Outline: click on an item to go to that section
|A Woman's Burden|
|Ginseng - the Natural Alternative|
|Ginseng and Hot Flashes|
|Ginseng and Sleep|
|Ginseng and Its Hormonal Effects|
|Ginseng and Mood|
|Adverse Effects of Ginseng|
By the time women reach their late forties or early fifties, their ovaries
begin producing less and less of the reproductive hormones estrogen and
progesterone, resulting in the uncomfortable symptoms commonly known as
menopause. During menopause, a woman will usually experience many symptoms
which will greatly interfere with her quality of life - hot flashes, night
sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, lack of concentration or irritability,
and interrupted sleep. Once her menstrual cycle has completely ended, other
bodily changes occur, such as thinning of the bones, often resulting in
osteoporosis, and less pliant blood vessels, placing her at risk of heart
Many women turn to estrogen replacement therapy as a means of finding
relief from the burden of menopausal symptoms because of its high efficacy
and other beneficial properties. Estrogen replacement has been shown to
significantly reduce the frequency of hot flashes, and patients receiving
this treatment reported improved sleep quality and sense of well being.
It has also been found to decrease sleep latency and increase REM sleep,
thereby reducing insomnia and subsequent fatigue (Ginsburg, 1994). Although
estrogen replacement has produced drastic improvement in women's menopausal
hindrances, some women are ineligible or uncomfortable with the idea of
taking hormones and opt for a natural solution - ginseng.
Ginseng, the root of the Araliaceous plant, has been used for several
thousand years in the Orient as a tonic and restorative. Pharmacological
investigations by Western pharmaceutical firms, encouraged by the growing
interest in herbal remedies in the West, show that ginseng acts as an adaptogen,
meaning it can bring abnormal physiology into balance by helping the body
increase resistance against noxious or stressful physical, chemical, or
biological influences (Chong & Oberholzer, 1988). Ginseng's potential
capacity to increase nonspecific resistance to various stressors is the
reason it has been used as an alternative treatment for menopausal symptoms.
It is important to remember that the effects of ginseng will vary different
individuals depending on diet, lifestyle, exercise and other drugs. In
other words, an individual's health and hormonal regulation will essentially
determine the effects of ginseng (Bahrke & Morgan, 1994). It is possible
for some individuals to respond to ginseng, while others will show no response
Hot flashes are experienced by 60 - 85% of menopausal women and they
may occur infrequently, or as frequently as 20 times a day (Ginsburg 1994).
Many women experience the accompaniment of palpitations, vertigo, weakness,
or feeling of anxiety to their hot flashes. The results of a large questionnaire
study revealed a positive correlation between the severity of hot flashes
and the occurrence of depressive symptoms (Ginsburg 1994).
While there have not been any double-blind, placebo controlled studies
performed on humans to determine the effects ginseng has on hot flashes
women taking ginseng usually do report that the frequency and intensity
of hot flashes may be diminished (Ginsburg 1994). There have, however,
been investigations using animals on the effects of ginseng on body temperature
and the release of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). ACTH stimulates
the release of fatty acids and the utilization of glucose, which are important
for providing energy to deal with stressors.
It has been found that the release of ACTH occurs approximately 30 minutes
after the onset of skin temperature elevation resulting from hot flashes.
This release of ACTH is due to the peripheral cooling that occurs after
the hot flash. When used on rats, ginseng saponin, the most active component
of ginseng, was found to stimulate the secretion of ACTH (Chong & Oberholzer,
In a series of pharmacological studies, the neuroleptic properties of
neutral ginseng saponins were investigated. One of the reported results
showed that specific doses of neutral saponins in mice significantly lowered
their body temperature (Bahrke & Morgan, 1994). In one study which
measured the effects of ginseng root saponins on brain monoamines and serum
corticosterone in heat stressed mice, it was found that ginseng root saponins
lowered mice body temperature at room temperature and inhibited the rise
of body temperature under heat environmental conditions (Yuan, Yuang, Shang,
& Zhang, 1989).
The effect of ginseng on hot flashes is supported by anecdotal evidence
and by rodent studies which suggest it effects temperature regulation and
responses to stress. I would conclude, therefore, that it is plausable
that ginseng is useful for preventing or reducing the frequency or severity
of hot flashes. In the absence of controlled studies with humans, this
is the strongest conclusion possible.
Many women will experience interrupted sleep or even insomnia during
menopause. This could possibly be attributed to hot flashes occurring at
night, however some studies have found the hot flash to occur after awakening
(Ginsburg 1994). Regardless of why it occurs, this disrupted sleep often
results in a high instance of irritability, forgetfulness, difficulty in
concentrating, and fatigue. Ginseng is believed to possess bipolar properties
- it can instigate sleep and also help reduce fatigue. These contrasting
effects are partially related to the dosage levels employed (Chong &
Oberholzer, 1988). There have been a number of studies involving small
animals such as mice, rats, and guinea pigs which show the effects of ginseng
on sleep and fatigue.
Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) was administered to mice
on an acute or chronic basis and sleep latency and duration as a response
to this herb were determined. Following the acute administration, Siberian
ginseng produced a sedative effect which decreased sleep latency by 47%
and increased sleep duration 45-228%. A similar effect was seen after the
chronic administration with an increase in sleep duration of 125-202% (Medon,
Ferguson, & Watson 1984). In another study, freely behaving rats were
administered a continual one week intake of 15 mg/day of Panax ginseng
extract. The results revealed a decrease in the amount of wakefulness and
an increase in slow wave sleep (Rhee, Lee, Honda, & Inoue, 1990).
In a long term study, groups of mice were allowed to swim once every
five days until exhaustion. After two months, results showed that the average
swimming period of the mice given ginseng was double that of the other
group. There was reported to be a consistent anti-fatigue activity in the
mice following the administration of standardized extracts (Chong &
Once again, there is a lack of controlled studies on humans to test
the effects ginseng has on sleep, but the results of the tests on small
animals clearly shows the bipolar properties ginseng has on on sleep. Consequently,
I draw the conclusion that ginseng does help with both the insomnia and
the nagging fatigue often experienced by females during menopause.
There have been reported incidences showing that ginseng could possibly
have many of the same properties as estrogen. Ginseng has been reported
to produce an estrogen - like effect on the vaginal mucosa, resulting in
the relief of the vaginal dryness which accompanies menopause (Bahrke &Morgan,
Several cases of actual vaginal bleeding after menstruation has already
stopped have also been reported. In one case, a 72 year old patient taking
one tablet containing 200 mg of ginseng daily experienced vaginal bleeding
and a moderate estrogen effect. In another instance, postmenopausal bleeding
occurred in a 44 year old woman who was applying a topical ginseng face
cream (Bahrke & Morgan, 1994). Ginseng appears to have an estrogen
- like effect on genital tissue which is not unexpected, since small quantities
of estrone, estradiol, and estriol are present in ginseng root.
These observed instances clearly show that ginseng possesses many of
the same properties as the hormone estrogen. Thus I conclude that Ginseng
also wields action on the vagina much like estrogen. As a result, the shortening
and thinning of the vaginal walls and the diminishing of vaginal lubrication
which contribute to vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse will be
greatly reduced through the use of ginseng.
Animal studies have given evidence that ginseng's ability to change
the central neuroendocrine system results in enhanced mood following ginseng
administration. In a study of the effect of ginseng versus placebo on mood,
significant increases in subjective feelings of vitality, concentration,
sleep, work output, and mood were noted in older females ages 40-60 years
old (Bahrke & Morgan 1994).
Because this is a study on human responses to ginseng, the results are
much more conclusive than those only pertaining to rodents. With the results
from these studies of the effects of ginseng on human moods, the best conclusion
is that taking ginseng does increase mood along with other beneficial results.
Although ginseng is thought to be relatively safe, there have been some adverse effects, such as hypertension, behavior stimulation, sleeplessness, diarrhea, mastalgia, occupational asthma, and skin eruption, reported in humans. In a study of various types of ginseng, including Panax ginseng and Eleutherococcus senticosus, in 133 individuals using a wide variety of commercial products over 2 years, ginseng had stimulant effects, but was also accompanied by a high incidence of sleeplessness, nervousness, hypertension, and euphoria (Bahrke & Morgan, 1994).
There is also ginseng abuse syndrome (GAS) which sometimes occurs after
a long term usage of ginseng. GAS is characterized by hypertension together
with nervousness, sleeplessness, skin eruptions, oedema, and morning diarrhea.
The average daily dosage was 3 grams of root material for those experiencing
this syndrome, however, the range was anywhere from 0 - 15 grams. High
dosages of 15 grams or more per day resulted in feelings of depersonalization,
confusion, and depression in some individuals (Bahrke & Morgan, 1994).
Yuan, W.X., Wu, X.J., Yang, F.X., Shang, X.H., & Zhang, L.L. (1989).
Effects of ginseng root saponins on brain monoamines and serum corticosterone
in heat-stressed mice. Chung-Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao - Acta Pharmacologica
Sinica, 10, 429-426.
Bahrke, M.S. & Morgan, W.P. (1994). Evaluation of ergogenic properties
of ginseng. Sports Medicine, 18, 229-248.
Chong, S.K. & Oberholzer, V.G. (1988). Ginseng-is there a use in
clinical medicine? Postgraduate Medical Journal, 64, 841-846.
Fulder, S.J. (1981). Ginseng and the hypothalamic-pituitary control
of stress. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 9, 112-118.
Banerjee, U. & Izquierdo, J.A. (1982). Antistress and antifatigue
properties of Panax ginseng: comparison with piracetam. Acta Physiologica
Latinoamericana, 32, 277-285.
Rhee, Y.H., Lee, S.P., Honda, K., & Inoue, S. (1990). Panax ginseng
extract modulates sleep in unrestrained rats. Psychopharmacology, 101,
Medon, P.J., Ferguson, P.W., & Watson, C.F. (1984). Effects of Eleutheroccoccus
senticosus extracts on hexobarbitual metabolism in vivo and in vitro. Journal
of Ethnopharmacology, 10, 235-241.
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