Korean Red Ginseng in Chest as Traditional Far East Medicine and Tea.

The Cognitive Benefits of Panax Ginseng

In this article, I will be briefly discussing the cognitive enhancing properties of Panax Ginseng. To give some background, Panax Ginseng is a herb used from ancient times in traditional medicine of the Far East countries, most commonly used in Korea, Japan and China. Panax stands for “Panacea”, or “cure all” so it suggests that people from the past saw a wide spectrum benefit from its use. It is said that Ginseng  increases physical strength, rejuvenates the body and mind, has anti-aging effects and increases energy.

Ginsenosides are thought to be the active component of Ginseng, and Ginseng has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-apoptotic, and immune stimulating properties. There have been research studies conducted on its ability to improve cognition in healthy people and patients with neurodegenerative diseases. One study found that with a chronic administration of Korean Panax Ginseng, participants experienced improved working memory and improved sociability [6].

Ginseng Improves Visual Memory in MCI

Another study, which was randomized double-blind and placebo controlled, found that Ginseng was able to improve the short-term and medium-term memory of participants with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Interestingly the study excluded Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease patients, perhaps to narrow the scope down to only those people that normally experience MCI as a by product of aging or stress. The study showed improvements in visual memory, with statistical improvements in immediate and delayed visual learning according to RCFT (Rey Complex Figure Test).

However there wasn’t a significant improvement seen in other tests, like the SVLT (Seoul Verbal Learning Test), which is related to verbal learning and memory. The researchers theorized that the MCI wasn’t severe enough to deteriorate verbal memory function to the extent that Ginseng would show an improvement [3].

The study also observed a very small increase in Diastolic and Systolic Blood Pressure.

The researchers also mentioned that in other studies, ginseng was found to ameliorate reduction in learning and memory due to brain damage or aging in rodents. And that Ginseng increase acetyltransferase levels and LTP in rodent brains, and is found to have neuroprotective properties. And that Ginseng has shown some improvements in cognition for Alzheimer’s Disease patients.

Ginseng Improve Mental Calculation, Reduces Mental Fatigue, and Reduces Blood Glucose

One study found that Panax Ginseng significantly lower blood glucose. Perhaps this is related to its appetite suppressing effect I experienced? When I took it, I found that I could go a couple more hours easily without needing to eat, and when I did eat, I  needed less food to reach satiety. Going back to the study, it also found that participants improved in calculative tasks, and experienced a reduction of mental fatigue [2]. Likewise I experience a similar improvement. Although taking too much Ginseng made me sleepy, a small dose allowed me to stay focused on the cognitive task at hand for greater periods of time. Usually I’d need a break after 30 minutes, either because of my predisposed low energy levels or my “self-diagnosed ADD”. But if I take a small amount of Ginseng, I can easily push though my coding tasks past 2 hours or more, without needing music to distract myself in order to focus. Rather, I found music too distracting, to the point I worked in silence, which was a surprise. Because normally I need some music to actually stay focused.

Another study found that both Panax Ginseng, and glucose, enhanced the participant’s performance of arithmetic tasks and reduced feeling of mental fatigue after cognitive tasks. The study found that there wasn’t a synergistic effect between taking Panax Ginseng and glucose together. And also found that when Ginseng was taken alone (without glucose), it reduces blood glucose levels for 1 hour following its consumption [5].

But a word of warning, at least for me, taking too much ginseng made me too sleepy sometimes, and then I couldn’t focus properly to perform work. Additionally, I found that excessive ginseng made me irritable, but not with chronic use. I suppose this could be because at that point the blood glucose reduction became excessive?

Therapeutic & Prophylaxis Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

For Parkinson’s Disease (PD), there are studies that show in vivo and vitro models of PD that Ginseng prevents cell deaths, reduces ROS, and reduces the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase in cells. Additionally, one of the active constituents of Ginseng dubbed “RG1” suppresses oxidative stress which is protective for the neurons. RG1 also prevents glutathione reduction and reduces superoxide dismutase (SOD). RG1 reduces the ROS produced as a side-effect of dopamine. RG1 also reduces cytotoxicity induced by hydrogen peroxide. So overall, P. Ginseng may be able to slow down the progress of Parkinson’s Disease [1].

For Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), patients who took ginseng showed improvements on the AD assessment scale, mental state score, and dementia rating after 12 weeks of supplementation. There was another study in mice who were supplemented with ginseng for 7 months, which found a prevention of age related memory loss by decreasing oxidative stress and by upregulating proteins related to neuronal plasticity. and increasing BDNF in the hippocampus of the brain [1].

In one study, cognitive improvement was shown as long as the AD participants took the Panax Ginseng. When they stopped taking it, their cognitive function returned to baseline [4].

For Huntington’s Disease (HD), you first should consider that it involves the gradual degeneration of striatal cells in the brain. Ginseng may be relevant because it is shown to be protective of striatal cells against a neurotoxic compound called succinic dehydrogenase inhibitor 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP). The toxicity of 3-NP causes similar pathological damage to HD, and thus is commonly used as a model of HD in animals. In HD animal models, ginseng improves impaired behavior and helps the Sprague-Dawley rats to survive for longer [1].

For Multiple sclerosis (MS), you should consider that it is a chronic inflammatory disease of the CNS nerves that leads to their demyelination. Ginseng was found to reduce the harm of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), which is used in animals as a model of MS. At least, given that ginseng improved the conditions of EAE, theoretically it could also delayed the onset and improve symptoms of MS [1].

My Personal experience

For me personally, I found Korean Red Ginseng’s effects to change from its induction to chronic administration. When I started taking Ginseng, I found it to be incredibly stimulating such that I got some anxiety and a transient increase in heart rate. I found that the Ginseng helped me get through a lot of cognitive work very fast. Whether it came to annotating notes in my Bangla language textbook I was learning from, or programming code in an application on Visual Studio. And I found that during my walks I would often day dream and start remembering events and people that have happened very many years ago. And when I was properly stimulated (with coffee, nicotine lozenge, or the like), it was easier for me to recall short-term memories, like different parts of my code when I was programming, or important facts that I read from research articles.

But after a week or so, I found that when I initially took the Ginseng in the day, it would make me sleepy or sedated. I would sometimes experience this as brain fog. And later in the day I would feel oddly stimulated, like I drank some coffee. I also found that I slept less and got up earlier in the day.

After about a month of chronic administration, I no longer experienced the anxiety I had initially, and it no longer made me sleepy or brain fogged like before. And my energy levels, both physically and mentally, were consistently high. And its libido boosting effects were greatly diminished, to my relief.

The effects that stayed consistent every time I took the Ginseng is a mild increase in perspiration, increase in the number of thoughts that went through my mind, and improved blood flow to the peripherals of my body. The blood flow benefit was to the point of annoyance, and I found myself with stupidly high amounts of libido. So if that’s an issue for you, please avoid Ginseng since your mind will end up else where instead of something productive.

I also believe the blood flow benefits may contribute to the increased number of reps I was able to perform during my weightlifting sessions. And I found that Ginseng consistently reduced my my appetite, which is useful from a weight loss perspective.

Another great benefit that I experienced from Ginseng consistently is that it is extremely effective against curbing stress. For example, when I experience significant sleep deprivation, I usually feel very stressed out- almost feel like I am dying. If you’ve ever pulled all-nighters before and stay awake the next day, I believe you know the feeling. After going through sleep deprivation, I find that if I consume Red Korean Ginseng, I don’t feel stressed out and dying. Furthermore it feels like I slept an hour more, and gives me the ability to keep going through the rest of the day without running out of energy.

There are other odd things that I observed. For example, I found it oddly addictive, in the sense that after a couple of hours I desired to take another dose. And at first I find that taking too many used to have a laxative effect, but with chronic administration I found that became mildly costive or “constipative”. Which is useful for me since I have some mild IBS-D.

I also found that initially, taking way too much Ginseng caused an increase in tinnitus, and redness of the eye. And also decreased my sleep duration or quality by a mild amount. So I would usually avoid taking it close to bedtime. But these symptoms went away or became unnoticeable after chronic administration.

Overall, I find that Ginseng provides benefits in the short-term and the long-term. But it seems to take some time for the body to adapt to it, so I recommend to start off with a low-dose. Some of the mania-like stimulation seems to disappear with long-term use. And according to some studies, Ginseng could have a benefit with chronic administration, but more research needs to be conducted to see how it affects a person’s cognition with years of use.

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Sources

  1. Effects of Panax ginseng in Neurodegenerative Diseases [NIH]
  2. Single doses of Panax ginseng (G115) reduce blood glucose levels and improve cognitive performance during sustained mental activity [BAP Journal of Psychopharmacology]
  3. Cognition enhancing effect of panax ginseng in Korean volunteers with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial [Translational and Clinical Pharmacology]
  4. Panax Ginseng Enhances Cognitive Performance in Alzheimer Disease [Alz. Dis. & Ass. Dis.]
  5. Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained ‘mentally demanding’ tasks [BAP]
  6. Effects of 8 Week Administration of Korean Panax Ginseng Extract on the Mood and Cognitive Performance of Healthy Individuals [J. Ginseng Res.]

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