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Chinese Red Ginseng, 100 Capsules, From Imperial Elixir

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Natural Factors, HerbalFactors, Panax Ginseng, 60 Softgels

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Ginseng has been used for centuries in Asia, especially in China, Japan, Korea, and parts of the former Soviet Union, as a cure-all or panacea. This usage no doubt stems from the 'Doctrine of Signatures' because the root is often decidedly manlike in appearance and therefore useful in the treatment of all 'man's afflictions.' Farnsworth has pointed out that the widest use of the medication in those areas is not in curing a particular disease but in a supportive role to maintain health. In this regard, ginseng is analogous to the ubiquitous vitamin tablets here, but with one important addition: the medication is commonly believed to have a favorable influence on sexual potency, in other words, to be an .

More recently, as ginseng consumption has galloped across the Western world, its adaptogenic effects are being emphasized. As an adaptogen, it is believed to produce a state of increased resistance of the body to stress, overcoming disease by building up our general vitality and strengthening our normal body functions Although such indirect effects are naturally somewhat difficult to verify scientifically, favorable modification by ginseng of the stress effects of temperature changes, diet, restraint, exercise, and the like have been recorded. Moreover, useful pharmacologic effects in such conditions as anemia, atherosclerosis, depression, diabetes, edema, hypertension, and ulcers have also been documented. In one area, however, ginseng's purported beneficial effects remain unsubstantiated: there is no scientific evidence of enhanced sexual experience or potency resulting from its use.

The principles believed to be responsible for ginseng's activities are triterpenoid saponins that exist in the root in large numbers. Again, the nomenclature of these compounds is extremely confusing and complex, for some of the same ones were isolated by different groups of investigators and given different names. Then, too, there are differences in composition between the Asian and American ginseng species. The active saponins are called ginsenosides by Japanese and panaxosides by Russian scientists. Thus, we have at least eighteen saponins in Asian ginseng, such as ginsenoside Rc, which is the same as panaxoside D. The same compound isolated from American ginseng is also known as panaquilin C. Confusing? Of course! So leave the details to the scientists and simply remember that whatever pharmacological activity ginseng may possess is probably due mainly to its many chemical com- pounds, which are triterpenoid saponins.

Obtaining the authentic ginseng product is a problem. Quality root is extremely expensive-the best grades of Korean Red (a specially 'cured' root) retail at more than $20 an ounce. This relatively high cost plus lack of quality control in many areas of the health food industry have resulted in commercial ginseng products (teas, powders, capsules, tablets, extracts, etc.) of astounding variability. This has been verified by two independent studies, one of which, an analysis of fifty-four ginseng products, showed that 60 percent of those analyzed were worthless and 25 percent of the sampled products contained no ginseng at all.

Of thirty-seven clinical studies published between 1968 and 1990, only fifteen were controlled and eight double-blinded. Seventeen showed improvement in physical performance, eleven improvement in intellectual performance, and thirteen an improvement in mood. Quality of design and statistical analysis in many of the studies is questionable. The German Commission E monograph proposes a daily dosage of 1 to 2 g of the crude medication, or 200 to 600 mg of standardized extracts (calculated to 4 to 7 percent ginsenosides). The medication is used as a tonic to counteract weakness and fatigue, as a restorative for declining stamina, impaired concentration, and as an aid to convalescence.'

Another problem is the herb's relative safety. Much of the concern for toxic side effects stems from a 1979 report by Siegel of a so-called ginseng abuse syndrome in a group of 133 ginseng users. Because of its faulty methodology and lack of even a uniform definition of ginseng, the study has now been thoroughly discredited. Nevertheless, it continues to be cited in the literature with some frequency. Reports attributing estrogenic (female hormone like) effects to ginseng have been analyzed by Farnsworth. He has concluded that none of them provides any experimental evidence to support such activity. Probably the best documented side effects of ginseng are insomnia, and to a lesser degree, diarrhea, and skin eruptions. Unfortunately, many of the cases reporting other effects have failed to document either the species of ginseng employed or the dose. Even the prolonged or excessive use of ginseng appears to involve relatively low risk.

How is Ginseng Used?
The root is prepared in a variety of methods; whole root, root slices, powder, capsules of powder, caplets (pressure-packed powder), extracts/tinctures, root tea bags, instant teas (extracts sprayed with glucose), pasty concentrated extracts for beverages. In extracts/tinctures, ginseng is often coupled with other herbs for more well-rounded restorative effects (such as bee pollen, astralagus, royal jelly and honey). Depending on ones preferences, any of these preparations are suitable for the purposes of reinvigorating the body and mind.

Why do people take Ginseng?
Ginseng, traditionally, has been used for a plethora of reasons--ranging from supporting mental well-being to aiding sexual function. For thousands of years, ginseng has been highly sought after to boost energy levels and for its adaptogenic properties in helping people respond better to stress related conditions, support the immune system, and to balance and restore the body and mind.

When do people take Ginseng?
Ginseng can be taken at anytime of day. In order to obtain the optimal absorption, many people take ginseng on an empty stomach (such as before breakfast).

How long before benefits are noticed?
The benefits vary from person to person because of different body types and lifestyles. As with any dietary regiment, results don't happen overnight; the best results come out of established good habits. Generally, people notice ginseng's effects anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months of regular use.

Six principles of ginseng
Chinese uses three basic polarities to assess the state of a patient. Bear in mind that almost no patient is purely of one type, but will usually fall toward one end of a spectrum on the polarities of 'excess vs. deficiency,' 'hot vs. cold,' and 'exterior vs. interior.' The Chinese also have another five-phase method of constitutional evaluation, but the six principles will suffice for the purposes of understanding how to take ginseng and the tonic herbs. These herbs are used in China for cold, deficiency, and interior patterns, and are avoided or used with caution in hot, excess, and exterior conditions.

Excess vs. Deficiency
The most important guide for the use of ginseng and other tonic herbs is the 'excess vs. deficiency' polarity. Note that 'deficiency' as a Chinese term may have no relation to 'deficiency' in Western , such as 'calcium deficiency.' The Chinese term is sometimes translated as 'vacuity' or 'emptiness.' Ginseng and tonics are contraindicated in excess conditions, which might be worsened by taking these herbs. Ginseng and other tonics, on the other hand, are the ideal treatment for deficiency patterns. One kind of deficiency pattern that requires caution in using tonics, especially Chinese ginseng, is deficiency with heat signs. Chinese ginseng is contraindicated in patterns which include heat signs.

Hot vs. Cold
The hot patient does not necessary run a fever, but you can take one look and see the heat. They usually feel hot subjectively, even if their temperature is 98.6°F. They may have a red face, and may be agitated and restless; their pulse will usually be fast. Cold patients may likewise have a normal body temperature, but they will feel cold. They will be pale, and their pulse will be slow. Asian ginseng and other warming tonics are not appropriate for self-medication in deficient patients with heat signs. American ginseng, on the other hand, is ideal for the hot and deficient patient. Tonic herbs are classified as heating or cooling, and are selected for a particular patient on the basis of signs of cold or heat, respectively.

Exterior vs. Interior
The terms 'exterior' and 'interior' refer to the area of the body where symptoms are predominant. Exterior patterns have a concentration of symptoms at the surface of the body: the skin, muscles, and mucous membranes. Most common acute illnesses, such as colds or flu, allergies, muscle and joint aches, headaches, and skin rashes, are exterior. Other complaints without such external manifestations are considered to be interior. Ginseng and other tonics are contraindicated in all exterior conditions, which the herbs may aggravate. This means that if you are taking ginseng and you catch a cold, you should stop taking the ginseng until the acute condition passes. Exterior and interior patterns may also be characterized by heat or cold, be aware that pronounced surface symptoms usually contraindicate ginseng and other tonic herbs. Also note that if you have an illness, you should consult a physician, whether Western or Chinese, rather than attempting to self medicate with tonic herbs.

How ginseng works
Researchers have identified actions of different ginseng constituents throughout the body on many organs and glands. But they cannot explain exactly how these effects occur at a biochemical level. Ginseng's constituents are so diverse that precise knowledge of how it works is beyond the scope of current science. It may even seem impossible that ginseng, a single herb, could have so many physiological effects. But an explanation may lie in the role of hormones in regulating the body, and in ginseng's effects on these hormones.


The Hypothalamus
All the aspects of the body that ginseng seems to affect-stress, fatigue, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, body temperature, sexual function, detoxification, and immunity-are regulated by hormones produced in the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. Among these, the hypothalamus, located in the lower brain, is the controller. The hypothalamus constantly monitors the state of the body as well as external threats to it. It receives input from both the body and the brain. The hypothalamus can monitor hormone levels, blood pressure, water balance, blood sugar, and many other physiological parameters. It will also respond when the subconscious mind perceives a stressful situation. The hypothalamus responds to both mental and physiological stimuli.

The Pituitary and Adrenal Glands
The hypothalamus controls the pituitary gland, which acts like its executive officer and in turn controls functions such as metabolism, appetite, body temperature, and water balance. The hypothalamus coordinates these key functions in a harmonious way, while the pituitary carries out its instructions. The hypothalamus also has a direct controlling influence, without its pituitary intermediary, on sexuality, growth, and reproduction. One of the most important secretions of the pituitary is a hormone that activates the adrenal glands, the glands responsible for the 'fight or flight' reaction. When the brain perceives a threat to survival, the hypothalamus activates the pituitary, which in turn activates the adrenal glands to flood the body with stress hormones. These stress hormones, in turn, instruct the pituitary that they are doing their job, and prevent further stimulation by the pituitary. Scientists call the interaction of these three glands the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. Although the precise mechanism is not known, some ginseng researchers now assume that the activity of ginseng and related adaptogens is primarily on this hormonal system. The hormones have wide-ranging controlling effects on the body, and if ginseng can modify them, that would explain its similarly wide-ranging effects.

Ginseng and the adrenal glands
Ginseng's relation to the adrenal glands is well documented. Ginseng normally increases resistance to stress, but it loses much of this property in animals if their adrenal glands have been removed. Thus, ginseng may act through the intermediary of the adrenal glands, either directly or through the hypothalamus' controlling function. In normal animals under stress, ginseng stimulates production of stress hormones. When the stress stops, however, the adrenals stop producing the hormones faster than in animals who have not taken ginseng. But if stress is prolonged, the adrenals of ginseng-treated animals will conserve the stress hormones in order to prolong endurance. Thus, the overall effect of ginseng and other adaptogens on the adrenals is to make them more efficient and more adaptable to stress. Whether these effects are solely on the adrenal glands, or whether the hypothalamus and pituitary are somehow also involved, has not been determined by scientists.

Sensitizing the hypothalamus
A ginseng researcher from Great Britain, performed an experiment that hints at a possible role of ginseng in sensitizing the hypothalamus to make it more efficient. If this is the case, this single action could explain ginseng's effect on the sex glands (which are directly controlled by the hypothalamus), on the pituitary and adrenal glands, and indirectly on all the target organ tissues that these glands regulate. In experiment, laboratory rats had their adrenal glands and ovaries removed to eliminate any possibility of internal production of stress steroids. They were then divided into two groups, one group receiving ginseng for eight days, and the other receiving a placebo. The animals were then injected with corticosterone, the main stress hormone. The hormone was 'tagged' chemically so that the researchers could find out exactly where it went in the body. Among the ginseng-treated rats, up to seven times as much corticosterone was deposited in the area of the brain around the hypothalamus, as compared to the placebo group. The hypothalamus normally has a feedback loop for corticosterone; when it detects elevated levels, it takes action to balance them. Ginseng may sensitize the hypothalamus to this feedback loop, increasing the efficiency of its stress controlling function. A ginseng researcher hypothesizes that this 'priming' of the hypothalamus initiates hormonal secretions which also improve the efficiency of the brain.

How to prepare ginseng
You can take ginseng and other herbs in six main forms: raw, slightly cooked, or as a tea, wine, powder, or extract.

Ginseng roots
Whole ginseng roots are readily available in Chinese stores. One advantage to buying ginseng roots whole is that at least you know you have ginseng. Ginseng comes in many grades, and some are much more potent than others. If you are buying from a reputable dealer, the medicinal quality will be reflected by the price. Western store owners often do not know how to buy good quality roots, and some Chinese dealers will try to pass off an inexpensive root to the naive buyer as a higher quality one.

Eating ginseng
Eating ginseng raw or lightly steamed has the advantage that you know you are getting all the constituents. Whole roots are hard to cut; if you steam them for a few minutes, cutting is easier. Cut them in slices about the thickness of a nickel. Cut up the whole root, or it will dry out and you'll have to steam it again. The dose for the average person is one or two of these thin slices a day. You can pour honey over the sliced roots and keep them in the refrigerator in a closed container. You can also buy the root in a pre-sliced form. Some Korean products come in this form. The slices are gram for gram less expensive than the whole root. The weights of individual roots range from about five grams to an ounce.

Powdered ginseng
Ginseng is easier to digest in powder form than are the root slices. You can also put the powder in gelatin capsules, which are available in most health food stores. You can also mix the ginseng powder with other powdered herbs to make a formula. Ginseng powders can be purchased in herbal stores.

Making a tea of the roots has the advantage that you can easily mix other herbs with it. It is common in China to add three to five jujube dates to a ginseng root tea. Other herbs, such as licorice root, astragalus, Po-Ti, dong quai, or schizandra berries, can also be added to make a simple tonic formula. Ginseng is much too expensive to prepare like a regular tea. Ginseng should be cooked in a covered double boiler. The Chinese use a small porcelain container called a ginseng cooker, which takes the place of the top portion of a double boiler. It holds enough water for about two cups of tea. It has an inner lid that covers the top to keep valuable ginseng constituents from evaporating, and a second domed lid that fits over that, creating an insulating air space between the first and the second lids. These cookers are quite inexpensive and can be found in any Chinese store. You can also use a pint canning jar with a lid for the same purpose by placing the covered jar with its ginseng and water contents in a large pot of boiling water. The point of the cooker or jar is to keep the ginseng tea from boiling, which can cause the loss of some of its constituents.

Use about six grams of ginseng and some water in the cooker or in a jar in a pot of boiling water, and cook the tea for about two hours, adding water to the pot as it boils away if necessary. If you don't want to worry about watching the water level, use a crock pot on a low setting instead of a pot on the stove. Cook the ginseng about an hour longer in the crock pot than you would on the stove.

Remove the tea, and drink half of it as a daily dose. Don't throwaway the ginseng root and other herbs yet. The first boiling extracts the constituents from the outer part of the root, but does not reach the interior. To prepare for the second boiling, cut the root up into small slices, exposing the core of the root. Then repeat the cooking process two more times, for a total of three boilings. Thus you can get six doses of the tea from a single root. If you start to feel over stimulated by this dose, or start to develop any of the adverse effects of ginseng, take a break for a week, and repeat taking a fourth or a third of the contents of the cooker or jar as a daily dose.

Ginseng wines
In China, a common way to take ginseng and some other tonic herbs is to soak them in wine and then drink the wine. The traditional liquor is rice wine, but any wine or strong liquor will do. Wine itself is considered medicinal in China, in doses of an ounce. Wines 'moves' the blood, promoting circulation, and thus makes a good complement to tonic herbs.

To make a ginseng-wine preparation, chop or thinly slice about three ounces of ginseng root and let them soak in the liquor for five or six weeks. Keep the mixture in a dark, cool place, and shake it up every day or two. When it's ready, remember that this is a , and not a regular alcoholic beverage. Overindulgence can easily cause over stimulation.

Other tonic herbs that are suitable for making such wines are deer antler, Eleuthero root, Fo-Ti, schizandra berries, and rehmannia. Add a little fennel seed or cardamom along with rehmannia to promote digestion and circulation. You can also mix these herbs with ginseng in the wine.

The Chinese organ systems
Ginseng's remarkable medicinal action, from the Chinese point of view, is that to some extent it can benefit all the organ systems, while most tonics only benefit a few.

The names of the Chinese organ systems can be confusing, because, when translated, they have the same names as Western physical organs. Chinese , which evolved in a culture that discouraged cutting open the physical body, defines functional systems and relationships that often have no apparent connection to each other from the Western point of view. The Chinese Heart (xin), for instance, includes the physical heart, the propulsion of blood throughout the body, the tongue, the complexion of the face, and the conscious mind. Herbal or acupuncture treatments for this Heart system might benefit physical heart disease, or might just as readily be given for forgetfulness, excessive dreaming, or insomnia-disorders of the consciousness. The Chinese might not say that the physical heart has a direct cause-and effect relationship with the conscious mind, yet even in the West, we recognize that a shock to the conscious mind can affect the heart.

Just as the Chinese developed a functional definition of chi, over many centuries they observed functional relationships in the body and psyche that they defined as organ systems.

Organ Chi
An overall chi deficiency may manifest itself primarily in one or several organs. Ginseng, or one of its substitutes, is invariably prescribed by Chinese physicians in formulas to treat deficient organ function when there is an overall chi deficiency. If you have a physical disease, or any serious disorder, you should probably not self-medicate with these herbs.

Imbalances of chi in the organs can be complex. For instance, if chi is not flowing properly, it may be deficient in one organ system, but in excess in another. In this case, if you took ginseng or tonics, you might help the deficient organ, but you might also increase the excess in the other, increasing your discomfort. A trained acupuncturist can ensure that the chi of the organs is properly balanced, and can recommend tonic formulas tailored to your particular body type and condition.

The Divine Husbandman's Classic, the oldest book of Chinese herbal , says that Asian ginseng is used for 'repairing the 5 viscera.' Although Oriental recognizes 12 organ systems, 5 are considered the most important: the Spleen, the Lung, the Liver, the Heart, and the Kidney. Remember that the Chinese concept of an organ system includes far more than the physical organ. Each of the Chinese organ systems has a pattern of influence that affects the entire body in one way or another.

The spleen
In order to understand how the Chinese use ginseng and other chi tonics, the Spleen is the most important organ to learn. The organ chi of the Spleen-'Spleen chi'-is like the power supply of the Spleen itself. It drives Spleen functions that have far-reaching effects in the body. The Spleen chi transforms food into chi and blood. It sends this transmuted food essence up to the lungs, where chi from the air is added to it and blood is formed. Spleen chi also transports the generated chi and blood to the muscles and the flesh. And finally, Spleen chi keeps blood in its proper channels.

If the Spleen chi itself is deficient, or otherwise not functioning properly, a wide array of physical disorders can result. An overall chi deficiency, blood deficiency, or chronic fatigue may occur. The digestion can become poor, and abdominal bloating or diarrhea can follow. The muscles can become weak, and the body thin and emaciated. Heavy menstrual bleeding or other bleeding disorders can occur. Although these varied symptoms have no apparent relationship to one other according to Western , Chinese doctors treat them successfully with acupuncture and herbal treatments to the Spleen, and appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes.

The Spleen chi is most easily thrown into disorder by improper diet and eating habits. Poor quality food, heavy or greasy food, meals eaten in a hurry or at the wrong time of day, food allergies, or a diet improper for an individual's constitution can all disrupt the Spleen and cause any of the above symptoms. Once the Spleen chi is deficient, a vicious cycle can occur: the deficient Spleen produces less chi, overall chi deficiency develops, and the Spleen chi then has even less chi with which to do its work. This is why great emphasis is placed on diet and digestion in Chinese and other systems of natural healing.

One of Asian ginseng's primary functions is as a tonic to Spleen chi, the power supply of the Spleen. Ginseng directly benefits overall chi, and also tones up the chi generating properties of the Spleen. But in order for ginseng to do its work, the digestive system must be in shape. In Chinese practice, digestive herbs such as poria, licorice, jujube dates, or ginger are included in a formula with ginseng to ensure this. Other Chinese herbs, such as atractylodes, are even better tonics to Spleen chi than Asian ginseng, but these other herbs do not have the wide-ranging effects that ginseng does on overall chi and on the other organ systems.

The lung
Asian ginseng is also a tonic to the Lung. The Lung takes in external chi from the air and mixes it with chi derived from food by the Spleen. The Lung also circulates protective chi to the surface of the body, where it controls sweating and the immune system at the surface of the body. The rhythmic motion of the Lung ensures the rhythmic circulation of chi throughout the body. The Lung also has a role in disseminating moisture throughout the body, particularly to the skin. It also drives liquids down toward the Kidney.

Thus, if Lung chi-the vital power that allows breathing and the dissemination of protective chi and moisture -is deficient, improper circulation can cause deficient or stagnant chi in other parts of the body. An individual may develop poor resistance to colds and flu, or may sweat spontaneously with little exertion. The skin may become very dry. A chronic cough or shortness of breath may develop. Even urinary problems may develop.

Part of Asian ginseng's great power as a chi tonic comes from the fact that it benefits both the Spleen and the Lung, the two main partners in chi-generation. Codonopsis, a ginseng substitute used in China, also acts as a tonic for these two organs, and some practitioners hold that it does so even better than ginseng. Astragalus, a Chinese herb, is a premier Lung tonic that strengthens the circulation of protective chi by the Lung.

The heart
Another benefit of Asian ginseng, which is not shared by the other tonics to the Spleen and Lung, is its beneficial action on the Heart. In the Chinese system, the functions of the Heart include those of the physical heart organ and the arteries; the Heart circulates the blood. But just as important, the Heart pattern includes the conscious mind. When the Heart is disturbed, physical symptoms such as palpitations or irregular heartbeat may occur. Mental symptoms such as clouded mind, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, or excessive dreaming may also appear. In fact, the mental symptoms even without the accompanying physical symptoms will be treated through the Heart in Chinese . Heart symptoms often accompany deficiency syndromes, and ginseng has a specific calming effect on the mental symptoms.

The liver
The Liver is not directly affected by ginseng, except through its overall chi- and blood-building properties. The Liver is described in one Chinese classical text as 'the general of the army,' because it directs the chi, the blood, and even the emotions to flow in an orderly manner. When the Liver is not operating properly, chi or blood may become stagnant or erratically excessive, and a person might feel emotionally 'stuck' as well. Frustration, anger, and outbursts of rage are common symptoms of a Liver disharmony. The Liver has a smoothing effect on the flow of chi, blood, and emotions. The Liver also affects digestion by controlling the flow of bile through the Gall Bladder, and it affects blood flow to the periphery of the body during activity and back to the internal organs during rest.

It is important that the Liver be functioning properly if you want to use ginseng or other tonic herbs. Anger, frustration, and tension are common side effects in people who use ginseng improperly. Herbs to benefit the liver are often included in chi and blood tonic formulas to aid their effectiveness.

The kidney
Understanding the Kidney is central to understanding the action of yin and yang tonic herbs. The herbs like astragalus, codonopsis, dong quai, Eleuthero, he shou wu, licorice, royal jelly, are most often used to treat sexual weakness, lower back pain, and premature aging, among other symptoms. According to modern medical texts, Asian ginseng does not directly affect the Kidney, but its reputation as a sexual tonic, stress-reliever, and metabolism-enhancer indicate that it influences the Kidney indirectly. Ginseng, or one of its substitutes, is often included in formulas to strengthen the kidney function.

The Kidney is considered to be the seat of life. It governs reproduction, as well as the growth, maturation, and maintenance of the entire body and of each organ system. The heat of the Kidney is the source of metabolic fire that rules both water balance and overall metabolism. These functions correspond to the actions of the hypothalamus, adrenal, and pituitary glands in Western . People with deficient Kidney function may become cold or may develop water imbalances or reproductive disorders. The Kidney works with the lungs to control breathing; Kidney deficiency can sometimes cause shortness of breath or chronic cough. The Kidney also rules the development and health of the bones; bone disorders such as osteoporosis are treated through the Kidney in Chinese . Because the Kidney also governs the ears and the hearing, deafness and tinnitus are treated through this organ.

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