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Ever since Dr. Oz’s interview in Esquire magazine (Dec. 09) I’ve been fielding a phethera of questions on ginseng. Thanks Dr. Oz, I’m always happy to talk about the Chinese herbs I love. It’s an added bonus that the best American Ginseng is actually grown in Wisconsin, my old stomping grounds. I also love to buy American whenever possible.
In response to a question “how to prevent swine flu”, Dr. Oz says: “Vitamin D and American ginseng are the two things I recommend the most. Vitamin D because it stimulates dramatically the ability of the immune system to respond, and American ginseng because it stimulates these things called Toll-like receptors in the gut. They’re ancient – our most primitive immune response – and they make it difficult for bugs to get in through the intestinal wall.”
This is an excellent post on ginseng from Acupuncture Chicago.
By Jennifer Dubowsky
Did you know there are different types of ginseng and they are all considered potent herbs for helping the body adapt to stress – both mental and physical. Ginseng is best known for its ability to stimulate your immune system and fight fatigue and stress. Several dozen studies have shown that ginseng enhances physical and mental performance, improves mood, and aids metabolic function. Other studies suggest ginseng maybe anti-inflammatory and can provide a wealth of benefits including: improved blood cholesterol; lowered liver toxicity; lowered blood sugar levels; improved blood oxygen flow; control of respiratory diseases; and enhanced stamina.
The 3 Most Well Known Types Of Ginseng
Chinese Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Considered the “king of all herbs” in many countries, found in the forests of northeast China, Manchuria and Korea. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese ginseng is used to tonify the “Qi” (vital energy or life energy force) and is a powerful “yang” or warming tonic herb. It has been reported to: stimulate the immune system; fight fatigue, combat stress, slow aging, balance blood sugar levels, enhance mental performance and memory, lower cholesterol, and strengthen the heart muscle. It may even have anti-tumor and anticancer properties. Before rushing off to get some Chinese Ginseng be aware that it’s overuse can have some negative side effects including; irritability, insomnia and rapid heart beat.
*Panax ginseng has had a notorious reputation as a sexual rejuvenator, particularly for men, however much of this reputation seems to be over-hyped.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium)
Is indigenous to eastern woodlands from Georgia to Quebec, and was used by Native Americans. The picture in this post is of American Ginseng. While not as well known as Chinese Ginseng, American Ginseng has been around for hundreds of years. Jesuit Priests were reported to be trading American Ginseng to the Chinese as early as 1718. American Ginseng has a more “yin” or cooler nature than its Chinese counterpart. While still energizing the body, American Ginseng calms the central nervous system, quiets the brain and lowers blood pressure. Also, because of its more “yin” nature, it is generally better to use on a daily, long term basis than Chinese Ginseng. However if you tend to have a cold constitution, this might not be the herb for you.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Native to Siberia, Japan, Korea and China. Although not a “true ginseng”, this variety is most highly prized. Eleuthero was traditionally used to promote longevity and general health. Many herbalists prefer Eleuthero as the ginseng for helping with women’s health issues, particularly with depression associated with PMS and menopause. Research, mostly from Russia, confirms this herb’s ability to increase mental and physical performance, stimulate the immune system, increase movement of white blood cells, promote circulation and enhance the benefits of medical radiation treatments while lessening its negative side-effects.
Cautions About Ginseng
Ginseng should be avoided by patients who are pregnant or have high blood pressure. In addition, ginseng may increase the effects other stimulants, which may cause sweating, insomnia, or an irregular heartbeat. It should not be used in conjunction with antipsychotic medications, steroids or hormones. As with all Chinese herbs it is best to consult with a Chinese Herbalist and see what is best for you before taking ginseng products.
It has also been celebrated as one of the 50 most fundamental herbs in Chinese Medicine.
While first prized for its sweet smelling flowers, it’s encroaching and invasive nature soon made it unpopular to some and a flight of fancy for others. Here in the US, poetry, books and films have been written about this vine, and it has the making of a legend in its ability to grow one foot a day and up to sixty feet a year, covering any structure, small or large. Our picture shows it eating a car.
Festivals have been planned in its honor, clubs have been formed and individuals have been known to create hundreds of baskets from its vines. In Japan and China, it is used daily in teas and consumed just as turnips would be. Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioners have used kudzu for over 2000 years to treat many diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Scientists in Alabama and Iowa have reported the first evidence that root extracts from kudzu show promise as a dietary supplement for a high-risk condition that affects almost 50 million people in the United States alone, metabolic syndrome. Scientists have been seeking natural substances that can treat metabolic syndrome, which creates an excessive amount of glucose in the blood and is linked to both diabetes and obesity.
A new study evaluated kudzu root extracts, which contain healthful substances called isoflavones. Connect here for Metabolic Syndrome Study Recently, there have also been several laboratory studies conducted on mice that show Kudzu to be effective in reducing alcohol intake. A study has shown this commonly used Chinese herb seems to prevent the usual increase in binge drinking that occurs after five days of abstinence and also prevents relapse.
Extracts of various parts of the kudzu vine are said to be "helpful in treating a variety of maladies, including alcoholism and intoxication," said Ting-Kai Li, a professor in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, and former director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Considering that nearly eighty percent of abstinent alcoholics or addicts relapse within a year, the value of Kudzu in helping to treat alcoholism could make it a legend in the world of medicine.
It has been suggested that once Kudzu has been further studied, this Chinese herb has a high likelihood of replacing Antabuse, a well-known but slightly toxic medication that is currently used to treat chronic alcoholism. One researcher involved in the study Dr. Diamond said we “hope this novel compound will become an effective therapeutic agent for alcoholism.” So what was once deemed a weed by the USDA, has the potential to become a goldmine for the South. It has even been suggested that Kudzu could be used to produce the same amount of ethanol as an acre of corn, thus supplementing our current energy resources as well. Click here for a link to the studies referenced.
This article is designed to provide the reader with clinical research results and the potential benefits and or risks associated with CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicines). The author advocates neither for or against any particular therapy and recommends individuals speak with licensed medicial practitioners before using any Chinese herbal supplements or other health supplements.
Asian countries have been using Chinese Herbs for centuries to treat pre-diabetes (impaired glucose tolerance or IGT), the precursor of diabetes but now there is some scientific evidence to support the Traditional Chinese Medicine claims.
The prestigious Cochran Review has just published a study they conducted on 1391 participants which says “evidence suggests Chinese herbal medicines are able to lower and normalize high blood glucose.”
Pre-diabetes is recognized by higher than normal blood sugar levels. People with pre-diabetes are advised to change their diets to control their blood glucose levels and prevent progression to diabetes. Chinese herbs are believed to work in a number of different ways to help normalize blood sugar levels, including improving pancreatic function and increasing the availability of insulin.
Those given the Chinese herb formulations were less likely to develop full blown diabetes during the study period. Trials included in the review lasted from one month to two years. No adverse effects were reported in any of the trials. “Our results suggest that some Chinese herbal medicines can help to prevent diabetes, but we really need more research before we can confidently say that these treatments work,” says Suzanne Grant, lead researcher at the Cochrane Center for Complementary Medicine Research “The real value of the study is as guidance for further trials. We need to see more trials that make comparisons with placebos and other types of drugs, and better reporting on the outcomes of these trials.”
Shopping at a farmers market is always a favorite activity of mine, checking out the best produce and looking for the best prices. I’d love to shop at a farmers market in Tibet where fresh cordyceps adorns the tables. Cordyceps has a history of being the world best fungus. But the cost may shock you. A $100.00 or more for a fee ounces? Prices vary depending on quality and can be even higher.
Cordyceps ability to treat chronic diseases including diabetes, COPD, liver and kidney diseases, tinnitus and amnesia, decreased libido and fatigue have all been heavily researched. Highly prized by ancient Chinese Emperors, many athletes today use this fungus to increase energy, improve endurance, increasing oxygen capacity and boost lung function.
In China cordyceps is used as both a dietary supplement and medicine for the above mentioned conditions as well as hyperglycemia, high cholesterol, respiratory disease and heart arrhythmias. The Western world is catching on to the incredible benefits of this strange worm that metamorphoses into a fungus. Clinical studies support these long held traditions, so many in fact I can’t possibly mention them all here. Even world renowned Sloane-Kettering’s posted the following on their website: ”Several studies showed significant improvements in all respiratory symptoms at a dose range of 3-4.5 grams of Cordyceps. Improvements were in shortness of breath, cough and expectoration, and sleep.”
The original cordyceps sinensis grows only in the mountains of Tibet & Nepal (and some other parts of China.) Cited in Tibetan medical texts even before Chinese texts which date to the 4st century, cordyceps popularity has grown and is now Tibet’s number one export. Getting to the remote growing regions is not so easy. Did I mention you’ll need to climb to a least 10,000 feet above sea level and the harvesting season is very short, April until the end of June. Harvesting requires the gatherers to be on hands and knees with their faces close to the ground. The tiny cordyceps often resemble surrounding vegetation. A small knife is utilized for extraction, with extreme caution so as not to damage the larva, resulting in a loss of value. Each gatherer is lucky to collects an average of just 20 cordyceps in a day.
Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that feeds mainly on butterflies, moths, and caterpillars. The wind spreads the spores over the soil and onto the plants, which are then either consumed by the future hosts or simply penetrate through the mouth or respiratory pores, eventually killing the insect. However, it is traditionally believed by the people of Tibet that cordyceps lives as a worm during the winter, and then in the spring undergoes a metamorphosis that changes it into a type of grass. In some areas, it is closely connected to local religion and its harvesting has been banned.
The mountain-grown cordyceps has become rare as more locals depends upon the income from its harvesting. The popularity and wealth of benefits from this fungus prompted Chinese scientists to find another way to grow mycelia strains using fermentation technology. Many experts say the laboratory grown cordyceps is chemically identical to wild grown, the benefit of course is its less expensive and widely available in Asia and I have seen it in China towns in the U.S. If you’re ever at a farmer’s market or anywhere cordyceps is for sale, don’t balk at the price of this fungus. Considering its health benefits, it’s by far the best buy in the market.
Top picture is the real deal… bottom right is laboratory grown.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an extremely debilitating disease. A dear friend suffers with it and has for years. But at 80 years old now, she won’t consider doing much to change her ways. I wish I could convince her that Chinese herbs have been used successfully for this crippling disease. I’m always trying to disseminate reliable and scientific information about Chinese herbs. Hope this helps someone who also suffers from RA.
An article published in the Aug 2009, Annals of Internal Medicine compares the use of a Chinese herb for the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, (RA). 121 patients were included in the study which took place at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda Maryland and at the University of Texas, Dallas, along with 8 other rheumatology clinics around the U.S. The Chinese herb medicinal used in this study is called Tripterygium wilfordii, or Thunder god vine and is used for a variety of inflammatory diseases in Chinese Medicine. In fact, because vines have a climbing nature and are able to meander and crawl into crevices and into tight places, it is theorized in Chinese Medicine that medicinal vines have the same type of effects in the body. Reaching into tight spaces and meandering and opening blockages throughout the body. This may not scientifically explain why the vine helps RA, but it does makes sense energetically.
Understandably, Western audiences have not been exposed to Chinese Medicine theory, therefore, I”ll include the scientific explanation presented in this study. The “interleukin-6levels rapidly and significantly decreased in the group taking the Chinese herb root extract.” (interleukin-6 plays a significant role in RA because it acts as both a pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory. It is secreted by T cells and macrophages to stimulate immune response to trauma and other tissue damage leading to inflammation) This just may be the explanation as to why participants in the RA study showed “significant improvement “ while taking this Chinese herb compared to those who did not complete the study.
The bottom line, the roots of Thunder god vine seems effective in treatingpatients with active RA and may offer an alternativetreatment approach to treating rheumatoid arthritis. To find someone who can help you with your RA and use herbs like this vine to help your condition, find a qualified Acupuncturist who has a strong background in herbal medicine. Let us know if you need a referral.