What is Siberian Ginseng? Siberian Ginseng (also known as “Eleutrococcus Senticosus”) is a popular plant that has traditionally been in empirical oriental medicine – specifically in Russia, China, Korea, and Japan – for enhancement of resistance to physical and mental stress. It is believed to have adaptogenic properties, which means that it enhances are body’s ability to cope with external stresses (both physical and mental). It has been widely studied in Russia, where it has been extensively used as an adaptogen to increase resistance to stress, fatigue, and disease (Brekhmani and Dardymov, 1969). It commonly used by endurance athletes to enhance stress resistance during intense periods of training.
Who might benefit from Siberian Ginseng supplements? Siberian ginseng may be beneficial to anyone who undergoes intense periods of stress either through heavy training volumes or intensities. It may therefore be of benefit to hard training endurance athletes (Long distance runners, swimmers, cyclists, triathletes etc.) and team sports competitors (football, rugby, hockey etc). It may also be of benefit to people during intense periods of mental stress.
What does research say about Siberian Ginseng supplements? Siberian Ginseng is believed to have anti-stress and fatigue properties that may enhance our ability to cope with physical and mental stress (Kimura and Sumiyoshi, 2004). When we are exposed to stresses, either through heavy training, or through pressures at work, or at home, our bodies respond by adjusting the levels of certain key hormones within the central nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). These changes lead to an increase in the levels of cortisol and a depletion of the key neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. High levels of cortisol leads to increased muscle breakdown, lower muscle glycogen levels, and reduced immune function. Whereas, depletion of norepinephrine and dopamine will leave you feeling low, fatigued, and will reduce your exercise performance capacity. Therefore, it is clear that prolonged exposure to either physical or mental stress will have a negative impact on exercise performance. The adaptogenic properties of Siberian Ginseng may allow you to adapt more effectively to the stresses being placed upon you and therefore will mean that the stress – whether it is physical or mental – will have less of a negative impact on you both physically and mentally.
In animal studies Siberian ginseng has been shown to prolong exercise time to exhaustion (Nishibe et al., 1990; Kimura and Sumiyoshi, 2004), enhance immune function (Kimura and Sumiyoshi, 2004).
Human studies looking at the effects of Siberian ginseng on human performance have found mixed results. One recent study found that Siberian ginseng enhanced exercise performance and increased the work intensity in which an oxygen plateau occurred (Szolmicki et al., 2000). Other researchers have concluded that Siberian ginseng did not have performance enhancing properties (Eschbach et al., 2000; Goulet et al., 2005). However, most athletes who use Siberian ginseng use it because they feel that it enhances their ability to cope with stress and not because they think it enhances performance.
Studies of Siberian ginseng in humans have demonstrated that it lowered the severity of fatigue in chronic fatigue patients (Hartz et al., 2004), has stress reducing properties in healthy humans (Deyama et al., 2001), improves short term memory (Arushanian et al., 2003), preserves immune function during periods of stress (Szolmicki et al., 2000; Deyami et al., 2001; Panossian et al., 2002). It may also enhance aspects of mental health and social functioning (Cicero et al., 2004).
A review of data from clinical trials in Russia, involving 2100 healthy human subjects (aged 19 – 72) indicated that Siberian ginseng increases are ability to cope with physical stress, improves mental performance, and enhances the quality of work performed under stressful conditions (Farnsworth et al., 1985).
Siberian ginseng is believed to preserve immune function by enhancing β-endorphin levels in the plasma (Shimura and Nakammura, 1986; Deyama et al., 2001). In fact, in one study the important immune cells T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells were found to markedly increase following four weeks of supplementation (Bohn et al., 1987). It has also been shown to possess ant-viral activity by inhibiting the replication of human RNA viruses (Glatthaar-Saalmuller et al., 2001). Therefore, the therapeutic effect of Siberian ginseng as a tonic medicine may be, in part, due to its enhancement of the immune reaction (Deyama et al., 2001).
It is believed to exert its stress relieving properties, through modulated changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) (Kelly, 1999; Gaffney et al., 2001).
How should I take Siberian Ginseng? It is not clear exactly what dose of Siberian ginseng is best for enhancing performance. Most manufacturers generally recommend around 1-2g/daily, in 2-3 divided doses, which is within the limits of most research. Siberian ginseng should not be taken for prolonged periods of time as after about 8 weeks of consumption it appears to loose its adaptogenic properties (Cierco et al., 2004). Therefore, it would probably be best to take Siberian ginseng for a maximum of 6 weeks, then discontinue use for around 4 weeks.
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