Siberian Ginseng
   

Siberian Ginseng
Botanical Name:  Eleutherococcus senticosus/Acanthopanax senticosus
Common Names:  Eleuthero
 
Overview
Plant Description
What's It Made Of?
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Eleuthero, which is known in the United States as Siberian ginseng, has been used for centuries in China and Russia. Although a distant relative of American and Asian ginsengs (Panax sp.), with some overlap in its uses, Siberian ginseng is a distinct plant with different active chemical components. Prized for its ability to restore vigor, increase longevity, enhance overall health, and stimulate both a healthy appetite and a good memory, it is widely used in Russia to help the body adapt to stressful conditions and to enhance productivity.

In Chinese medicine, it is valued for its beneficial effects on "qi" and its ability to treat "yang" deficiency in the spleen and kidney. Like the panax ginsengs, Siberian ginseng is considered to be an adaptogen, which means that it helps in stressful circumstances and also helps return the body to a normal balance. So, for example, an adaptogen might lower blood pressure in someone who has high blood pressure, but raise it in another person who has low blood pressure. The active ingredients in Siberian ginseng, eleutherosides (similar to ginsenosides in the panax species), are thought to increase stamina and to stimulate the immune system.

Until recently, most scientific research on Siberian ginseng took place in Russia. This research has largely supported its use to maintain health and strengthen the system rather than to treat particular disorders. Siberian ginseng may help the body deal with physically and mentally stressful exposures such as heat, cold, physical exhaustion, viruses, bacteria, chemicals, extreme working conditions, noise, and pollution. By strengthening the system, it may also help prevent illness.

Research on Siberian ginseng has included studies on the following:

Immune System
A 4-week study in healthy subjects found that those who received Siberian ginseng extract had improvements in a number of measures that reflect the functioning of the immune system.

Mental Performance
A 3-month human study of Siberian ginseng among middle aged volunteers found that there was a significant improvement in memory and concentration as compared to placebo.

Another popular but unproven use of Siberian ginseng is to maintain or restore mental alertness.

Physical Performance
Although Siberian ginseng is frequently used to enhance physical stamina and increase muscle strength, studies have shown mixed results for these purposes.

Male Fertility
Siberian ginseng has a long history of folkloric use for male infertility. Animal studies suggest that Siberian ginseng may be helpful in increasing reproductive capacity.

Viral Infection
In a laboratory study, an extract of Siberian ginseng slowed the replication of certain viruses, including influenza A (which causes the flu) as well as human rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (both of which cause symptoms of the common cold). It had no effect, however, in test tubes on adenovirus (another cause of the common cold and other respiratory infections) or herpes simplex virus type 1 (which generally causes oral herpes lesions). But, a 6-month study of 93 people with herpes simplex virus type 2 (which generally causes genital herpes lesions) found that Siberian ginseng reduced frequency, severity, and duration of outbreaks. Talk to your doctor about whether it is safe or appropriate for you to use Siberian ginseng to try to prevent herpes outbreaks.


Plant Description

Siberian ginseng is a shrub that grows 3 to 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 products are made from the root. The root contains a mixture of components, common to many plants but occurring together in Siberian ginseng, called eleutherosides. Among the other ingredients are chemicals called polysaccharides, which have been found to boost the immune system and lower blood sugar levels in laboratory studies using animals.


Available Forms

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

It is important to note that there is a wide variation in the quality and amount of Siberian ginseng found in different products as well as a significant amount of mislabeling of products containing this herb. In evaluations of commercial products claiming to have Siberian ginseng, as many as 25% had no measurable ginseng at all. Plus, many formulas for sale were contaminated with contents not marked on the label. Care should be taken to purchase Siberian ginseng products from reputable manufacturers.


How to Take It

Pediatric

This herb is generally not recommended for use in pediatric patients because of concerns about possible stimulant effects. However, some clinicians may recommend it as a tonic during periods of stress; if so, follow the instructions carefully of that qualified practitioner. Use for children should be limited to 2 consecutive weeks.

Adult

  • Dried root: The recommended dose is 500 to 3,000 milligrams dried root daily (tea, or in capsules).
  • Tincture: (herb and alcohol; or herb, alcohol, and water), one teaspoon three times per day.
  • Fluid extract (1:1): 1/2 to 1 tsp. Two to three times per day.
  • Extract (33% alcohol extract): 40 to 120 drops one to three times per day.
  • Solid extracts, made from dried, powdered root are also available. Look for products that contain at least 1% eleutheroside F, and take 100 to 200 mg three times per day.

To increase stamina or resistance to stress, one of the forms recommended above can be taken for one month on and one month off. For chronic conditions such as fatigue, Siberian ginseng can be taken for three months, followed by 2 to 3 weeks off. These cycles can be repeated, but this should be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider.


Precautions

The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances 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 practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) rates Siberian ginseng as a class 1, which means that it is safe when used as directed. However, it should not be taken by those with high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea (repeated, prolonged periods when breathing stops while sleeping), narcolepsy (frequent day time sleeping), or by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

There has been one case report of a baby developing excessive hair growth, including in the pubic region. This was attributed to the mother, who was breast feeding, taking Siberian ginseng. Later, it was discovered that the product she was taking probably did not contain Siberian ginseng, but rather a contaminant. More common side effects include high blood pressure, insomnia, drowsiness, vomiting, headache, confusion, irregular heart rhythm, and nosebleed.

Siberian ginseng should be taken before 3 P.M. to avoid insomnia.


Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use Siberian ginseng without first talking to your healthcare provider.

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

Sedatives for Insomnia
Caution should be taken when considering use of Siberian ginseng with sedatives, primarily barbiturates (a class of medications including pentobarbital which are used for sleep or seizures).


Supporting Research

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:124-125.

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

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

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.

Gyllenhaal C, Merritt SL, Peterson SD, Block KI, Gochenour T. 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, Stern JS, Hackman RM. Variability in commercial ginseng products: an analysis of 25 preparations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73:1101-1106.

Kelly GS. Nutritional and botanical interventions to assist with the adaptation to stress. Alt Med Rev. 1999;4(4):249-265.

Koren G, Randor S, Martin S, Danneman D. Maternal ginseng use associated with neonatal androgenization [letter]. JAMA. 1990;264(22):2866.

McRae S. Elevated serum digoxin levels in a patient taking digoxin and Siberian ginseng. Can Med Assoc J. 1996;155:293-295.

Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(20):2200-2211.

Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. London, England: The Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:141-144.

Ott BR, Owens NJ. Complementary and alternative medicines for Alzheimer's disease. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 1998;11:163-173.

Pizzorno JE, Murray MT, eds. Textbook of Natural Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill-Livingstone; 1999:433-434;531-532;713-717;1385-1386.

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

Vogler BK, Pittler MH, Ernst E. The efficacy of ginseng. A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1999;55:567-575.

White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press; 1998:22, 40.

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

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

Wong AHC, Smith M, Boon HS. Herbal remedies in psychiatric practice. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1998;55:1033-1044.


Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Constance Grauds, RPh (April 1999), President, Association of Natural Medicine Pharmacists, San Rafael, CA; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; David Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ; Elizabeth Wotton, ND (April 1999), private practice, Sausalito, CA. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; R. Lynn Shumake, PD (March 2000), Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

 
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