How Panax Ginseng Works For Stress And Other Ailments

Panax ginseng is an ancient Chinese herb that is popular both in the West and China, and for good reason. It was originally used for all manner of conditions, though it is now, in western herbalism, used for two primary issues. These are stress and ageing, and their plethora of related concerns.

It would certainly be a mistake to dismiss ginseng because of the fact that it can treat a wide range of conditions, some of which seem to be physiologically opposite. Whilst for many remedies this is an indicator that its’ benefits are over exaggerated, in the case of ginseng there is actually a biochemical explanation of why this may be occurring. One important consideration is that there are many types of ginseng, and panax is only one. By exploring these issues, consumers will be more equipped to deal with the many products on the market.

Ginseng is something of an umbrella term in that there are 5 species that are used medicinally all known popularly by that name. However, these plants are all quite unique, and one of them is not even a true ginseng!

There is the plant known simply as Panax ginseng, which this article is about. But there are also other panax species – American ginseng (panax quinquefolium), a species found wild in China (panax pseudo-ginseng of the variety notoginseng), and Japanese ginseng (panax pseudo-ginseng of the variety japonicus). In addition, we have the botanical ‘imposter’, Siberian ginseng. Siberian ginseng actually has some great medicinal qualities, and is recommended in some cases where the original panax cannot be used – but it is not a true ginseng. Its’ botanical name is actually Eleutherococcus senticosus.

To illustrate the differences between them, we only have to look at the effect of some of the active constituents. By having varying concentrations of even one sub-group of active principles, two of these plants have quite a different emphasis (and therefore use).

The active constituents in question are called triterpenoid saponins. These saponins are actually divided into two groups. One of these groups has a more stimulating effect, and the other a more sedative effect. It should be pointed out that when I write ‘sedative’, I don’t mean so in the way that some herbs like valerian are described as sedatives. It’s a relative effect, in that all of these panax plants still have some of each type of saponin. The effects just balance each other out. Some plants have a stronger stimulatory effect because they have more of those stimulating saponins. Yet the other plants do have stimulating saponins, just in smaller quantities. Thus, these plants are still stimulating, only less so, and in a different way.

These active principles, the saponins, are actually what helps the body deal better with whatever is causing stress. That might be work related stress, stress from school, illness, over-exertion or strong physical training, extremes in temperature, or psychological stress.

The saponins are very similar to our own steroid hormones. Steroid hormones are involved in the fight or flight response associated with stress. It is believed that because of this similarity, panax ginseng has a regulatory effect on our hormonal system, although scientists are not sure of the exact mechanism. And it is for this reason that panax ginseng is called an adaptogen in Western herbalism.

Panax ginseng is a very effective herb, though there are a few instances it shouldn’t be used. However, for most people it is an excellent resource during stressful times, and can really improve the quality of life in the elderly. Depending on the type of problem being addressed, some species are better than others. And despite not being an official ginseng plant, Eleutherococcus still has a lot of important applications. It just becomes a case of understanding the differences in each type to use it effectively.

Web definitions for Cholinergic:

Relating to nerve cells or fibers that employ acetylcholine as their neurotransmitter.


(Panax Ginseng)


Ginseng is a small woodland plant indigenous to the mountain forests of Asia from Nepal to Manchuria, and is cultivated primarily in Korea. The plant has a perennial root which annually produces a smooth, round stem that reaches one foot in height. The stem terminates by dividing into two to three stalked compound leaves which consists of five to seven petiolate, oblong-ovate, serrate leaflets. A solitary, simple umbel of greenish-yellow flowers grows from the top of the stem blooming from June to August. The fruit is a red, kidney-shaped berry. The medicinal part is the root.

Other common names:

Asiatic Ginger, Wander-of-the-world, Chinese Ginseng


 Carbohydrates  Caryophyllene  Farnesene
 Fatty Acids  Fructose  Glucose
 Hormones  Humulene  Maltose
 Pectin  Polyacetylenes  Saponins
 Starch  Sterols  Sucrose
 Volatile Oils

* For definition of some of the above terms see the dictionary section of this book.


 Biotin  Calcium  Choline
 Copper  Iron  Manganese
 Nicotinic Acid  UFA  Zinc
 B Complex Vitamins


Demulcent – an agent which smooths the mucous membranes on contact.

Panacea – a remedy for all diseases.

Stimulant – an agent that temporarily increases activity or physiological processes. Stimulants may be classified according to the organ upon which they act; for example, an intestinal stimulant is that which stimulates the intestines.

Stomachic – a substance which excites, strengthens and tones the stomach.

Ginseng is called the “King of the Herbs” in the Orient. It is a general stimulant which helps the body overcome stress and fatigue, both physical and mental, to improve work capacity. Considered a panacea, it is used to normalize blood pressure, reduce blood cholesterol, and prevent atherosclerosis. It acts as an antidote to various depressant drugs and toxic chemicals, and is said to protect the body from the effects of radiation sickness. Claims are made that ginseng improves vision and hearing, checks irritability, and improves composure. In China it is used as a preventative tonic and is thought to slow the aging process. The constituents of ginseng will alter carbohydrate and albumin metabolism, lower liver glycogen content, and promote the biosynthesis of cholesterol, lipid, RNA, DNA, and protein.

Some members of the ginseng saponins produce effects directly opposite those produced by others, and under certain conditions ginseng acts in opposite directions. The type of food consumed influences the behavior of ginseng saponins on liver glycogen. Excess fat, protein and carbohydrates correspondingly decrease or abolish liver glycogen production. Fasting or lack of food enhance the saponins’ effects on liver glycogen production.

Siberian Ginseng works by regulating energy, nucleic acid and protein metabolism in your tissues. Under stress, a complex substance is generated in your blood. This complex inhibits energy-giving substances from entering cell membranes and also interferes with normal cell activity. Siberian Ginseng contains substances that disrupt this negative process, decreasing the competition and minimizing the deleterious effects of the “bad guys” – the stress-released complex. Now your cells can function normally, despite the stress.

Siberian Ginseng allows muscles to release less glycogen, and also preserves other substances which diminish energy. At the same time, mobilization of lipids is accelerated. If all this is confusing, suffice it to say that the data suggest that the regulation of energy underlies the biological action of Siberian Ginseng. Since any functional activity requires high expenditure of energy, it is the ability of Siberian Ginseng to oversee, guard and control these important energy processes that is the scientific basis of its wide biological range of action.

Here’s an example. If you jog for 15 minutes, the activity provokes an inhibition of RNA activity by 50 percent because of competition for energy between the RNA reactions and muscle activity. Siberian Ginseng doubles the process of recovery, thereby normalizing the biosynthesis of nucleic acids more rapidly. In other words, Siberian Ginseng helps to normalize cell activity.

The exceptional quality of Siberian Ginseng to normalize deviations from the norm is attributed to its active principles, glycosides. Glycosides act as drugs, increasing the general nonspecific resistance to diverse chemical, physical, and biological factors.


Ginseng does not combine well with certain herbs. Black Hellebore, for instance, in as small an amount as one tenth of an ounce, can destroy the functional properties of an ounce of ginseng. One study conducted at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine suggested that subjects who took ginseng orally suffered from hypertension, nervousness, sleeplessness, skin eruptions, and morning diarrhea. All subjects also used caffeinated beverages as well. Ginseng caused leukocytosis and erythrocytosis in rabbits, but there is no evidence of such effects in humans.


Known Interactions

A mixture containing astragalia radix, cinnamon, peony, cnidii rhioma, angelical root, Ginseng Root, and licorice root was shown to enhance antitumor activity and decrease toxicity of mitomycin C.

Possible Interactions

The adrenocortical or corticosteroidal action of ginseng may be antagonized by the use of heparin, while the adrenocortical responsiveness to ginseng may be impaired by the use of aphotericin B.

In addition the anti-inflammatory activity of ginseng can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain other sedatives and hypnotics, such as chloral hydrate and meprobamate. This is also true of beta-adrenergic blocking agents, such as propranolol.


To the extent that ginseng’s action depends on the presence of cholinergic substances, it will be affected by the decrease in cholinergic-receptor stimulation produced by anticholinergics.

In the absence of other hard data, it may still be assumed that observable interactions may occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in ginseng.


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