Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus, formerly Acanthopanax senticosus) has been used as an adaptogenic herb for over 2000 years. Siberian ginseng roots have similar medicinal properties to those of Panax ginseng, although the plants are not closely related.
What does Siberian ginseng do?
The dried roots and rhizomes (underground stems) of Siberian ginseng contain triterpenoid saponins known as eleutherosides, some of which are similar in structure to the saponins in Korean ginseng. Some researchers consider Siberian ginseng is an even more remarkable adaptogen than Panax ginseng, with a higher activity and wider range of therapeutic uses. Comparative studies suggest there is little qualitative difference between the two, but Siberian ginseng has the advantage of being easier to cultivate, and therefore cheaper.
Siberian ginseng is calming and relaxing, yet energising. It improves sleep quality, hormone balance, boosts immunity and has antiviral and antibacterial actions.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Siberian ginseng is used to invigorate qi energy, strengthen the spleen, and nourish the kidney.
Siberian ginseng for women
Siberian ginseng is a great adaptogen for women as it has oestrogen-like actions and can relieve physical symptoms of hot flushes, vaginal dryness and night sweats, as well as emotional symptoms such as anxiety.
Siberian ginseng contains phlorizin, which increases the production of collagen in skin cells, which may reduce the development of fine lines and wrinkles.
Siberian ginseng may also have beneficial effects on bone remodelling with increases in bone calcium binding proteins, for postmenopausal women.
Siberian ginseng is also traditionally used to improve fertility by enhancing overall vitality and by normalizing sex hormone levels.
Siberian ginseng and stress
Siberian ginseng has relaxing and anti-anxiety effects. As a true adaptogen, Siberian ginseng has a normalising action on the adrenal glands and appears to boost secretion of hormones when cortisol levels are depleted, and to suppress cortisol production when secretion is too high. Russian research suggests that Siberian ginseng can both prevent and treat stress related symptoms such as exhaustion, tiredness, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
Siberian ginseng and hangover
Hangover is best prevented by not drinking too much and by maintaining hydration. However, when Siberian ginseng was taken before and after consuming alcohol, typical hangover symptoms of tiredness, headache, dizziness, stomach ache and nausea were significantly improved. This may be due to beneficial effects in maintaining blood glucose levels and reducing inflammatory responses.
Siberian ginseng and immunity
Siberian ginseng is widely used to boost immunity in Russia, where studies have found that it can reduce the incidence of colds and ‘flu by 40% and reduce the number of days off work by a third compared to those not taking it.
A German study involving 36 volunteers found that taking Siberian ginseng three times a day, for four weeks, significantly increased and number of infection-fighting immune cells, especially T-lymphocytes, compared with placebo.
Siberian ginseng and endurance
Siberian ginseng is used by endurance athletes to improve performance and reaction times. Studies suggest that Siberian ginseng increases muscle stores of glycogen (a starchy fuel) and decreases the build-up of lactic acid build-up. Athletes taking Siberian ginseng increased their total exercise duration by up to 23% compared with only 7.5% for those taking a placebo. Oxygen usage also increased by 12%.
Siberian ginseng and quality of life
Among 20 older people with high blood pressure and heart problems, taking 300mg Siberian ginseng extract per day for 4 weeks significantly improved mental function, social functioning and quality of life compared with placebo. These differences did not persist when taken for 8 weeks, however. This supports the traditional use in which, like Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng is taken cyclically, for example in a 4 weeks on, 4 weeks off pattern.
Siberian ginseng and depression
A traditional Chinese medicine, Shuganjieyu, contains a combination of Siberian ginseng and St John’s wort. The results form 7 clinical trials, involving 595 people with major depression, found that Shuganjieyu was 2.4 times more effective than placebo in terms of response rate, and 4.29 times more effective in terms of remission. When used together with a prescribed antidepressant drug (venlafaxine) the response was 1.56 times greater than with venlafaxine alone.
The combination of Siberian ginseng and St John’s wort has also been used successfully in patients with depression following a heart attack.
Siberian ginseng and vision
Russian researchers have found that taking Siberian ginseng may improve light and colour perception by increasing retinal sensitivity.
Sun Eleuthero review
Siberian ginseng is the reason I first became interested in herbal medicine.
As a GP, I read a medical paper about the immune benefits of Eleutherococcus senticosus and decided to take try it myself as winter approached. That was the first winter I didn’t develop a cold, despite seeing lots of infected patients. I suggest taking vitamin D supplements, too, for the perfect immune boost. If a virulent cold still breaks through, then Pelargonium will stop it in its tracks.
The form of Siberian ginseng I now take is SUN ELEUTHERO, which uses Eleutherococcus senticosus roots from wild plants, grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. The tablets are small, which makes it easy to adjust your dose, and to aid swallowing.
One packet of Sun Eleuthero contains 240 tablets. The recommended dose is 2 grams (12 tablets) per day, which I recommend dividing between 3 daily doses.
A dose of 2 grams per day provides 2.5mg eleutherosides.
It’s also available in the form of a tea.
Siberian ginseng dose
A typical dose is 1g to 3g Eleutherococcus senticosus root per day.
Choose a brand that is standardized to contain more than 1% eleutherosides (eg 2.5mg eleutherosides per 2g dose in Sun Eleuthero).
Start with a low dose in the morning at least 20 minutes before eating. If increasing the dose, work up slowly and take two or three times per day.
Siberian ginseng should be taken on an empty stomach unless its effects are too relaxing, in which case it can be taken with meals.
Most people notice a difference after around five days, but it should be continued for at least one month for the full restorative effect.
Siberian ginseng can be taken cyclically. For example, take daily for two to three months, then have a month off.
Siberian ginseng side effects
A few people find Siberian ginseng stimulating rather than relaxing. If it interferes with sleep, take the last dose of the day before your mid-day meal.
If you have any health problems or are on medication it is important to seek advice before taking Siberian ginseng and to check for drug interactions. Like most other supplements, it should not be taking during pregnant or breast-feeding.
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