Siberian Ginseng: The Energizing, Immune-Boosting Herb You've Never Heard Of

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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.

Thankfully, nature has given us many powerful remedies that have been used for thousands of years before medical advancements allowed for the development of various medications. These often have very little, if any, side effects but sadly have been pushed to the side even though studies have shown them to be just as effective as medication—and in some cases even more so.

In fact, one group of plant and herb medicines that I use more often with my patients than any other is adaptogens. Anyone who knows me knows that I am in love with these uber-powerful herbs as they have the ability to restore balance to almost any area of the body that is out of whack. And the best thing is that they are generally safe for pretty much everyone, when taken responsibly.

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.

Siberian ginseng? What's that?

It is important to note that 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 (eleutherococcus senticosus) is also known as eleuthero to avoid confusion with true ginseng.

Grown in Asia and Russia, Siberian ginseng is high in compounds known as eleutherosides and has been part of these cultures' medicinal practices for centuries. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is considered to have a warm energy and is used to support spleen and kidney health.

Why should I take it?

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. Compared to other true ginseng varieties, though (ginseng is one of the most widely commercially sold herbs on the market), the research around eleuthero still isn't as robust. However, here's what the initial science says:

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1. It boosts the immune system.

Research has shown that supplementing with eleuthero can increase immune cell production, specifically the antibody molecules immunoglobulins. It also works to maintain healthy T4 lymphocyte immune cell levels. 

2. It supports detoxification.

Eleuthero supports your liver, the body's main detox organ, assisting the processing of toxins out of your system.

3. It might help fight and prevent cancer.

Studies have linked eleuthero not only to reduced growth of lung, breast, and stomach cancer cells but cancer prevention as well, due to its ability to stop cells from mutating in the first place.

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4. It boosts cognitive health.

Studies have linked eleuthero to an improved memory in older people, likely due to its ability to help the body recycle choline and synthesize acetylcholine in the hippocampus of the brain—both of which help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease. It has also been shown to be neuroprotective against the effects of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's disease.

5. It stabilizes blood sugar.

Eleuthero is next-level when it comes to managing factors that contribute to diabetes and other metabolic disorders. In fact, one study showed that eleutheroside was able to reduce insulin resistance and, in turn, lower blood glucose levels. Eleuthero also has the power to improve cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which are markers of metabolic disorders.

6. It's antiviral.

RNA viruses such as respiratory syncytial, human rhinovirus, and the flu virus influenza A are all common contributors to everyday illness. Studies have shown that eleuthero extract inhibits the growth and spread of these viruses, further supporting the role it plays in supporting the immune system.

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7. It increases endurance.

Eleuthero has been shown to reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality after exercise in human and animal studies. By increasing oxygen utilization and improving both glycogen metabolism and cardiovascular function, eleuthero supplementation is able to decrease the stress response in male endurance athletes.

What about the 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 your particular body.

Even if it wouldn't hurt you, there may be a different natural medicine that is more effective—or eleuthero may just be the very answer you are looking for! However, because eleuthero does increase blood flow, it could potentially interfere with certain medications that also increase blood flow such as anticoagulants.

How to easily incorporate the herb into your wellness routine.

As mentioned earlier, if you are interested in adding Siberian ginseng to your routine, 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, you'll be getting the most bioavailable natural source of this herbal medicine.

You can purchase dried eleuthero root to make tea, but the taste is known to be very strong and bitter. Supplements and extracts are easier to find and typically more enjoyable to take regularly.

Adaptogens are a great way to naturally work toward optimal health, and the research surrounding each one is continually growing. Remember, what works for one person doesn't always work for the next, so make sure to work with your practitioner before adding anything new.

Want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

William Cole, D.C., IFMCP

Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr. Will Cole, leading functional-medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com and locally in Pittsburgh. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems.Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the author of Ketotarian in which he melds the powerful benefits of the ketogenic and plant-based diets.
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William Cole, D.C., IFMCP

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