Ginseng is a root herb that has been used in China for thousands of years, and in America since the 1700s. Ginseng is a native to China, Korea, Russia, and America. Each variety has slightly different characteristics, but all act as an “adaptogen” – a substance that helps you cope with all kinds of physical and psychological stress. Chinese medicine says it balances “yang energy” and Western medicine says it improves the function of the adrenal glands.
As far as the brain is concerned, ginseng’s power lies in its ability to control and lower the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is deadly to the brain. Many studies confirm ginseng’s beneficial effects on the brain: subjects taking this herb made fewer mistakes, had speedier reaction times, improved their scores on standard cognitive function tests (by more than 50 percent on average), and increased mental and physical stamina. Ginseng is popular as an anti-aging tonic used by many women during and after menopause to relieve symptoms of vaginal dryness, hot flashes, insomnia, and reduced libido. A recent study showed that women taking ginseng experienced an improved quality of life and less depression.
Panax ginseng is the most popular form used today, but Siberian ginseng is the type most often included in products geared to improve cognitive ability. Quality among all the varieties of ginseng varies widely. When buying panax ginseng extract, look for a product that is standardized for 7 percent ginsenosides; when buying Siberian ginseng extract, choose a product standardized for 1 percent eleutherosides E. Ginseng may also be purchased as a whole root from herbal pharmacies, broken into small pieces and chewed. This is the way it is used in China.
For prevention, take 100 mg of extract, or 500 to 1,000 mg of capsules per day. This dosage may be tripled if your symptoms are mild to moderate and/or you are under a lot of stress. Some herbalists advise that you follow a three-weeks-on two-weeks-off schedule.
Used in the recommended dosage, ginseng is generally safe. In rare instances it may cause over-stimulation or gastrointestinal upset. People with hypertension should not use ginseng. Long-term use has been reported to cause menstrual irregularities and breast tenderness.