Ginseng is one of the most well-known and widely used herbal medicines in the world. It holds a prominent position in traditional Oriental medicine. Ginseng is said to treat a wide variety of ailments. Its roots have been used for thousands of years to boost energy, relieve stress, and bring about total body balance.
More recently, ginseng has been investigated as a therapy to help:
- control blood sugar
- improve circulation
- bolster immunity
- improve stamina
- increase resistance to stress
Scientists have identified a wide range of chemical components in ginseng such as:
- volatile oils fatty acids
Among these compounds, ginsenosides, a group of saponins, have been reported to be the most active component in ginseng and responsible for its medicinal value. More than 60 ginsenosides were detected in different parts of ginseng (2).
How can Ginseng Help People Stricken with Diabetes?
1. Ginseng reducing blood glucose
Scientific studies and clinical studies have reported that ginseng is able to lower blood glucose in diabetic patients. Surprisingly, in some cases, non-diabetic individuals were also benefited from the intake of ginseng through stabilizing glucose levels after meals.
These studies suggesting ginseng could benefit healthy individuals. The secret behind such great effect is that ginseng not only effects your pancreas to produce more insulin but also modulate your liver, intestine, adipose tissue, and muscles. All these organs work efficiently, under ginseng control to lower glucose levels. Therefore, ginseng might mediate its anti-diabetic actions in different ways (2).
2. Ginseng Enhancing pancreas
Growing evidence of scientific studies and lab tests indicate that ginseng help reduces high glucose level by enhancing pancreatic β-cell activity to secrete more insulin. Professor Luguang and his colleague in their 2006 study report that ginseng extracts can amend the cellular metabolism in cultured pancreatic cells to increase insulin production and reduce their death.
Some earlier reports to this study showed that insulin deficiency is often linked to the lack of ATP, the energy battery of our cells, in the cells. Professor Luguang says that Ginseng extracts improved the ATP production in their study and, in turn, produced more insulin and reduced some proteins which negatively controls insulin secretion (2).
Apoptosis, regulated cell death, is one of the common causes of B-cell reduced activities. This process is regulated by factors such as Bcl-2 which protects against apoptosis. Ginseng can decrease apoptosis by provoking cell protective Bcl-2 protein levels, resulting in protecting cells against apoptosis (2).
3. Modulating intestine
You know that your intestine is the door through which insulin can enter your body. So, what if we find a drug that can shut down or hinder the entrance of glucose through your intestine. Of course, it will be of great help for diabetics who suffer from restricted diets.
Look no further. In 2001, a study reported that ginseng might ameliorate high glucose levels by reducing intestinal glucose absorption. In another later study, patients who consumed 6 grams of ginseng extract showed about a 30% decrease in their glycemic response after consuming a meal (3).
This great response is of great benefit to anybody looking to get control over their blood sugar. So, ginseng may help you to remove the limits on your diets by preventing glucose from entering your body (4).
4. Regulating liver
Another source of the blood glucose is your liver. Your liver store glucose in the form of glycogen. Also, it can convert fat and protein into glucose. Some scientific studies found that ginseng can manipulate the liver enzymes. Among hepatic enzymes, glucose-6-phosphatase, which is responsible for liberating the stored sugar in your liver, leading to high glucose level. Further, ginseng’s ginsenoside can suppress the hepatic gluconeogenesis. Through gluconeogenesis, your liver converts non-sugar compounds into glucose. Which means that ginseng completely perturbates the glucose release from your liver (4).
5. Enhancing of glucose uptake and consumption
Your muscle cells need glucose to produce the energy required for your daily activity and respiration. The excess glucose should be stored in the liver and fat cells in the adipose tissue. Unfortunately, being a diabetic means that your fat cells and muscle’s glucose intake are not effective due to the chronic low level of insulin.
Ginseng, fortunately, compensate the insulin resistance on adipose and muscle cells. This occurs through activating glucose receptor to draw glucose molecules from the bloodstream into the cells. Also, ginseng increase the cells’ insulin sensitivity, which would greatly be helpful for type 2 diabetes patients (4).
In 2003, Wang and his team noticed that glucose-lowering activity of ginseng might not only be due to its effect on the pancreas. They found that the increase in insulin level occurred only at first hour after ginseng intake, while the hypoglycemic action of ginseng usually lasts up to 16 hours.
In their study, ginseng glycol-peptides decreased both the level of blood lactic acid, which means that your krebs cycle is highly active. Through Krebs cycle, your cells burn glucose to produce energy. Ginseng activates four important enzymes that regulate this cycle, namely, CTS, MDH, SDH, and CCO. This increased speed up the consumption of glucose, which in turn will lower the level of blood glucose (5).
6. Decrease lipid breakdown
Your liver can use stored fat to produce glucose. Here is come another great benefit of ginseng; ginseng has the ability to target various glucose receptors in the fat cells to block the fat break down. So, there will be no fat for the liver to form glucose (2).
Heart disease and stroke are the primary cause of diabetes-associated deaths. High blood cholesterol and lipids are causes of major cardiovascular problems. Scientists demonstrated the anti-hypercholesterolemic efficacy of ginseng ginsenoside on diabetic rats and humans.
Ginseng can produce a great reduction in the total cholesterol level, back to normal levels, after a two-week treatment period. Apart from hypercholesterolemia, increased blood triglyceride level is also another great risk.
Diabetic patients have problems in storing cholesterol and lipids and tend to have higher blood levels of them. Recently, one study reported that after two-week treatment ginseng alleviated the high-fat levels (2).
8. Ginseng as Anti-Oxidant
Aside from its anti-diabetic effects, ginseng provides your health with a golden package of many weapons to support your body. As you know, diabetes is associated with an elevated level of oxidative stress. Persistent high sugar level leads to increased production of free radicals, the molecules that attack our cells and DNA. Glutathione, the main cellular antioxidant.
Many studies proved that ginseng has a great antioxidant effect. In one study, glutathione, the primary cellular antioxidant, levels in the kidney, eye, and aorta of diabetic anima elevated after receiving ginseng. In the same study, the scientist found that ginseng decreased the concentration of malondialdehyde, an indicator lipid peroxidation, attacking by free radicals. Ginseng extracts can also attack active oxidative compounds that lead to lipid peroxidation.
In another study, ginseng reduced oxidative damage caused by H2O2 and enhances the activity of many antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase to create a protective effect. Ginseng, therefore, can detoxify free radicals produced in diabetic conditions, thus, protecting the most affected organs by diabetes complications: kidney, eye, and blood vessels (2).
Ginseng – Anti-inflammatory effect
Inflammation makes the situation worse in diabetic patients. It leads to many complications in kidney, heart, and nervous system. As a complementary effect to its anti-diabetic action, ginseng can reduce inflammation as well.
One study examined the effects of ginseng extract on 18 young male athletes who take 2 grams of ginseng extract three times/ day for seven days. The scientist then examined the levels of certain inflammatory markers after performing an exercise test.
These levels were greatly lower, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing, proving the beneficial effect of ginseng as an anti-inflammatory herb. In another clinical trial with 30 people, 60 mg/kg/day ginseng intake after greatly reduced inflammatory cytokines after chemotherapy. Moreover, the scientists subjected immune cells with extract of ginseng.
They found that of some ginsenosides that could selectively inhibit expression of the inflammatory gene CXCL-10. One of these ginsenosides is Rg3 which can metabolize by human intestinal microflora and transform to ginsenoside Rh2 which has an anti-allergic. Other ginsenosides have a potent inhibitory effect against TNF-alpha and many cytokines such as IL-2, IL-12, and IFN-gamma (6).
Ginseng Prevent diabetic complications
What about other diabetic problems? Ginseng, surprisingly, is able to prevent many diabetic complications. Researchers examined the effects of ginseng intake on tissues from retina, heart, and kidney. In these tissues, ginseng extract prevented oxidative damage and inflammations. What’s more Ginseng treatment help enhance the heart’s functions and modulate blood (2).
Ginseng has an Anti-Obesity Effect
Obesity is a common problem in patients suffering from diabetes. It causes many health problems. Ginseng is among a few other herbs that can help you lose weight. Many scientific studies and human trials noticed a lose of weight in the experimental animals and treated humans. From this, we can conclude that due to its effect on our metabolic process, especially fat metabolism, ginseng is a good choice if you need a hand to lose weight (2).
Ginseng is a promising candidate for antidiabetic drugs. Clinical data are still emerging every day, which support antidiabetic efficacy of ginseng. These benefits occurred without causing adverse events or altering any organ’s functions.