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Ginseng is a Powerful Herb for Weight Loss and Diabetes Control
by Barbara Minton
(The Best Years in Life) Looking for a natural weight loss aid? If so, recent research says ginseng is the herb for you. Ginseng has long been one of the foundations of Chinese medicine, and is probably the world's best known herb. Its botanical name, panax, means "all curing" in Greek. This 5000 year old healer has traditionally been used as a restorative tonic to increase energy, stamina, and well being. Now Western scientists are documenting its effect in weight loss and diabetes control.
Researchers document the weight loss benefits of ginseng
In a study reported in Phytotherapy Research Journal, researchers investigated a constituent of red ginseng, ginsenoside Rg3, focusing on its ability to inhibit differentiation of the cells that store energy as fat. Their findings showed the ginsenoside effectively inhibited this differentiation, making cells less able to complete the fat storage process.
Leptin is a hormone that helps regulate body weight. In an evaluation of the anti-obesity effect of wild ginseng in obese, leptin-deficient mice, wild ginseng was administered orally to mice at levels up to 200mg/kg for 4 weeks. The mice showed a loss of body weight and a decrease in blood glucose levels when compared to the control mice. This study was also reported in Phytotherapy Research Journal.
Saponins, found in the roots of the ginseng plant are the key to its natural weight loss secret. In a follow up study by the same research team, the anti-obesity effect of saponins from ginseng was shown to result from their ability to normalize hypothalamic neuropeptides and serum biochemicals related to the control of weight gain.
A study reported in the journal Phytomedicine was performed to determine whether saponins from stems and leaves of panax quinquefolium could inhibit the activity of lipase (the enzyme that helps digest fats) and prevent obesity induced in mice. Female mice were fed a fattening diet with or without saponins for 8 weeks. The researchers found that saponins were able to effectively inhibit pancreatic lipase activity, meaning that less fat was able to be digested and stored as body fat. With long-term administration of saponins, fat tissue weight was decreased in those mice fed the fattening diet as compared to the controls.
In a randomized clinical study reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers sought to provide evidence of effectiveness and safety in the use of ginseng for diabetes. Their research generated a mounting body of evidence to support the claim that American ginseng is useful in improving diabetes control, reducing associated risk factors such as hyperlipidemia and hypertension, and reducing insulin resistance. They also found that American ginseng acts in the digestive tract to increase insulin secretion.
Researchers acknowledging ginseng's long history as an herbal remedy for diabetes investigated the effect and mechanism of Korean red ginseng on the stimulation of insulin release in rats. They reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology that the extract significantly stimulated insulin release compared to the controls.
Finally, the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, has reported that American ginseng increases insulin production and reduces cell death in pancreatic beta-cells. They note that other studies have revealed American ginseng's ability to decrease blood glucose in type II diabetes patients as well as in diabetes induced animals.
Characteristics of ginseng
Ginseng is one of the adaptogens, a group of non-toxic, non-habit forming substances that normalize body chemistry and functioning. Adaptogens increase the body's ability to cope with physical, emotional and environmental stress. They work in synergistic manner to increase the body's own ability to fight off disease. The greater the body's need for an adaptogen, the increasingly more active the substance becomes.
Ginseng is a plant with many different components. It is used in its entirety in the preparation of teas, and the root is used in powders and capsules. Ginsenosides are a group of its active compounds that are found in saponins in the root of the plant.
The term ginseng is used to refer to panax ginseng and panax quinquefolius, first cousins in the Araliaceae family. Each contains a different balance of the ginsenosides, giving it a unique character. Panax ginseng is the yang, providing warming, stimulation and energizing. Panax quinquefolius is the yin, providing cooling, relaxing and calming.
Ginseng was first found in Manchuria and was referred to by the ancient Chinese as Ren Shen, meaning man root, referring to the human-like shape of the ginseng root. To the Chinese, this shape meant the herb was created for human use. They believed regular consumption of ginseng led to a long and happy life, and it became as highly prized as gold in China. In fact, it was so popular that the supply of ginseng from the Chinese mainland could not meet the demand, and imports were brought from Korea. When the wild stock was exhausted, commercial cultivation began. Wild ginseng is believed to contain even greater medicinal value than what is cultivated.
Ginseng is used fresh, dried or as a tincture. Sometimes plant leaves are added with the root, but the root is the highly prized part of the plant. Cultivated ginseng is available as red ginseng and white ginseng. The difference is the way the root is processed. The different geographical names before the word ginseng indicate where the plant was grown. Subtle variations exist between the varieties.
Ginseng contains a number of compounds that are unique. Many of these elements have an effect on the adrenal glands, increasing hormone secretion to ward off both physical and emotional stress. Scientists believe that it is this effect that is responsible for the stress fighting power of ginseng.
Ginseng lives up to its name as a cure-all
One of the ways in which ginseng is a natural weight loss aid and controller of diabetes is by facilitating metabolic equilibrium. Russian research has shown that ginseng stimulates physical and mental activities in tired and weak individuals, and aids with balancing. It has been found to strengthen and protect even under prolonged periods of stress and strain. Ginseng works to stimulate and improve the workings of the brain with its ability to promote oxygenation. The Russians also found it to increase energy and physical endurance. Ginseng stimulates the functioning of the endocrine glands and promotes vigor of the reproductive organs. Research is underway to determine the effectiveness of ginseng on erectile dysfunction.
Asian researchers have documented the ability of ginseng to reduce fatigue and increase stamina. They found that ginseng aids in the formation of red blood cells and helps eliminate anemia. Ginseng strengthens the gastrointestinal system, facilitates liver regeneration, and helps detoxify poisons.
Ginseng is one of the few herbs showing promise in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. This puzzling condition has no widely accepted treatment for the numbing fatigue that typifies the condition. However, people suffering from chronic fatigue have reported an improvement in their symptoms after regular use of ginseng.
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