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 - 
Type of Ginseng
Oriental ginseng -
This is the most common form of ginseng, and is scientifically known as Panax ginseng.
This is the wild or cultivated unprocessed type of ginseng root. Ginseng is rarely used in the fresh form, and needs to be dried in order to be used for medicinal purposes.
Fresh ginseng is steamed and dried to a moisture content of 14%, changing the colour from yellow to brown-red. It possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-ageing, and heavy metal neutralization properties.
Dried and peeled form of ginseng gives it the white colour. This is used in ginseng-flavoured tea or other flavoured beverages. It improves energy levels after an illness and improves blood circulation. It is also used in cosmetics and other beauty products.
White ginseng is steamed at a temperature higher than red ginseng. This increases the concentration of certain ginsenosides which increases its antioxidant activity. It possesses the ability to scavenge free radicals such as superoxide, hydroxyl, peroxynitrite, etc. As the temperature of steaming increases, the concentration of these ginsenosides produced due to heating also increases.
This is grown naturally and harvested at its location of growth. Increasing demand for ginseng has led to the wild type being harvested before its maturity period, leading to its endangerment.
It has a "cooling" effect on the body. It is used for improving the functioning of the neurological system, and enhancing cardiovascular health. It is a stimulant, and therapy administered should be monitored accordingly.
Consumed in the form of tea as well as the edible tubers, it can be used for treating colic, indigestion, gout, hepatitis, rheumatism, tuberculosis, dizziness, headaches, etc.
This is administered for treating blood circulatory disorders. It also exerts beneficial effects on the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
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. 
It is used as an aphrodisiac and an energy booster. Roots are being investigated for the presence of anti-cancer properties and cancer fighting ability.
In Sanskrit, it is known as "Ashwagandha". This is an adaptogen and helps in relieving stress and lowering blood pressure. It also increases haemoglobin count, stabilizes blood sugar, and decreases cholesterol.
Active compounds present in this variety are known as eleutherosides. It is traditionally used to treat respiratory infections such as colds and flu. Research studies have made the following conclusions regarding its therapeutic effects -
• Outbreaks and extent of herpes decrease tremendously
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 -   
- Aids in reducing Type-2 diabetes
- Weight control
- Stimulant for physical and mental health
- Improving sexual potency
- Alleviating menstrual problems
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Improving blood circulation
- Prevention of anaemia
- Improving immunity
- Lowering cholesterol
- Improving digestion
- Fatigue reduction
- Relieving asthma
- Effect on cancer cells
- Improving hair and skin health
- Enhancing production of antioxidants
- Decrease symptoms of menopause
- Enhancing liver functioning
Major Pharmacological actions of Ginseng - 
- Enhancing functioning of Central Nervous System (CNS)
♦ 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.
- Antineoplastic and Immunomodulatory Effects
♦ 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 
- Stomach Upset
• Breast tenderness, vaginal bleeding, and menstrual changes in women
- Allergic reactions
• 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 -
Lowered heart rate
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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