Siberian Ginseng: The Detoxifying, Immune-Boosting Herb You Need To Know About
In the world of adaptogens - plant medicines with medicinal properties that restore balance to almost any area of the body - there are a few superstars that boost wellness in multiple ways. As a functional medicine practitioner, it is my job to uncover the contributing factors that underlie people’s health problems, then determine the best way to heal them naturally, and I often recommend adaptogens as a go-to therapeutic tool. There are hundreds of adaptogens, but only a handful that I return to time and time again for their specific capabilities for a variety of ailments. Siberian ginseng, in particular, is one of my favorites.
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Siberian ginseng: Not actually ginseng
Nature has given us many powerful remedies that have been used for thousands of years (long before pharmaceutical medications were a thing). These herbal medicines often have very little, if any, side effects, but even though studies have shown them to be just as effective as medication - and in some cases even more so - they have largely been eclipsed by manufactured medications. But why take a drug when you could take a natural herbal product that tackles imbalance and restores wellness from all angles? Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as eleuthero, is one of those plant medicines that can do a lot for you on many levels.
So, just what is this amazing adaptogen? One thing to know is that it is not actually ginseng. There are 11 species of ginseng, each with their own unique health benefits. All ginseng comes from the Panax genus of the Araliaceae (meaning “all heal” in Greek). Some of the most popular include American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng). However, because Siberian ginseng doesn’t come from the Panax genus, it is not considered “true” ginseng and has very different qualities than the other varieties. Confusing, I know! This is why it’s important to look at the label when you’re buying it.
Siberian ginseng is grown in Asia and Russia, and it is particularly high in compounds known as eleutherosides (hence its alias as “eleuthero”). It has been part of these cultures’ medicinal practices for centuries, and for good reason. Siberian Ginseng can do a lot of very good things for you.
Why should I take it?
True ginseng is one of the most widely commercially sold (1) herbs on the market, and there is a lot of research on it. We know less about Siberian ginseng, other than the fact that in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) it is considered to have a warm energy and is used to support spleen and kidney health. But as adaptogens continue to become more popular in the wellness world, more and more studies are coming out to support eleuthero’s many health benefits. Here’s what we know so far:
1. Immune system booster
Research has shown that supplementing with eleuthero can increase immune cell production, (2) specifically the antibody molecules known as immunoglobulins. It also works to maintain (3) healthy T4 lymphocyte immune cell levels.
2. Detoxification supporter
Eleuthero supports your liver (the body’s primary detox organ) by assisting the processing and removal of toxins.
3. Cancer fighter and preventer
4. Cognitive health booster
Eleuthero can improve memory in older people, likely due to its choline recycling support and its ability to synthesize acetylcholine in the hippocampus of the brain— both of which help prevent (7) the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been shown to be neuroprotective (8) against the effects of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease. (9)
5. Blood sugar stabilizer
If diabetes is a problem, eleuthero can come to the rescue. It is next-level when it comes to blood sugar balance and other factors that contribute to diabetes and other metabolic disorders. One study showed that eleutheroside reduced (10) insulin resistance and, in turn, lowered blood glucose levels. Eleuthero also has the power to improve (11) cholesterol and triglycerides, which are both markers of metabolic disorders.
6. Virus slayer
It’s hard to avoid RNA viruses such as respiratory syncytial, human rhinovirus, and the flu virus influenza A as they are all common contributors to everyday illness. However, studies have shown (12) that eleuthero extract inhibits the growth and spread of these viruses - just one more way it supports the immune system.
7. Endurance enhancer
Reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality (13) after exercise with eleuthero. Human and animal studies have demonstrated a connection: By increasing oxygen utilization (14) and improving both (15) glycogen metabolism and cardiovascular function, eleuthero supplementation decreased the stress response (16) in male endurance athletes.
Does it have side effects?
The beauty of adaptogens is that they are safe for pretty much anyone, but since every person’s individual biochemistry is different, it is still important to check with your health practitioner to determine whether this is the best choice for you and your particular system. Siberian ginseng, like all adaptogens, may be more or less effective in certain individuals. However, because eleuthero does increase blood flow, (17) it could potentially interfere with certain medications that also increase blood flow such as anticoagulants. If you are on any medications, talk to your doctor about whether Siberian ginseng is appropriate for you.
Incorporating Siberian ginseng into your wellness routine
Although Siberian ginseng is available as a dried root to make tea, it has a notoriously strong, bitter taste. Most people prefer to take it in supplement form, or as an extract. Just remember: To be sure you are actually getting Siberian ginseng, look for the term “eleuthero” on the label! Buying from a reputable source that sells high-quality organic products will not only give you confidence that what you are buying is true eleuthero, but you’ll be assured of getting the most bioavailable natural source of this herbal medicine.
As you get to know more about various adaptogens, I hope you will consider adding more of them into your health routine. They are a great way to work toward optimal health naturally, and the research surrounding them continues to advance. Finally, remember that what works for one person doesn’t always work for the next, so consult with your practitioner before adding anything new.
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- Ginseng Evaluation Program American Botanical Council http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/DocServer/Ginseng_Evaluation_Program.pdf?docID=241
- Drozd J, Sawicka T, Prosińska J. Estimation of humoral activity of Eleutherococcus senticosus. Acta Pol Pharm. 2002;59(5):395‐401.
- Bohn B, Nebe CT, Birr C. Flow-cytometric studies with eleutherococcus senticosus extract as an immunomodulatory agent. Arzneimittel-forschung. 1987 Oct;37(10):1193-1196.
- Simon Angelo Cichello, Qian Yao, Ashley Dowell, Brian Leury, Xiao-Qiong He Proliferative and Inhibitory Activity of Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus Senticosus) Extract on Cancer Cell Lines DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7314/APJCP.2015.16.11.4781
- Wang HC, Tseng YH, Wu HR, et al. Anti-proliferation effect on human breast cancer cells via inhibition of pRb phosphorylation by taiwanin E isolated from Eleutherococcus trifoliatus. Natural Product Communications. 2014 Sep;9(9):1303-1306.
- Hibasami H, Fujikawa T, Takeda H, et al. Induction of apoptosis by Acanthopanax senticosus HARMS and its component, sesamin in human stomach cancer KATO III cells. Oncol Rep. 2000;7(6):1213‐1216. doi:10.3892/or.7.6.1213
- Huang D, Hu Z, Yu Z. Eleutheroside B or E enhances learning and memory in experimentally aged rats. Neural Regen Res. 2013;8(12):1103‐1112. doi:10.3969/j.issn.1673-5374.2013.12.005
- Jin ML, Park SY, Kim YH, Park G, Lee SJ. Acanthopanax senticosus exerts neuroprotective effects through HO-1 signaling in hippocampal and microglial cells. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2013;35(2):335‐346. doi:10.1016/j.etap.2013.01.004
- Bocharov EV, Kucherianu VG, Bocharova OA, Karpova RV. Vestn Ross Akad Med Nauk. 2008;(4):47‐50.
- Ahn J, Um MY, Lee H, Jung CH, Heo SH, Ha TY. Eleutheroside E, An Active Component of Eleutherococcus senticosus, Ameliorates Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetic db/db Mice. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:934183. doi:10.1155/2013/934183
- Rhie, S.G., Won, H.R., Effect of Rot Water Soluble Extract from Eleutherococcus and Dietary Carnitine on the Lipid Metabolism and Antioxidant Defense System of Rats on Hypercholesterol Diet The Korean Journal of Community Living Science 2004. https://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=KR2005011388
- Glatthaar-Saalmüller B, Sacher F, Esperester A. Antiviral activity of an extract derived from roots of Eleutherococcus senticosus. Antiviral Res. 2001;50(3):223‐228. doi:10.1016/s0166-3542(01)00143-7
- Huang LZ, Wei L, Zhao HF, Huang BK, Rahman K, Qin LP. The effect of Eleutheroside E on behavioral alterations in murine sleep deprivation stress model. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011;658(2-3):150‐155. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.02.036
- Katsumi Asano, Tetsuzo Takahashi, Misao Miyashita, Akira Matsuzak, Shigeji Muramatsu, Morio Kuboyama, Haruhiko Kugo, Jiro Imai Effect of Eleutheroccocus senticosus Extract on Human Physical Working Capacity Planta Med 1986; 52(3): 175-177 DOI: 10.1055/s-2007-969114
- Kuo J, Chen KW, Cheng IS, Tsai PH, Lu YJ, Lee NY. The effect of eight weeks of supplementation with Eleutherococcus senticosus on endurance capacity and metabolism in human. Chin J Physiol. 2010;53(2):105‐111. doi:10.4077/cjp.2010.amk018
- Gaffney BT, Hügel HM, Rich PA. The effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus and Panax ginseng on steroidal hormone indices of stress and lymphocyte subset numbers in endurance athletes. Life Sci. 2001;70(4):431‐442. doi:10.1016/s0024-3205(01)01394-7
- Kwan CY, Zhang WB, Sim SM, Deyama T, Nishibe S. Vascular effects of Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus): endothelium-dependent NO- and EDHF-mediated relaxation depending on vessel size. Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2004;369(5):473‐480. doi:10.1007/s00210-004-0927-4
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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