What Is It?
Famed as an energy tonic in China since ancient times, Siberian ginseng only gained recognition in the West in the 1950s, when a Russian scientist (I. I. Brekhman) reported its notable stress-repelling powers. Healthy men and women taking the herb were found to better endure physical strain, resist disease, and perform tests of mental sharpness.
Today, Westerners are perhaps most familiar with the plant’s botanical cousin Panax ginseng, but Siberian ginseng’s apparent ability to fight fatigue and alleviate myriad ailments has earned it an enthusiastic following. Many people use it the way traditional Chinese healers do–to reinforce the body’s vital energy (what the Chinese call qi). Others take it to enhance memory and ward off colds and flu. In Russia, millions of people use the herb as a general tonic.
Also known as eleuthero, supplements of the herb are made from the dried root of Eleutherococcus senticosus, a plant indigenous to China, Japan, Korea, and Siberia.
Siberian ginseng contains remarkable compounds that favorably affect the adrenal glands, the small glands that rest atop the kidneys and secrete stress-fighting hormones. Taking the herb is believed to boost the body’s capacity to handle physical stresses ranging from heat exposure to extreme exertion. Resistance to disease increases as well. So does one’s overall energy level.
Specifically, Siberian ginseng may help to:
Prevent stress-related illnesses. Several studies have shown that Siberian ginseng can increase a person’s resistance to physical stresses. In a series of landmark Russian studies in the 1960s, 2,100 healthy adults (19 to 72 years old) given Siberian ginseng were shown to better handle stressful conditions. Specifically, they experienced an increased ability to perform physical labor, withstand motion sickness, and work with speed and precision despite being surrounded by noise. They could also proofread documents more accurately and more readily adapt to such physical stresses such as heat, high altitudes, and low-oxygen environments. Other research indicates that taking Siberian ginseng can heighten mental alertness and improve concentration.
Relieve chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Because Siberian ginseng bolsters the adrenal glands, it’s worth trying to relieve the exhaustion and muscle pain associated with these energy-depleting conditions.
Combat fatigue and restore energy. Siberian ginseng is popular for invigorating and fortifying the body. It appears to boost energy levels in people with constant exhaustion. Those recovering from an illness or weary from a heavy work schedule may also benefit from its energy-boosting and immune-enhancing powers. For otherwise healthy individuals–even athletes–the story is a little different, however.
In one study, 20 highly trained distance runners given Siberian ginseng failed to outperform similarly conditioned runners given a placebo when both groups raced against each other on treadmills. Not only did the Siberian ginseng-taking runners run no faster, they didn’t run for longer either.
Increase male and female fertility and reduce male impotence. By supporting healthy uterine function, Siberian ginseng may be useful in preventing female infertility. Males may experience an increased sperm count (rotate it with Panax ginseng for this purpose). Animal studies indicate that the herb can even boost testosterone levels and thus help reverse certain cases of male impotence.
Relieve menstrual disorders and menopausal symptoms. Siberian ginseng may positively affect hormone levels and tone the large uterine muscle. These properties make it potentially valuable for easing certain menstrual difficulties and menopausal symptoms.
Treat Alzheimer’s disease. Siberian ginseng may increase mental alertness, particularly in the early stages of this progressive disorder. The herb’s ability to boost the transmission of nerve impulses may also enhance memory.
Increase resistance to colds and flu. Historically, the Chinese have found Siberian ginseng to be effective in suppressing colds and flu. The herb’s immune-enhancing powers may play a role. Interestingly, a Russian study of 13,000 auto workers who took Siberian ginseng one winter showed that participants developed 40% fewer respiratory tract infections than they had in previous winters.
Note: Siberian ginseng has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Siberian Ginseng.
–Buy Siberian ginseng extracts from a company with a reputation for quality. Products should be standardized to contain at least 0.8% eleutherosides (the active ingredients).
For stress: Take 100 to 200 mg three times a day. Special “adrenal gland” formulas now on the market commonly contain Siberian ginseng in combination with licorice, pantothenic acid, and other stress-fighting ingredients.
For fatigue (and chronic fatigue syndrome), female infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, and the majority of other conditions mentioned: Take 100 to 300 mg twice a day for 60 to 90 days, and then take a seven-day break before resuming treatment.
For male infertility and impotence: Take l00 to 300 mg twice a day. For infertility, rotate every three weeks with 100 to 250 mg Panax ginseng standardized to contain 7% ginsenosides (the active ingredient). For impotence, rotate every two weeks.
For colds and flu: Take 300 mg twice a day for seven to 10 days.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Siberian ginseng, which has therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
To give your body a rest, take a one- to two-week pause from your Siberian ginseng regimen every three months. (Or ask your doctor about rotating it with other herbs.)
To avoid possible restlessness, don’t take Siberian ginseng within an hour of bedtime.
If taking high blood pressure medications (antihypertensives), do not take Siberian ginseng. It should not be taken by people who have hypertension.
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
Possible Side Effects
Siberian ginseng is very safe at recommended doses, even for long-term use.
In rare instances, mild diarrhea may occur.
At very high doses (900 mg daily and higher) insomnia, nervousness, irritability, and anxiety have been reported.
Avoid Siberian ginseng if you have high blood pressure.
Don’t take Siberian ginseng while menstruating. Stop taking it if you become pregnant.
Alzheimer’s Diseas 100-200 mg 3 times a day
Arthritis 100-200 mg twice a day for generalized fatigue
Back Pain 200 mg twice a day for generalized fatigue
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 400 mg every morning
Colds 300 mg twice a day for 7-10 days
Fatigue 100-200 mg twice a day
Flu 300 mg twice a day for 7-10 days.
Impotence 100-300 mg twice a day
Infertility, Male 200 mg twice a day
Menopause 200-400 mg standardized extract each morning
Multiple Sclerosis 200 mg twice a day
Perimenopause 200-400 mg standardized extract each morning
PMS 100-200 mg twice a day for generalized fatigue
Stress 100-200 mg 2 or 3 times a day
Stroke 200 mg twice a day
David Edelberg, M.D.
For thousands of years, Chinese physicians have been using Siberian ginseng (also called eleuthero) as a general health restorative, to reduce stress and improve well-being. In the twentieth century, Russian scientists “rediscovered” Siberian ginseng. After extensive clinical trials, they dubbed this herb an adaptogen, meaning it enhances the resilience and efficiency of the entire body. It’s also quite safe, an important attribute of any adaptogen.
HOW IT HELPS PERIMENOPAUSE
By balancing hormone levels and toning the uterus, Siberian ginseng plays a role in lessening menstrual irregularities as well as menopausal symptoms that can develop during the transitional perimenopausal years. It may be most effective when used in combination with other “women’s” herbs such as black cohosh, chasteberry, and dong quai.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When it comes to products, there are a lot available, and it’s easy to get confused.
The following forms are all effective. Dry powdered standardized extract as a powder or in tablets or capsules. Tincture (1:5) A typical dose would be 1 tsp. or 5 cc. Fluid extract (1:1) A typical dose would be 1/2 tsp.
If you want your dose to match the ones in the Russian studies, buy a Siberian ginseng product that is standardized to contain at least 0.5% (and preferably 0.8%) eleutheroside E (the active ingredient). Just be aware that there are lots of junky products that list Siberian ginseng as an ingredient but contain a fraction of the necessary dose. Also, don’t confuse it with its famous ginseng cousins—Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius–which have different effects. Read labels carefully.
If you decide to try Siberian ginseng, there are a few pointers you should keep in mind: Siberian ginseng works best on a rotating basis. Because it’s a stimulant and energizer, constant use, week in and week out, is not recommended. Rather, take an herb-free holiday of two or three weeks every three months if you’re going to make Siberian ginseng part of your regular program. We generally recommend 100 to 200 mg Siberian ginseng three times a day. Understand that this dose is a bit higher than those found on most labels you see at health food stores. And you may do just fine with much less, say, 200 mg each morning.
Siberian ginseng does act as a stimulant in the adrenal system–though not nearly as much as the Panax relatives–so it can raise the blood pressure slightly. This means it should probably not be used by patients with high blood pressure unless they check themselves frequently.
David Edelberg, MD