Siberian ginseng

Overview

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as eleuthero, has been used for centuries in Eastern countries, including China and Russia. Despite its name, it is completely different from American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), and has different active chemical components. The active ingredients in Siberian ginseng, called eleutherosides, are thought to stimulate the immune system.

Siberian ginseng was traditionally used to prevent colds and flu and to increase energy, longevity, and vitality. It is widely used in Russia as an "adaptogen." An adaptogen is a substance that is supposed to help the body better cope with either mental or physical stress.

Until recently, most scientific research on Siberian ginseng was done in Russia. Research on Siberian ginseng has included studies on the following:

COLDS AND FLU

Some double-blind studies have found that a specific product containing Siberian ginseng and andrographis reduced the severity and length of colds when taken with 72 hours of symptoms starting. Researchers don't know whether Siberian ginseng was responsible or whether it was andrographis, or the combination of the two herbs.

One study compared the same product with amantadine, a drug used to treat some kinds of flu. People with flu who took the same product saw their symptoms go away faster than those who took amantadine.

Another study found that healthy people who took Siberian ginseng for 4 weeks had more T-cells, which may indicate their immune systems were stronger.

HERPES VIRAL INFECTION

One double-blind study of 93 people with herpes simplex virus type 2, which can cause genital herpes, found that taking Siberian ginseng reduced the number of outbreaks. Outbreaks that did happen were less severe and didn't last as long. Talk to your doctor about whether using Siberian ginseng to help prevent herpes outbreaks would help.

MENTAL PERFORMANCE

Siberian ginseng is often used to increase mental alertness. But there haven't been enough scientific studies to show that it really works. One preliminary study found that middle-aged volunteers who took Siberian ginseng improved their memory compared to those who took placebo.

PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE

Siberian ginseng is often said to improve athletic performance and increase muscle strength. While some studies have found positive results, others have found that Siberian ginseng didn't help.

QUALITY OF LIFE

One study found that elderly people who took Siberian ginseng had better mental health and social functioning after 4 weeks of therapy, compared to those who took placebo. But after 8 weeks, the benefits started to go away.

Plant Description

Siberian ginseng is a shrub native to the Far East that grows 3 - 10 feet high. Its leaves are attached to a main stem by long branches. Both the branches and the stem are covered with thorns. Flowers, yellow or violet, grow in umbrella-shaped clusters, and turn into round, black berries in late summer. The root itself is woody and is brownish, wrinkled, and twisted.

What's It Made Of?

Siberian ginseng supplements are made from the root. The root has a mixture of components called eleutherosides that are thought to have health benefits. Among the other ingredients are chemicals called polysaccharides, which have been found to boost the immune system and lower blood sugar levels in animal tests.

Available Forms

Siberian ginseng is available as liquid extracts, solid extracts, powders, capsules, and tablets, and as dried or cut root for tea.

The quality of many herbal supplements, including Siberian ginseng, may vary greatly. Tests of commercial products claiming to contain Siberian ginseng found that as many as 25% had none of the herb. Plus, many were contaminated with contents not marked on the label. Purchase Siberian ginseng and all herbal products from reputable manufacturers. Ask your pharmacist for help.

How to Take It

Don't give Siberian ginseng to a child.

For adult use, Siberian ginseng comes in many forms and is often combined with other herbs and supplements for such things as fatigue and alertness. To find the right dose for you, talk to an experienced health care provider.

For chronic conditions, such as fatigue or stress, Siberian ginseng can be taken for 3 months, followed by 3 - 4 weeks off. If you want to take Siberian ginseng again, you should be under the supervision of your doctor.

Precautions

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, have components that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.

Siberian ginseng is generally considered safe when used as directed. However, people with high blood pressure, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, heart disease, mental illness such as mania or schizophrenia, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease should not take Siberian ginseng.

Women who have a history of estrogen-sensitive cancers or uterine fibroids should ask their doctor before taking Siberian ginseng because it may act like estrogen in the body.

Some side effects may include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Nosebleed
  • Vomiting

Possible Interactions

If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use Siberian ginseng without first talking to your health care provider:

Anticoagulants (blood thinners): Siberian ginseng may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood-thinners such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix).

Corticosteroids (such as prednisone): Siberian ginseng may interact with steroids.

Digoxin: Siberian ginseng may raise blood levels of digoxin, a medication used to treat heart conditions. This can increase the risk of side effects.

Diabetes medications: Siberian ginseng may lower blood sugar levels, raising the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

Lithium: Siberian ginseng could make it harder for the body to get rid of lithium, meaning dangerously high levels could build up.

Other medications: Siberian ginseng may interact with medications that are broken down by the liver. If you take any of these kinds of medications, ask your doctor before taking Siberian ginseng.

Drugs that suppress the immune system: Siberian ginseng may boost the immune system and could interact with drugs taken to treat an autoimmune disease or drugs taken after organ transplant.

Sedatives: Siberian ginseng may make the effects of sedatives stronger, especially barbiturates. Barbiturates are medications, including pentobarbital, that are used to treat insomnia or seizures.

Supporting Research

Arushanian EB, Shikina IB. Improvement of light and color perception in humans upon prolonged administration of eleutherococcus. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2004;67(4):64-6.

Bleakney TL. Deconstructing an adaptogen: Eleutherococcus senticosus. Holist Nurs Pract. 2008 Jul-Aug;22(4):220-4. Review.

Bucci LR. Selected herbals and human exercise performance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(suppl):624S-636S.

Cicero AF, Derosa G, Brillante R, et al. Effects of Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus maxim.) on elderly quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gerontol Geriatr Suppl. 2004;(9):69-73.

Dasgupta A, Wu S, Actor J, et al. Effect of Asian and Siberian ginseng on serum digoxin measurement by five digoxin immunoassays. Significant variation in digoxin-like immunoreactivity among commercial ginsengs. Am J Clin Pathol. 2003;119(2):298-303.

Davydov M, Krikorian AD. Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim. (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000;72(3):345-93.

Eschbach LF, Webster MJ, Boyd JC, et al. The effect of Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) on substrate utilization and performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000;10(4):444-51.

Fugh-Berman A. Herb-drug interactions. Lancet. 2000;355:134-138.

Gabrielian ES, Shukarian AK, Goukasova GI, et al. A double blind, placebo-controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination Kan Jang in the treatment of acute upper respiratory tract infections including sinusitis. Phytomedicine. 2002;9:589-597.

Glatthaar-Saalmuller B, Sacher F, Esperester A. Antiviral activity of an extract derived from roots of Eleutherococcus senticosus. Antiviral Res. 2001;50(3):223-8.

Goulet ED, Dionne IJ. Assessment of the effects of eleutherococcus senticosus on endurance performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005;15(1):75-83.

Gruenwald J, Brednler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines, 4th ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare; 2007:751-753.

Gyllenhaal C, Merritt SL, Peterson SD, et al. Efficacy and safety of herbal stimulants and sedatives in sleep disorders. Sleep Med Rev. 2000;4(2):229-251.

Harkey MR, Henderson GL, Gershwin ME, et al. Variability in commercial ginseng products: an analysis of 25 preparations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73:1101-1106.

Hartz AJ, Bentler S, Noyes R, et al., Randomized controlled trial of Siberian ginseng for chronic fatigue. Psychol Med. 2004;34(1):51-61.

Kulichenko LL, Kireyeva LV, Malyshkina EN, Wikman G. A Randomized, Controlled Study of Kan Jang versus Amantadine in the Treatment of Influenza in Volgograd. J Herb Pharmacother. 2003;3:77-92.

Melchior J, Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot and phase III study of activity of standardized Andrographis paniculata Herba Nees extract fixed combination (Kan jang) in the treatment of uncomplicated upper-respiratory tract infection. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:341-350.

Panossian A, Wikman G. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219. Epub 2009 Sep 1. Review.

Poolsup N, Suthisisang C, Prathanturarug S, et al. Andrographis paniculata in the symptomatic treatment of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2004;29:37-45.

Roxas M, Jurenka J. Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48. Review.

Sinclair S. Male infertility: nutritional and environmental considerations. Alt Med Rev. 2000;5(1):28-38.

Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV, Chernikov MV, et al. Comparative controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination, Kan Jang and an Echinacea preparation as adjuvant, in the treatment of uncomplicated respiratory disease in children. Phytother Res. 2004;18:47-53.

Williams M. Immuno-protection against herpes simplex type II infection by Eleutherococcus root extract. Int J Alt Complement Med. 1995;13:9-12.

Winther K, Ranlov C, Rein E, et al. Russian root (Siberian ginseng) improves cognitive functions in middle-aged people, whereas Ginkgo biloba seems effective only in the elderly. J Neurological Sci. 1997;150:S90

Alternative Names

Acanthopanax senticosus; Eleuthero; Eleutherococcus senticosus; Ginseng - Siberian

Siberian Ginseng

Version Info

  • Last Reviewed on 03/17/2013
  • Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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This page was last updated: May 7, 2013

         
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