Ginseng's Role In Reducing Stress And Anxiety

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Introduction

Ginseng is a renowned medicinal herb which has been used in Eastern Asian cultures for thousands of years and has garnered attention for its potential to reduce stress and anxiety.1 In this article, we will delve into the scientific evidence surrounding ginseng’s efficacy in alleviating stress and anxiety. 

Read on to find out how ginseng can reduce anxiety and stress and how you can incorporate it into your daily life.

Understanding stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are complex disorders influenced by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Stress can emerge from a multitude of external pressures, including work demands, financial challenges and major life changes. On the other hand, anxiety involves persistent feelings of fear and unease, leading to excessive worry. Both conditions can manifest mentally and physically and if left unaddressed, may contribute to the development of chronic diseases.

These conditions can impact a person’s daily life, including sleep, concentration, appetite, and mood. Cortisol is a hormone (a substance that is used for communication in the body) produced in the adrenal cortex and plays a crucial role in regulating the body's metabolism and response to stress. It is part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and is one of the major glucocorticoids (a family of hormones) that helps the body maintain a negative feedback loop. The HPA is activated when the hypothalamus (region deep in the brain) releases corticotropin-releasing hormone, which signals the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) into the bloodstream. This, in turn, triggers the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol to counteract the effects of stress.2

However, chronic stress can cause dysregulation of the HPA, leading to alterations in cortisol secretion patterns and contributing to various health problems and mental health disorders such as anxiety (4). Thus, it is essential to understand how to effectively manage stress and anxiety to maintain overall well-being and prevent long-term complications.

Ginseng: an overview

Ginseng, derived from the roots of plants of the panax genus is indigenous to Chinese and Korean medicine.6 The most studied species are Panax ginseng (Korean or Chinese ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng).6 This herb has a long history of utilisation because it is rich in bioactive compounds such as ginsenosides which have multiple pharmacological effects to help the body adapt to stressors and restore balance.3

Mechanisms of ginseng in stress and anxiety reduction

Numerous studies suggest that ginseng has several mechanisms of action that can help reduce stress and anxiety. For instance, it can regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and improve antioxidant levels. The following are some ways in which ginseng affects the HPA axis:

  1. Regulation of cortisol levels: Research indicates that ginsenosides can normalise the HPA axis by modulating cortisol levels.1 By doing so, ginseng may help prevent the overactivation of the HPA axis during stressful situations.
  2. Neurotransmitter regulation: Ginsenosides have been found to influence neurotransmitter (messenger in the brain) activity in the brain, especially serotonin, acetylcholine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA.4 These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in mood regulation and stress response. Therefore, by modulating neurotransmitter levels, ginseng may help alleviate stress and anxiety.
  3. Anti-inflammatory effects: Ginseng may be used to prevent stress-induced diseases. This is because anxiety can promote inflammatory responses. Ginseng has been shown to control proinflammatory cytokine (group of proteins that are secreted by immune cells and serve as molecular messengers) responses such as IL-1, IL-6, interferon γ, and TNF-α, effectively defending against increased cytokines.1

Scientific evidence supporting ginseng’s efficacy

Numerous studies have investigated ginseng’s potential in reducing stress and anxiety. Improvements in mood, cognitive performance, and general quality of life have all been linked to ginseng intake, according to clinical trials and systematic reviews. Ginseng has also shown superior regulation of stress in comparison to other adaptogens. 

Panax ginseng has been widely studied in double-blind and placebo-controlled trials. For instance, an 8-week clinical trial was conducted on the effect of Korean red ginseng on stress-related neurotransmitters.5 Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a standardised panax ginseng extract or a placebo. The findings of the study revealed significant improvements in working memory performance among participants who received ginseng extracts compared to participants who received the placebo. Korean red ginseng5 helped to stabilise the HPA axis by reducing the increase in cortisol.

Practical applications and considerations

Incorporating ginseng into your daily routine can be achieved through various forms, including capsules, teas, extracts, and even whole roots. Each form provides various advantages and can be tailored to fit into different lifestyles.

Capsules: Ginseng capsules provide a convenient way to consume herbal supplements, however, be sure to follow the recommended dosage and ask advice with a healthcare professional before consuming them.

Teas: The simplest method for consuming and preparing ginseng is by brewing it in tea. Steeping ginseng in hot water for 10 minutes effectively extracts its natural antioxidant properties.6

Chewing the root: You can peel and chew the raw ginseng root, which is a common practice in East Asia. This traditional method allows for a more immediate and potent effect. However, chewing raw ginseng will vary for each person as some may find the taste challenging to tolerate.

Limitations of current research

Research on ginseng's potential to reduce stress and anxiety is limited, despite positive outcomes. The scope of findings is limited by methodological issues such as inconsistent study designs, small sample sizes, and short intervention durations, which call for cautious interpretation. Moreover, comparisons and standardisation efforts are complicated by the variation in ginseng formulations and dosages among research.

Summary

Ginseng, a herb highly revered in Eastern Asian cultures, has shown promising results in reducing stress and anxiety. It is rich in bioactive compounds such as ginsenosides, which help regulate cortisol levels, modulate neurotransmitters, and exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. Clinical trials have confirmed its benefits in improving mood and cognitive function. Ginseng can be consumed in different forms such as capsules, teas, or by chewing the root. However, further research is needed to determine the optimal dosage and integration of ginseng into wellness practices, as study design inconsistencies pose limitations. Overall, ginseng provides a natural and effective approach to enhancing mental well-being and resilience.

FAQs

Are there any side effects or interactions associated with ginseng?

While ginseng is generally considered safe it may cause side effects such headaches, hypertension (high blood pressure), gastrointestinal discomfort and insomnia in some individuals. Ginseng can also interact with drugs including blood-thinners, diabetic medications, immunosuppressants, antidepressants, thus it is essential to inform your healthcare provider about any supplements you are taking.

References:

  1. Lee S, Rhee DK. Effects of Ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal Axis. Journal of Ginseng Research. 2017 Oct;41(4):589–94.
  2. Dai W, Feng K, Sun X, Xu L, Wu S, Rahmand K, et al. Natural products for the treatment of stress-induced depression: Pharmacology, mechanism and traditional use. Journal of Ethnopharmacology [Internet]. 2022 Mar 1 [cited 2022 Jan 19];285:114692. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378874121009211
  3. Hou W, Wang Y, Zheng P, Cui R. Effects of Ginseng on Neurological Disorders. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. 2020 Mar 2014.
  4. Jin Y, Cui R, Zhao L, Fan J, Li B. Mechanisms of Panax Ginseng Action as an Antidepressant. Cell Proliferation. 2019 Oct 10;52(6).
  5. Yoon J, Park B, Hong KW, Jung DH. The Effects of Korean Red Ginseng on stress-related Neurotransmitters and Gene expression: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Trial. Journal of Ginseng Research [Internet]. 2023 Nov 1 [cited 2024 Feb 4];47(6):766–72. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1226845323001069?fbclid=IwAR0Ig3cc6kAUvQV7zyorCZZmcGY1dIooUY0BFoHtjP7BL8gkAHZwsYY5f-I
  6. Kitts DD, Hu C. Efficacy and Safety of Ginseng. Public Health Nutrition [Internet]. 2000 Dec 1 [cited 2020 Oct 23];3(4a):473–85. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/efficacy-and-safety-of-ginseng/6174FB8242BBED5E04776827EEDBF2B7

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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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Maysoun Seif Suleiman

Bachelor of Science Biology, BSc Biology, Middlesex University

I have a diverse background in science, particularly in genetics, biochemistry, and ecology. I am interested in conducting research in the fields of microbiology and molecular biology. I am focused on advancing my academic career by pursuing a master's degree in the future and working in the research field.

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