From Glowing Skin To Lasting Energy: 7 Impressive Benefits Of Ginseng*
Ginseng has been used in Eastern medicine tradition for centuries, and with good reason—the plant has a lot of intrinsic benefits.
Ginseng—specifically, Panax ginseng, aka red, Asian, or Korean ginseng—"is an important and commonly used herb in traditional Chinese medicine," says Grant Chu, M.D., M.S., an assistant clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and associate director of education at the Center for East-West Medicine.
Ginseng's healing properties.
Panax ginseng, which translates to "all healing" ginseng, contains phytonutrient compounds called ginsenosides that promote energy, explains Keri Gans, RDN, dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.* Ginsenosides also "may help to keep your central nervous system in balance and prevent feelings of tiredness,"* Gans says.
"Traditionally, [ginseng] is used to tonify chi, or vital energy," Chu explains. That can apply to chi in general, or specific chi related to digestion, breathing, or your mind.
Since chi is a traditional metaphysical concept, it's not something you can measure with modern science, Chu says. "Traditionally, health is determined by the state of many factors known as vital substances," he explains. "Among this includes chi, where adequate chi and chi that moves appropriately is important for bodily function and health."
When it comes to ginseng, Chu says, the plant "plays a role primarily in promoting adequate chi for optimal functioning." This can manifest in a number of ways and benefit many systems throughout the body.
Benefits of ginseng.
Here are some health benefits of ginseng and everything you need to know about them:
Ginseng has been shown to increase energy: For example, in a 2016 meta-analysis published in the Korean Journal of Medical Science, researchers found that ginseng supplements were effective at promoting energy and feelings of motivation1.*
Chu explains that these energizing effects may be partly due to the botanical's antioxidant actions, as components of ginseng (e.g., polysaccharides and oligopeptides) have been found to lower oxidative stress2 and support higher cellular energy production.*
Supports the immune system.
There are a few different ways that ginseng may help with your immune function.* "Ginseng may stimulate various immune cells, such as natural killer cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes,"* Chu says.
A 2012 review from the Journal of Ginseng Research explains that in addition to regulating immune cells, ginseng also helps maintain homeostasis (balance) throughout the immune system3.* This unique plant also exhibits anti-inflammatory actions to keep immune health in tiptop shape.*
Supports sexual health.
Ginseng has been linked to healthy sexual functioning in men. "Ginseng appears to improve sexual function in men" and "may improve sexual arousal in postmenopausal women," Chu says, adding that "there is evidence to suggest it may also increase sperm count4."*
A 2010 5Journal of Sexual Medicine5 study5 of menopausal women had participants either consume three 1-gram capsules of ginseng or a placebo each day. The researchers noted that the ginseng "significantly improved" the women's sexual arousal, concluding, "red ginseng extracts might be used as an alternative medicine in menopausal women to improve their sexual life."*
A 2013 study from 6Spermatogenesis6 also found that male rats fed 5% Panax ginseng in their diet for 60 days had "significantly increased blood testosterone levels," suggesting an enhanced hormone pathway underpinning involved in sex drive.*
Bolsters skin health.
Those actives found in ginger, ginsenosides, are "believed to act through the central nervous system and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,"* Chu says. "Various reasons may explain the effect of ginseng on the skin, including its effect on fibroblasts and collagen in the skin, as well as its anti-inflammatory effects,"* he adds.
Indeed, research from a 2022 review in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology concurs, stating that ginseng helps regulate collagen levels to promote skin elasticity and hydration7.*
Supports healthy blood sugar levels.
Ginseng may even help regulate blood sugar levels and balance, but Chu notes that the data is mixed and emerging still.
"This may be related to differences within ginseng itself and its ratio of different types of ginsenosides," he explains. "This variable ratio of ginsenosides may affect ginseng's effect and its ability to reduce postprandial blood sugar, which is blood sugar after eating, resulting in either decreased or increased blood sugar."*
Promotes overall mood support.
"A lot of the benefit of mental performance has to do with blood sugar," Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, a dietitian, health coach, and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers explains. "Ginseng may help control blood sugar and, when your blood sugar isn't spiking up and crashing down, it's more beneficial for your focus and energy."*
As a result, she says, ginseng may help reduce the occasional brain fog. Ginsenosides are also thought to help modulate the effects of the stress hormone cortisol on the body, which can have an overall impact on stress management and mental well-being as well.*
Serves as an actoprotector.
Actoprotector: Just as cool as the word sounds are the benefits that come along with it. As an actoprotector, ginseng supports mental capacity, physical workload and performance, mental fatigue, and mental alertness8, explains a 2013 review from the Journal of Ginseng Research.*
"Ginseng is one of many herbs that has naturally occurring adaptogens, which is also referred to as actoprotector," Chu says. (Ashwagandha is another one, by the way.)
"It is believed that plant adaptogens may be helpful for promoting energy, cognitive function, and immune system protection."* But, Chu says, more research is needed to fully unveil the exact roles of ginseng as an adaptogen.
Potential side effects of ginseng.
While a potential benefit of ginseng is its ability to affect blood sugar, that can also be a consideration for some. Naoki Umeda, M.D., an integrative medicine practitioner at the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine, explains that those with blood sugar level concerns should monitor their glucose levels closely when taking ginseng.
Umeda also personally cautions against taking ginseng if you're trying to conceive, are currently pregnant, or are breastfeeding. In general, it's always a good idea to check in with your health care provider before taking ginseng or any new supplement regimen.
"Consult with your health care provider before you start taking ginseng, regardless your health status," Umeda says.
Ginseng is a unique and bioactive plant with a slew of benefits, from helping balance blood sugar levels to supporting your immune system.* It's also generally well tolerated and has been used for thousands of years. If you're looking for a high-quality supplement that harnesses Panax ginseng's energizing and mood-supporting effects, check out mbg's focus+, which offers sustained energy and focus, thanks to an array of synergistic botanicals, bioactives, and nutrients (all in one capsule).*
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, relationships, and lifestyle trends with a master’s degree from American University. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Prevention, Self, Glamour, and more. She lives by the beach, and hopes to own a taco truck one day.