FRIDAY, May 15, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Ginseng has been used in medicine for centuries, and now its reputation for improving health is expanding: A new study has found that the herb, which is used in traditional Chinese and other Asian medicine, fights inflammation.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong identified seven constituents of ginseng, called ginsenosides, that showed immunosuppressive effects.
The findings are published online in the Journal of Translational Medicine.
"The anti-inflammatory role of ginseng may be due to the combined effects of these ginsenosides, targeting different levels of immunological activity, and so contributing to the diverse actions of ginseng in humans," said research leader Allan Lau. "Further studies will be needed to examine the potential beneficial effects of ginsenosides in the management of acute and chronic inflammatory diseases in humans."
The researchers used advanced techniques to identify the individual constituents and define their bioactivity. These techniques could be used to study other medicinal herbs.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the ginseng root is dried and used to make tablets or capsules, extracts and teas, as well as creams or other preparations for external use.
The NIH notes that traditional and modern uses of ginseng include:
- Improving the health of people who are recovering from an illness.
- Increasing a person's sense of well-being and stamina, and improving both mental and physical performance.
- Treating erectile dysfunction, hepatitis C and symptoms related to menopause.
- Lowering blood glucose and controlling blood pressure.
Ginseng also may lower levels of blood sugar and this effect may be seen more in people with diabetes, the NIH explains. Because of this, diabetics should be very careful with ginseng, especially if they are using medicines to lower blood sugar or taking other herbs, such as bitter melon and fenugreek, that are also thought to lower blood sugar.
But, like anything else, the usually well-tolerated herb can have some side effects, the NIH warns. The most common ones are headaches and sleep and gastrointestinal problems.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about ginseng.