Sharpen Your Wits with Ginseng
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (August 18, 2005)—Taking Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) can improve the ability to perform mental tasks and reduce fatigue after mental exertion, according to the Journal of Psychopharmacology (2005;19:357–65).
Asian ginseng, also known as Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, and red ginseng, is one of the most commonly used medicinal herbs in the world, and is used by an estimated six million people in the United States. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat conditions such as weakness, fatigue, fevers, and ailments of old age. It is often used by people who want to improve their mental functioning and increase their energy level. Studies have found that ginseng can stimulate the immune system and control blood sugar levels. Results of other studies suggest it may contribute to cancer prevention and enhance sexual function. The evidence supporting its use as a memory aid is inconclusive.
In the current study, 30 healthy college students were randomly assigned to receive either 400 mg of a standardized extract of ginseng, 200 mg of the same ginseng preparation, or a placebo on each of three separate study days. On each of the study days, participants used a computer to perform a ten-minute set of three mental tasks, once before treatment and six more times beginning one hour after treatment. The tasks involved counting backwards from a random number by threes and sevens, and recognizing patterns in a quickly passing series of numbers. At the end of each set of tasks, the students rated their sense of mental fatigue. Blood sugar levels were measured on study days before treatment, one hour after treatment (immediately before starting the six post-treatment sets of tasks), after completing the third post-treatment set of tasks, and after the final set of tasks.
Mental fatigue ratings were significantly lower in people taking ginseng: those taking 400 mg reported less fatigue after the third post-treatment set of tasks, and those taking 200 mg reported less fatigue after the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth post-treatment sets of tasks. Scores on one of the mental tasks (counting backwards by sevens) improved significantly after taking 200 mg of ginseng, but there was no significant improvement in task performance after taking 400 mg of ginseng or placebo. Blood sugar levels also dropped significantly in those taking both 200 and 400 mg of ginseng, though the relationship between the lower blood sugar and mental alertness is not clear.
This study provides evidence that for healthy people, a standardized extract of Panax ginseng can improve performance on mental tasks, increase mental stamina, and reduce blood sugar levels. It is interesting to note that 200 mg of ginseng had a more pronounced effect on mental function and stamina than 400 mg. The effects of long-term supplementation with ginseng on mental function and stamina are unknown.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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