Consider this part two of our run down on the different types of Ginseng.
Eleuthero Root as a Green Superfood
Eleuthero root is a type of ginseng plant found in northeast Asia. Its scientific name is Eleutherococcus senticocus, commonly abbreviated to E. senticocus. It’s also nicknamed Siberian Ginseng, since it’s commonly found in North Korea and throughout the Russian wilderness. Some poeple just call it plain ol’ Eleuthero. It’s important to note that ‘Siberian Ginseng’ or Eleutherococcus senticocus is not the same thing as Panax ginseng, which is the most common form of ginseng. Some folks think the world of herbal medicine would be better if the term ginseng wasn’t used at all when describing E. senticocus, because it too often causes the herb to get lumped in with other plants that do entirely different things.
Eleuthero Root as an Adaptogen
Siberian ginseng is fairly new to western culture, but it’s been used as a medicinal herb for many years in Korean and Russian folklore. Heart disease, the common cold, arthritis, increased energy, and a heightened mental state are all some of the purported health benefits of Eleuthero root according to our elders.
Eleuthero root is often referred to as an “adaptogen,” which is a fairly ambiguous term for an ingredient that has widespread health benefits. You know, the kind of thing that just makes you feel better when you take it. A slightly more involved answer is that an adaptogen is a metabolic regulator which reduces the impact of stressors by reducing the reactivity of the immune system and stimulating the central nervous system. The term adaptogen was coined by Russian scientists in the 1950′s to describe substances that improve the condition of both healthy and sick people without adverse consequences.
Research and Health Benefits
A lot of studies have been done on Eleuthero root in the last 15 years. All the stories from the east piqued our curiousity, and researchers have been poking sticks at the herb to separate myth from fact and discover useful ways to use the plant. Among the subjects covered are its effect on the immune system, its anti-oxidant capacity, its effect on our cognition and memory, and its ability to improve our athletic performance, among others.
Unfortunately for us, a lot of research done on Siberian Ginseng is in Russian and Chinese journals which are either obscure or not translated very well, creating a blind spot in our understanding of the herb. However, the west has done a decent job de-constructing the plant.
So far, eleuthero root seems to these positive qualities to it:
- It can help lower blood sugar
- It can help treat the common cold
- It’s an immune system stimulant
- It helps improve memory and energy levels
Some of its other claims, such as its ability to improve athletic performance or improve overall quality of life, have not withstood the scientific gauntlet so far. That doesn’t mean these things *can’t* be true, but studies done so far haven’t pinned anything down. (Of course, if these claims *are* true, why aren’t they showing up when people go looking for them?)
Antioxidant Capacity, Insulin, Syringin, and Athletic Performance
A lot of the good effects of eleuthero have been attributed to its free-radical scavenging activities, (ie, it’s a powerful anti-oxidant). Among them are its ability to increase immune cell production and treat the common cold. In particular, Eleuthero has displayed an ability to scavenges a molecule called hypochlorite. Most of the anti-oxidant activity in Eleuthero has been traced to its polyphenol content.
Studies conducted on humans and rats suggest that Eleuthero may improve memory performance , at least in the short run. For example, a study published in Phytomedicine found that people given an adaptogen cocktail including Eleuthero performed better at a variety of mental tasks when they were tired. None of these studies are slam dunks, but they do suggest some effect is there.
A number of studies performed with rats suggest Eleuthero can help improve your body’s insulin response. In one study hypoglycemic rats treated with an eleuthero extract displayed reduced insulin levels after 30 minutes. It’s believed the effect is achieved because of a compound called syringin that’s found in Eleuthero. Syringin causes your body to release a chemical called acetylcholine, which then stimulates certain receptors in pancreas cells which cause your body to produce more insulin, which lowers your blood sugar.
While the research linking Siberian ginseng with improved athletic performance is scarce, I know of one study that showed fit males increased their endurance after taking Eleuthero for 8 weeks. That doesn’t overturn the other evidence that suggests its effect is “meh”, but it’s something.
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