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Ginseng - An Overview of its Health ProfileBY: Divya Narayan | Category: Others | Submitted: 2014-02-15 07:34:48
Article Summary: "Ginseng is one of the 11 species of plants belonging to the Panax genus. Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant having fleshy roots..."
WHAT IS GINSENG?
Ginseng is one of the 11 species of plants belonging to the Panax genus. Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial plant having fleshy roots.
Ginseng possesses adaptogenic properties, and is characterized by the presence of steroid glycosides, known as ginsenosides. 
Types of Ginseng
There are various types of ginseng, each having its individual characteristics - 
The above types of ginseng are the ones which are present in the Panax genus.
There are other "varieties" of ginseng, which while not technically part of the Panax genus, yet are still considered so as they possess adaptogenic properties - similar to true ginseng. 
MECHANISM OF ACTION OF GINSENG TO BOOST HEALTH
There are two different mechanisms of action followed by ginsenosides (contained in ginseng) so as to boost health - 
→ Ginsenosides and the Plasma Membrane - Plasma membrane of cells is made of a lipoprotein bilayer. Ginsenosides may interact with the polar heads of the membrane lipoproteins, and alter the lipid environment of the plasma membrane. The protein structure and profile of the membrane bilayer gets modified as well. Therefore, ginsenosides can interact with the receptors present on the cell membrane.
On interacting with these receptors, the catecholamine secreted by the Ca2+ channels of the adrenal gland is inhibited. This explains the anti-stress activity of ginseng.
Several ginsenosides increase the sensitivity of these cellular receptors to chemotherapeutic drugs in the case of cancer cells.
→ Genomic Effects of Ginsenosides - Ginsenosides can traverse the plasma membrane of cells, and enter the nucleus of cells. Ginsenosides can affect the transcription of mRNA, as well as protein synthesis.
Oral administration of ginsenosides can induce apoptosis of tumour cells as well as enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), which act against oxygen free radicals.
Uses and Health Benefits of Ginseng
Main Uses of Ginseng -  
• The root is the most widely-used part of the plant, either in the complete form or in the sliced form. Leaves of ginseng may also be used.
• Ginseng is used as a medicinal plant in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
• It is used for culinary purposes as a decoction for flavouring tea, coffee, and soups.
• Ginseng can be consumed in the form of extracts, capsules, beverages, energy drinks, etc., for enhancing wellness.
• Ginseng can be used for improving cognitive performance such as improvement of concentration, memory, etc.
• For commercial purposes, ginseng is used as a flavouring agent in soaps and cosmetics.
Health Benefits of Ginseng -   
Major Pharmacological actions of Ginseng - 
♦ Memory, Learning, Neuroprotection - Certain ginsenosides prevent memory declination, and mediate in the processes of learning, retention, enhancement of nerve growth, and protection of neurons from damage.
♦ Neurotransmitter Modulation - Ginsenosides may modulate neurotransmission by lowering the availability of neurotransmitters. Ginseng extract inhibits the uptake of neurotransmitters such as GABA, glutamate, dopamine, serotonin, etc.
♦ Other effects on CNS - Ginsenosides may also exhibit a depressing effect on the CNS, and may also display antinociceptive properties.
♦ Tumour Cell Growth and Apoptosis - In melanoma cells, it has been found that ginsenosides arrest the cell cycle at the G1 phase, as well as suppression of cyclin-dependent kinase activity. Orally- administered ginseng has been found to inhibit growth of human ovarian cancer cells and lead to a decrease in the metastasis of lung cancer cells.
♦ Antimitogenic Activity - Ginsenosides may enhance the proofreading ability of DNA polymerase and increase the activity of excinuclease. Ginsenosides may, therefore, increase the rectification of errors caused in the DNA strand during replication.
SIDE EFFECTS OF GINSENG 
• Breast tenderness, vaginal bleeding, and menstrual changes in women
• Contraindications reported with anti-diabetic drugs, warfarin, and anti-depressants
• The stimulant properties of ginseng can become enhanced in combination with caffeine
• Lack of safety evidence means that ginseng may not be safe for consumption by pregnant women and young children.
Normal dosage range of ginseng is 200-250 mg twice a day. Overdosing on ginseng can lead to the following adverse effects -
RESEARCH STUDIES -
1. Ginseng helps in the management of clinical symptoms associated with Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM). Administration of ginseng helps in reducing fasting blood glucose and body weight. 
2. On being subjected to steaming at a temperature of more than 100oC, ginseng shows an increase in the effectiveness of its chemical as well as biological activities. Certain ginsenosides which are not present in raw ginseng have been detected in steamed ginseng. The detection of these ginsenosides in steamed ginseng enhances the pharmacological action of ginseng even at higher temperatures. 
3. Ginsenosides extracted from ginseng exhibit neuroprotective effects in vitro on the spinal cord neurons. It implies that ginseng can act as effective therapy in dealing with spinal cord injuries and other neurological defects by promoting neuron survival, growth of axons, thereby, aiding in the process of recovery of neuron connections. 
4. On making a comparative study between the ginseng berry extract and the ginseng root extract, it has been found that the berry extract displays greater and more potent anti-hyperglycemic activity as compared to the root extract. 
5. Ginsenosides extracted from the root of ginseng extract possess anti-allergic properties against metabolites and enzymes such as ß-hexosaminidase released by bacteria. 
6. Panax ginseng possesses tumour inhibitory activity by displaying anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and apoptotic activities so as to influence gene expression. Tumour inhibitory activity of ginseng may also be influenced by processes such as neurotransmission and immunosurveillance. 
7. Ginseng displays cardiovascular protective effects by influencing processes such as antioxidant function, vasomotor function, platelet adhesion, ion channel functioning, release of neurotransmitters, lipid profiling, glycaemic control, etc. 
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