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Natural Energizers: A Better Boost

Ginseng: King of Tonics
In continuous use in China for more than 2,000 years, ginseng, called "the king of all tonics," restores vital energy throughout the entire body, helping to overcome stress and fatigue and to recover from weakness and deficiencies. There are actually three different herbs commonly called ginseng: Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). The Siberian herb is not really ginseng at all, but the Russian scientists who researched it found that it functions nearly identically.

Asian ginseng is a perennial that grows in northern China, Korea, and Russia. In traditional Chinese terms, Asian ginseng is seen as more yang, or stimulating, than yin. It raises body temperature, improves digestion, strengthens the lungs, and calms the spirit. Its close relative, American ginseng, is cultivated in the United States, though largely exported to Asia. It is prized there as a yin herb – less heating, less stimulating, and more balanced than Asian ginseng.

The active ingredients in ginseng are called ginsenosides. There are many different ones, each having its own specific effects. Most of the modern-day research has been done on the clinical effects of single components. In 1988, a German university professor, E. Ploss, published a summary and analysis of studies on the clinical use of Asian ginseng, followed in 1990 by a review by U. Sonnenborn and Y. Proppert. All together, these articles surveyed thirty-seven experiments done between 1968 and 1990, on a total of 2,562 cases, with treatments averaging two to three months. In thirteen studies, the individuals showed an improvement in mood, and in eleven, improvement in intellectual performance. All showed a near absence of side effects.

Ginseng is available as powdered root in capsules or tablets, or as an alcohol-based tincture. The recommended dose is 100-200 mg daily of a standardized extract containing 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides. The Russians have been far ahead of us in their recognition of Siberian ginseng, which is a valuable, less costly ginsenglike herb. In the 1940s, a Russian scientist concluded that Siberian ginseng was as good as the "real" ginsengs. Russian athletes take Siberian ginseng for months before the Olympics. Cosmonauts take it to remain alert and energetic, to help with the physical and mental stresses of life in space. It can be taken for a longer time than chemical products, since it is less stimulating.

Besides protecting the body from stress, Siberian ginseng also increases oxygenation of the cells, thereby increasing endurance and the ability to handle heavy workloads, and it improves alertness and visual-motor coordination. Siberian ginseng also tones up the body while adjusting and normalizing blood pressure and blood-sugar levels. It has the rare ability to boost both immediate and long-term energy. Research shows Siberian ginseng to be effective in improving intellectual performance and enhancing mental stamina. This makes it useful in the elderly, particularly when combined with ginkgo.

Whether you're overworked, exhausted, coping with a hangover, or involved in a taxing job such as long-distance driving, ginseng is an ideal antidote. In these cases, short-term use is all you need to get you through the emergency. It can be used safely in the long term, as well, to help you cope with the stresses of daily life.

Siberian ginseng is taken at a dose of 200-400 mg daily of standardized extract, containing greater than 1 percent eleutherosides. The dose of tincture is 5 ml twice daily of a 1:5 concentration (that is, 5 parts alcohol to 1 part ginseng).

Siberian ginseng is the safest and healthiest known stimulant, with generally no side effects. It contains no steroids or other dangerous chemical agents. It does not have the depressing qualities or addictive potential of most other pharmacological and biological stimulants, such as caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine. It doesn't "stress" the system in stimulating it and doesn't provoke any downregulation.

As with any substance, however, allergy can occur with ginseng. Menstrual abnormalities and breast tenderness have been reported with Asian ginseng; so, for women, Siberian ginseng is often recommended instead. Overuse can cause overstimulation, including insomnia in those who are in a more advanced stage of adrenal exhaustion. Unconfirmed reports of excessive doses raising blood pressure and increasing heart rate have been largely discredited. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is prescribed for pregnant women, but, as with any herb, pregnant women should use ginseng only under the care of a health-care practitioner.

According to Chinese tradition, ginseng is best used as part of a two-month restoration program. This is a time to gather and store energy, with a plan that incorporates exercise, rest, and relaxation, and avoidance of stress, drugs, and alcohol. Coupled with regular ginseng intake, this approach helps to build reserves of energy and vitality. Traditional sources recommend that you take a short break from ginseng after this renewal period. After that, it can be used as a tonic as needed. The German Commission E, a body similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), concurs, recommending no more than three months at a time on any of the ginsengs, including Siberian.

Maureen's case is a good example of the appropriate use of ginseng:

Maureen, a forty-year-old actress, complained of being exhausted for the previous six months. She had trouble sleeping, couldn't get out of bed in the morning, and would collapse after only 15 minutes of light exercise. I prescribed Siberian ginseng (200 mg, twice daily), along with licorice root and reishi mushrooms. Within four weeks, she was sleeping well and felt rested, able to get up easily in the morning. She was even able to exercise moderately for 30 minutes with no fatigue.

Ginseng – Siberian, Asian, and American
How they work: Adaptogens; support the adrenal glands.

Positive effects: Enhance the body's response to stress; decrease feelings of anxiety and stress; increase immediate energy (stimulants); restore vitality, energy, and endurance over time (tonics); increase mental and physical performance.

Cautions: None for Siberian ginseng. For Asian ginseng, possible menstrual abnormalities and breast tenderness. Overuse can cause overstimulation, including insomnia in sensitive individuals. Take a one-month break after taking ginseng for three months.

Dosage: 200-400 mg daily of Siberian ginseng; or 100-200 mg daily of Asian or American ginseng (standardized extract containing 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides).

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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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