Eleuthero Root: Health Benefits, Facts, and Myths

Consider this part two of our run down on the different types of Ginseng.

Eleuthero Root Health Benefits

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.

History of Eleuthero

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:

  • Anti-oxidant
  • 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.

Sources:

Lee D, Park J, Yoon J, Kim MY, Choi HY, Kim H. Neuroprotective effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus bark on transient global cerebral ischemia in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 May 27. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 21645606.

Aslanyan G, Amroyan E, Gabrielyan E, Nylander M, Wikman G, Panossian A. Double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study of single dose effects of ADAPT-232 on cognitive functions. Phytomedicine. 2010 Jun;17(7):494-9. Epub 2010 Apr 5. PubMed PMID: 20374974

Kuo J, Chen KW, Cheng IS, Tsai PH, Lu YJ, Lee NY. The effect of eight weeks of supplementation with Eleutherococcus senticosus on endurance capacity and metabolism in human. Chin J Physiol. 2010 Apr 30;53(2):105-11. PubMed PMID: 21793317.

Arushanian EB. [Therapeutic potential of ginseng root preparations in treating diabetes mellitus]. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2009 Nov-Dec;72(6):52-6. Review. Russian. PubMed PMID: 20095403.

Panossian A, Wikman G. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity.Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219. Epub 2009 Sep 1. Review. PubMed PMID: 19500070.

Park SH, Kim SK, Shin IH, Kim HG, Choe JY. Effects of AIF on Knee Osteoarthritis Patients: Double-blind, Randomized Placebo-controlled Study.Korean J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009 Feb;13(1):33-7. Epub 2009 Feb 28.

Liu KY, Wu YC, Liu IM, Yu WC, Cheng JT. Release of acetylcholine by syringin, an active principle of Eleutherococcus senticosus, to raise insulin secretion in Wistar rats. Neurosci Lett. 2008 Mar 28;434(2):195-9

Niu HS, Liu IM, Cheng JT, Lin CL, Hsu FL. Hypoglycemic effect of syringin from Eleutherococcus senticosus in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Planta Med. 2008 Feb;74(2):109-13.

Chen TS, Liou SY, Chang YL. Antioxidant evaluation of three adaptogen extracts. Am J Chin Med. 2008

Panossian A, Wagner H. Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytother Res. 2005

Davydov M, Krikorian AD. Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. & Maxim.) Maxim. (Araliaceae) as an adaptogen: a closer look. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Oct;72(3):345-93

Roxas M, Jurenka J. Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48. Review.

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Comments

  1. Does age make a difference? I am well into my 70s & don’t want to take it if it will bother me!!!

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Eleuthero, as far as I know, isn’t age specific. I’d start small (maybe adding a small spoonful into tea) and slowly build your way up.

  2. Lexster Collins RN says:

    Can you proof read this paragraph and tell me if you have said what you intend. It seems to say two things:
    “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.”

    You say hypoglycemic rats had reduced insulin after 30 minutes. Then say Syringin causes the pancreas to produce more insulin. I think you have hypoglycemia and might have meant to say hyperglycemia and reduced blood glucose.
    Thank you Lester RN

    • Jonathan Bechtel says:

      Lester,

      You’re right, it wasn’t written correctly. About 12,000 people have read this and you’re the first one to have pointed it out to me. Thanks! Will get corrected in the AM.

      • I saw the same thing in the immune system report! “by reducing the reactivity of the immune system” or “It’s an immune system stimulant” It is confusing.

        Then it says “In one study hypoglycemic rats treated with an eleuthero extract displayed reduced insulin levels after 30 minutes.” is desirable. The problem with the hypoglycemic rat is insulin levels that are too high, causing the hypoglycemia. Also, if insulin levels are reduced, the hypoglycemia will normalize. Contrary to that, “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” is undesirable because the sugar is already low. Both cannot be happening at the same time. If the acetylcholine causes insulin release, it would throw the rat into hypoglycemic shock, with even lower blood sugar levels. Now, if it causes glucagon (hormone that increases blood sugar) release, the sugar will increase and normalize. Changing the hypoglycemia to hyperglycemia will not fix the contradictions.

      • I forgot to add that acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is release by the nerves at the electrical connection of the nerves. So, it is a stimulation of certain nerve endings that affect the hormone release from the islands if cells called the islets of Langerhans, in the pancreas. Those islets contain both cells that produce both insulin and glucagon.

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    Eleuthero Root: Health Benefits, Facts, and Myths

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