Ginseng Supplement




Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal dietary supplements worldwide. Sales in the United States have been reported to be over $300 million annually. Ginseng consists of several species belonging to the plant family Araliaceae. The two major forms are Chinese, Korean or Asian ginseng which belong to the genus Panax, and Siberian or Russian ginseng which belongs to the genus Eleutherococcus. The biologically active constituents in Panax ginseng are a complex mixture of triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Siberian, or Russian, ginseng consists of the dried roots and rhizome of Eleutherococcus senticosis, and contains phenolics, polysaccharides, and eleutherosides. In China, Eleutherococcus senticosus is known as wujiaseng or Ciwujia, and the proposed active ingredients are ciwujianosides.

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The ergogenic effect of ginseng is attributed to the ginsenosides, eleutherosides, and ciwujianosides. Ginseng is theorized to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortex axis, possibly mitigating the catabolic effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Given these theorized anti-stress effects, one theory of ginseng supplementation is to enhance sports performance by allowing athletes to train more intensely or to induce an antifatiguing effect and increase stamina during competition. Other theories have been proposed to explain the potential ergogenic effect on aerobic endurance capacity, including favorable metabolic, hematologic, and cardiovascular functions. Given these postulates, much of the research involving the ergogenicity of ginseng supplementation has focused on cardiovascular or aerobic endurance performance, with some emphasis on psychomotor performance.

Earlier research findings relative to the effect of ginseng on endurance performance are equivocal. For example, one reviewer indicated that controlled studies of Asian ginseng found improvement in exercise performance with use of standardized extracts, long duration of supplementation, large numbers of subjects, and elderly subjects. However, most earlier studies reporting positive ergogenic effects have been associated with improper research methodology, including no control or placebo group, no double-blind protocol, no randomization of order of treatment, no statistical analysis, or the use of nonstandardized commercial ginseng preparations containing other potential ergogenic substances. Several recent studies have reported ergogenic effects of Panax ginseng. Liang and others reported that Panax ginseng supplementation (1.35 g/day for 30 days) significantly increased cycle ergometer endurance time in untrained adults. Also using untrained adults, Kim and others found that eight weeks supplementation with Panax ginseng extract (6 g/day) enhanced performance in treadmill running time which, based on serum levels of antioxidant enzymes, was attributed to decreased oxidative stress. However, this one-group study involved a control pre-test followed by a post-test after the eight-week supplementation period; no placebo was utilized.

The vast majority of well-controlled studies have reported no significant effect of either Panax ginseng, eleutherococcus senticosus Maxim L, Ciwujia, or a standardized ginseng extract on cardiovascular, metabolic, or psychologic responses to either submaximal or maximal exercise performance, or on maximal or supramaximal performance capacity. Several recent extensive reviews of well-designed studies have concluded that there is an absence of compelling research evidence regarding the efficacy of ginseng use to improve physical performance in humans, with one of the reviews focusing solely on eleutherococcus senticosus. Well-controlled studies and detailed reviews indicate that ginseng in its various forms does not enhance exercise or sport performance.





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