Nature provides us with several plants that can help our body fight the effects of stress. These beneficial botanicals are often referred to as “adaptogens,”¯ because they help us adapt to, or cope with, stress. For many years, these plants have been used to:
- Restore vitality in debilitated and feeble individuals.
- Increase feelings of energy.
- Improve mental and physical performance.
- Prevent the negative effects of stress and enhance the body’s response to stress.
Some of the most effective adaptogens are ginseng, rhodiola, lavender, and ashwaganda. This article focuses on ginseng.
Both Siberian and Chinese ginseng have been shown to enhance our ability to cope with various stressors, both physical and mental. Presumably this anti-stress action is mediated by mechanisms that control the adrenal glands. Ginseng delays the onset and reduces the severity of the “alarm phase”¯ of the body’s short- and long-term response to stress (also known as the general adaptation syndrome).
People taking either of the ginsengs typically report an increased sense of well-being. Clinical studies have confirmed that both Siberian and Chinese ginsengs significantly reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. For example, in one double-blind clinical study, nurses who had switched from day to night duty rated themselves for competence, mood, and general well-being, and were given a test for mental and physical performance along with blood cell counts and blood chemistry evaluation. The group that was given Chinese ginseng demonstrated higher scores in competence, mood parameters, and mental and physical performance compared with those receiving placebos. The nurses taking the ginseng felt more alert, yet more tranquil, and were able to perform better than the nurses who were not taking the ginseng.
In addition to these human studies, animal studies have shown the ginsengs to exert significant anti-anxiety effects. In several of these studies, the stress-relieving effects were comparable to those of diazepam (Valium); however, diazepam has side effects that include behavioral changes, sedative effects, and impaired motor activity, while ginseng has none of these negative effects.
On the basis of the clinical and animal studies, ginseng appears to offer significant benefit to people suffering from stress and anxiety. Chinese ginseng is generally regarded as being more potent than Siberian ginseng, and is probably better for the person who has experienced a great deal of stress, is recovering from a long-standing illness, or has taken corticosteroids such as prednisone for a long time. For the person who is under mild to moderate stress and is experiencing less obvious impairment of adrenal function, Siberian ginseng may be the better choice.
Dosages are as follows:
Chinese or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng):
High-quality crude ginseng root: 1.5-2 g, 1-3 times daily
Fluid extract: 2-4 ml (½-1 tsp), 1-3 times daily
Dried powdered extract standardized to contain 5% ginsenosides: 250-500 mg, 1-3 times daily
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus):
Dried root: 2-4 g, 1-3 times daily
Fluid extract (1:1): 2-4 ml (½-1 tsp), 1-3 times daily
Solid (dry powdered) extract (20:1 or standardized to contain more than 1% eleutheroside E): 100-200 mg, 1-3 times daily
If you suffer from stress-related symptoms, it’s a good idea to try a natural remedy such as ginseng, which is easier on the body than pharmaceutical drugs and doesn’t have the harmful side effects.
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Dr. Murray is an educator, lecturer, researcher, and health food industry consultant, and the author of more than 30 books, including his newest, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria, 2012). Learn more at www.DrMurray.com. Readers who sign up for Weekly Fast Facts at the website will receive a free copy of Dr. Murray’s new ebook, Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia! What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.