The Effects of Ginseng May Include Lowering Blood Sugar

ginseng root with tea
Linda Lewis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Ginseng is one of the most well-known and widely used herbal medicines in the world. Ginseng is said to treat a wide variety of ailments. To name a few: the roots of the ginseng plant have been used for thousands of years in traditional Eastern medicine 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 and increase resistance to stress.

Studies of Ginseng and Blood Sugar

Though human study results on ginseng are mixed, one study of people with type 2 diabetes who consumed ginseng showed a significant improvement in hemoglobin A1C after 12 weeks of taking the herb. Another study showed a slight improvement in insulin sensitivity. These studies looked at forms of ginseng known as "Korean red ginseng" and "American Ginseng", and researchers have noted that the type of ginseng as well as the variability in potency of commercially sold ginseng may affect the ability to replicate positive study results.

A 2014 review and meta-analysis of 16 research studies looked at those that used randomized, controlled groups for 30 days or more and people who had diabetes and those who didn't. They found that ginseng (Panax ginseng) significantly reduced fasting blood glucose compared to the control group. Ginseng didn't have a significant effect on HbA1c (a marker for blood glucose control over a long period), fasting plasma insulin or homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance.

They concluded that ginseng "modestly yet significantly improved fasting blood glucose in people with and without diabetes."

Ginseng Side Effects and Drug Interactions in Diabetes and Other Conditions

Ginseng has multiple effects throughout the body and it should only be used with caution and after consulting with your doctor about possible interactions with your medications.

 Ginseng has been reported to cause nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, muscle tension, and fluid retention. The safety of ginseng use during pregnancy has not been determined, and therefore it should be avoided. It is regarded as unsafe for use by infants and children.

Ginseng interferes with the blood-thinning drug warfarin (Coumadin), reducing its effectiveness in preventing blood clots. It also should not be taken by people who have hormone-sensitive tumors (breast cancer for example) or hormone-sensitive conditions such as endometriosis.

Ginseng may alter the effectiveness of diabetes medications, making it critically important for a person with diabetes to discuss it with their doctor and pharmacist before taking ginseng supplements. It is reported to have moderate interactions with insulin, glimepiride, glyburide, glipizide and others, which could result in low blood sugar. You may need to have dosages of medications altered for safety if you take ginseng.

More research is needed on what the long-term effects of ginseng supplementation may be.

For further reading about ginseng:

  • American Ginseng and Diabetes: An expert in alternative and complementary medicine discusses use of ginseng for diabetes.
  • Panax Ginseng: An expert in alternative medicine explores the different uses and studies showing the benefits of panax ginseng.

Sources

Shishtar E, Sievenpiper JL, et.al. "The effect of ginseng (the genus panax) on glycemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials." PLoS One. 2014 Sep 29;9(9):e107391. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107391. eCollection 2014.

Jenkins AL, Sievenpiper JL, Morgan L, et al. Reduction of HbA1c after long term administration of American ginseng and konjac mannan fiber in type 2 diabetes. Abstract #1676-P. American Diabetes Association 63rd Scientific Sessions, New Orleans, LA, presented June 14, 2003.

Sotaniemi EA, Haapakoski E, Rautio A. Ginseng therapy in non-insulin-dependent diabetic patients. Diabetes Care 1995;18:1373-1375.

Vuksan V, Sivenpiper JL, Koo VYY, et al. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) reduces postprandial glycemia in nondiabetic subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Archives of Internal Medicine 2000;160:1009-13.

Vuksan V, Sievenpiper JL, Sung MK, et al. Safety and efficacy of Korean red ginseng (SAEKI): results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Abstract #587-P. American Diabetes Association 63rd Scientific Sessions, New Orleans, LA, presented June 15, 2003.

Vuksan V, Stavro MP, Sievenpiper JL, Beljan-Zdravkovic U, Leiter LA, Josse RG, Xu Z. Similar postprandial glycemic reductions with escalation of dose and administration time of American Ginseng in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 23(9):1221-1225, 2000.

Continue Reading