can increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, especially among individuals from specific ethnic groups with a familial history of the condition 

Symptoms

Diabetes can cause symptoms that affect different sections of the body in different ways. Typical signs and symptoms include:1

  • being very thirsty
  • passing urine more often, particularly during the night 
  • continuous exhaustion
  • changes in vision
  • unintentional loss of muscular mass
  • genital itching or recurrent episodes of yeast infections


Diabetes type 1 can manifest very quickly, perhaps in a matter of days or weeks. Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is less common, weight loss is often seen during the start of type 1 diabetes before therapy.2

What is ginseng?

The Panax ginseng plant yields the roots of ginseng, a well-known medical herb. It is widely used in traditional medicine and well-known for its diversity in pharmacology China and Southeast Asia have long utilised ginseng, and it is one of the most popular natural items sold worldwide.3 The medicinal effects of the plant are attributed to a variety of bioactive chemicals found in its roots, including ginsenosides.4

The possible impacts of these chemicals on cancer, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and immunological regulation have all been investigated.5 Additionally, there are chemical differences in ginseng between varieties, such as those found between white and red ginseng, which could lead to various pharmacological effects.4

Potential benefits of ginseng for diabetes management 

Blood sugar regulation: 

Ginseng may assist diabetics in lowering their blood sugar levels by increasing insulin sensitivity, which would enable cells to use circulatory glucose more effectively and help control blood sugar levels.

Anti-inflammatory effects: 

Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are influenced by chronic inflammation. Because of ginseng's anti-inflammatory qualities, the body may experience less inflammation, leading to enhanced insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.

Antioxidant characteristics: 

Ginsenosides, among other chemicals, are found in ginseng. These antioxidants have the potential to shield cells against oxidative stress, a condition linked to diabetic consequences such as retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy.

Heart health:

Diabetes raises the possibility of heart-related issues. According to certain studies, ginseng may benefit those who have diabetes by lowering blood pressure and improving the overall health of the heart.

Ginseng's effectiveness in managing diabetes

The possible effects of ginseng on diabetes have been thoroughly researched. For example:

  • Studies have indicated that ginseng saponin and ginsenoside Rh2 are effective in lowering hyperglycemia and alleviating diabetes6
  • In animal models of diabetes, glycans, and peptides extracted from ginseng root have been shown to have a hypoglycemic impact7 
  • Studies have demonstrated that American ginseng can lower glucose levels in not only those with type 2 diabetes but also non-diabetic individuals.8 Furthermore, ginseng has been consumed as a tonic for years without showing any signs of toxicity or negative effects, and it has been used professionally to assist treat type 2 diabetes

However, certain studies have indicated that ginseng and ginsenosides may not improve insulin sensitivity in overweight people with low glucose tolerance or diabetes. Therefore, a thorough evaluation is necessary when considering its use in diabetes care.9

FAQs 

Which varieties of ginseng are frequently used to treat diabetes?

The three varieties of ginseng that are most frequently used to control diabetes are Siberian ginseng, American, and Asian ginseng. These types are thought to have therapeutic effects because they include bioactive substances like ginsenosides.

How does ginseng impact the level of blood sugar?

Ginseng may affect blood sugar levels by promoting cell uptake of glucose, decreasing inflammation, and increasing insulin sensitivity, among other ways. These behaviours might aid in blood sugar regulation and improve diabetes management.

Is it possible to replace prescription diabetes drugs with ginseng?

Although ginseng has potential as an adjunctive treatment for diabetes, it is not meant to take the place of prescription drugs from medical specialists. Before adding ginseng to their regimen, people with diabetes should speak with their healthcare professional and stick to their recommended treatment protocols.

Does taking ginseng for diabetes come with any risks or adverse effects?

When taken under authorised dosages, ginseng is generally regarded as safe for most people. On the other hand, some people might have adverse consequences like headaches, stomach problems, or blood pressure fluctuations. Consult your healthcare provider before taking ginseng because it may interact with some medications, particularly if you have underlying medical conditions or use medicine.

How should my diabetic management strategy include ginseng?

See a healthcare professional first if you're thinking about including ginseng in your diabetic treatment regimen. They can offer tailored advice depending on your particular demands, medication schedule, and state of health. In addition, prioritise advice from your medical practitioner, upholding a healthy lifestyle, being active, and a good diet in addition to any supplementary therapies, such as ginseng.

Summary

Diabetes, a common metabolic illness, is a complex worldwide health issue. A thorough grasp of the complexity of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes is necessary for efficient care, as Type 1 Diabetes is attributed to immunological malfunction while Type 2 Diabetes is linked to lifestyle variables.

Renowned for its therapeutic qualities, ginseng shows promise as an adjuvant treatment for diabetes. Ginseng, which is high in bioactive chemicals, has positive effects on reducing inflammation and regulating blood sugar. Even while evidence points to benefits, more investigation is required to maximise its application and take into account individual differences. 

To effectively navigate treatment options and improve overall health outcomes in the management of diabetes, collaboration between healthcare practitioners and patients is essential.

References

  1. Banday MZ, Sameer AS, Nissar S. Pathophysiology of diabetes: An overview. Avicenna J Med [Internet]. 2020 Oct 13;10(4):174–88. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7791288/
  2. NHS. Diabetes [Internet]. NHS. NHS; 2023. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/ 
  3.  Yuan HD, Kim JT, Kim SH, Chung SH. Ginseng and diabetes: the evidence from in vitro, animal and human studies. J Ginseng Res [Internet]. 2012 Jan;36(1):27–39. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3659569/ 
  4. He M, Huang X, Liu S, Guo C, Xie Y, Meijer AH, et al. The Difference between White and Red Ginseng: Variations in Ginsenosides and Immunomodulation. Planta Medica [Internet]. 2018 Aug 1 [cited 2022 Oct 17];84(12-13):845–54. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29925101/ 
  5.  Sun Y, Liu Y, Chen K. Roles and mechanisms of ginsenoside in cardiovascular diseases: progress and perspectives. Sci China Life Sci [Internet]. 2016 Mar 1 ;59(3):292–8. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-016-5007-8 
  6. Choi K tae. Botanical characteristics, pharmacological effects and medicinal components of Korean Panax ginseng C A Meyer. Acta Pharmacol Sin [Internet]. 2008 Sep;29(9):1109–18. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/aps2008134 
  7.  Yeh GY, Eisenberg DM, Kaptchuk TJ, Phillips RS. A systematic review of herbs and dietary supplements for glycemic control in diabetes. Diabetes Care [Internet]. 2003 Apr 1 ;26(4):1277–94. Available from: https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/26/4/1277/23631/Systematic-Review-of-Herbs-and-Dietary-Supplements 
  8.  Vuksan V, Sievenpiper JL, Koo VYY, Francis T, Beljan-Zdravkovic U, Xu Z, et al. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L) reduces postprandial glycemia in nondiabetic subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Archives of Internal Medicine [Internet]. 2000 Apr 10 ;160(7):1009–13. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.160.7.1009 
  9.  Reeds DN, Patterson BW, Okunade A, Holloszy JO, Polonsky KS, Klein S. Ginseng and ginsenoside re do not improve β-cell function or insulin sensitivity in overweight and obese subjects with impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes. Diabetes Care [Internet]. 2011 May 1 ;34(5):1071–6. Available from: https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/34/5/1071/38730/Ginseng-and-Ginsenoside-Re-Do-Not-Improve-Cell 

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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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Najma Ahmed

Bachelor of Science - BSc, Pharmacology, UCL

Najma Ahmed is an undergraduate in Pharmacology at University College London, with a fervent passion for the science of medicine and drug discovery. As a current medical writer with experience in healthcare marketing and in mentoring and tutoring, Najma aspires to excel in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in medical communications or regulatory affairs.

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