Ginseng and Stress Reduction

2021-01-01 17:26:46 |

We all interpret what is happening in our lives. Developing a more expanded and positive mind frame promotes mental well-being

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When most of us think of stress, we are usually thinking of events such as arguments, deadlines, conflicts, pressures, and worries. However, this view of stress is actually too limited. In the modern scientific view, stress is anything that causes the body to react in a manner beyond its normal state of balance or homeostasis. In fact, scientists now use the term stress to refer to what happens inside the body rather than to what happened outside. The term stressor is used to describe an event that creates the stress reaction inside the body.

This important distinction stems from the work of Dr. Hans Selye, a Canadian M.D., whose research beginning in the 1930s pioneered many of the now accepted views of stress and the body. Selye discovered that the body reacts to all types of stressors in a single fundamental way. His route to making this discovery began when he noticed that many different types of diseases made people suffer from the same symptoms: loss of appetite, low energy, depression, etc. despite the specific elements of the disease.

Over several decades, Selye performed a variety of experiments on animals to learn more about what happened inside the body when various external events occur. He subjected mice to injections of glandular hormones, extremes of heat and cold, noise, and many other factors, and then studied the effects that these varying stressors had on the animals. Selye found that regardless of what type of stressor had been applied, the animals always reacted in the same manner. This brought Selye to declare what has become the central element in this new theory of stress: that stress is actually “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it”. While each stress event may cause a specific outcome or disease to occur, the fundamental rule that Selye noticed is that an underlying nonspecific event will always occur as well – a “stress” reaction.

Selye’s perceptions of stress eventually led him to a number of revolutionary conclusions that turned the field of stress research upside down. His insights include the following principles: stress is unavoidable, the body is constantly adapting and adjusting to stress to maintain its homeostasis; people vary greatly in how well they react to stressors, some people handle them very well, others do not.

Over and above the discovery that the body is constantly working to overcome stressors, another important outcome of Selye’s work was a new understanding that stress has a direct causal link to disease. According to Selye’s General Adaption model, the body goes through three distinct phases when it is challenged or stressed, regardless of whether the stressor comes from inside or outside the body. These three phases are regulated and controlled in a complex way by the brain and many-body systems, especially the endocrine system, the glands of which produce hormones. In terms of the stress reaction the three phases can be described as follows:

Phase 1: Alarm

This phase is often referred to as the “fight or flight” phase because when the brain senses danger or stressor that jeopardizes its “normal” status, it prepares the body almost instantaneously with the energy needed to either fight the challenge or take flight for safety.

When a stressor occurs, the adrenal glands, which are small roundish glands located atop each kidney, secrete adrenaline into the bloodstream from the initiative activation in the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. The effect of adrenaline is to prepare the body for “fight or flight” response in times of stress. Adrenaline significantly raises the heart rate and the blood pressure, sending blood surging throughout the body to provide it with an abundance of fuel for the muscle and brain.

Phase 2: Resistance

While the alarm phase prepares the body for “fight or flight” within a matter of minutes, the goal of the resistance phase is to continue critical biochemical reactions so that the body can withstand the stress challenge over a period of time if need be. Once again, it is the adrenal glands that produce the group of hormones called glucocorticoid to control this phase. These hormones perform several actions that keep the body’s state of arousal going strong. As a protective mechanism, these hormones also cause the adrenal glands to halt the production of more adrenaline. This allows the body to restore itself as needed if the fight is over.

Scientists now know that the adrenaline and corticosteroid hormones produced in these two phases of the stress response have an unhealthy effect on the body. Adrenaline can increase the level of fatty acids in the blood, which may contribute to arteriosclerosis and liver disease. Both adrenaline and corticosteroids also damage the body’s immune system by preventing it from making what are called B and NK cells, which seek out and kill foreign cells in the body. Research has proven that the level of B and NK cells is greatly reduced in people with high levels of corticosteroids in their bloodstream. This explains why people often become ill after a period of severe stress.

Phase 3: Exhaustion

When the body undergoes significantly and long-lasting stress, it can enter into a third phase. The adrenal glands eventually halt the hormone production, causing a drop in blood sugar, which leads to a lack of energy and fuel for the body. The body’s cells begin to use up their supply of potassium, the lack of which causes them to begin dying. Little by little, as exhaustion increases in severity, the body’s organs start to weaken, and the immune system further loses its ability to fight off disease. A direct causal link between stress and disease occurs in all phases, especially in phase 3. The more a particular stressor causes the body to reach the third phase of the adaptation syndrome, the more weakened your immune system becomes.

Selye and many scientists who have followed him have now correlated prolonged or severe stress to a long list of conditions including angina, asthma, autoimmune disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, the common cold, diabetes, depression, headaches, hypertension, immune suppression, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual irregularities, premenstrual tension syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis.


How ginseng relates to Dr. Selye’s research on the nature of stress and the sophisticated adaptation process of the body’s natural defences?

The answer goes back to the revolutionary medical concept by modern science that ginseng is truly an adaptogen that can help the body rebalance itself in the face of any condition. The active ingredients in ginseng allow the body to adjust to the demand of any stressor, whether it requires raising or lowering your blood pressure or glucose levels or speeding up or slow down your metabolism and hormone production. Whatever the event, ginseng helps the body respond in a more healthful manner so that it can meet the challenge without exhaustion.

There are literally hundreds of experiments that indicate that ginseng improves the body’s ability to function when it is under mental or physical duress. Here are a few:

Extreme Temperatures

The Arctic region presents a particularly harsh climate environment, with below-zero temperatures on a daily basis. In this experiment, one thousand workers at a polar station were given ginseng for five months. Over a period of one year, there was a 40% reduction in days lost from work and a 50% reduction in general sickness compared to the previous year.

Demanding Physical Labor and Harsh Environmental Conditions

In this study, 1,200 workers at a car factory in the former Soviet Union were given ginseng in the spring and autumn for two years. By the end of the study, the incidence of illness in this group had fallen 20% versus another group of workers who had not been given ginseng. In the same study, it was also found that while at the beginning of the study the two groups of workers had the same proportion of individuals with high blood pressure, by the end of the study the proportion was 3-5 times lower among those who had taken ginseng.

Intense Mental Work

In this study, Russian telegraph operators were asked over two tests to quickly encode a special message. Those given a placebo increased their speed only slightly in the second test, but made 28% more mistakes than in the first test, while those operators who were given ginseng make 10% fewer mistakes in the second test. In another study, thirty-three young Swedish men had to identify a pattern of letters in a random set; those who had taken ginseng made approximately half as many errors on one test as those who had not taken ginseng, and two-thirds as many errors on a second test.


In a study conducted in London by noted British ginseng researcher Steven Fulder, nurses who worked at night were given ginseng under double-blind conditions, i.e., no one knew who received a placebo and not real ginseng. Those who had been given ginseng felt more capable and alert and when tested had better speed and coordination.

Every human study has consistently affirmed that the use of ginseng correlates positively with higher rates of physical and mental performance, more stamina, less fatigue, and increased resistance to disease. Many people who took ginseng in experiments have also commented on a general sense of well-being and satisfaction they achieved while using it. Such assessments are clearly subjective, but they nevertheless indicate a positive psychological attitude that people say exists for them when using ginseng.

In addition to human studies, there have been literally thousands of experiments conducted on laboratory animals, all of which have equally confirmed the benefits of ginseng on performance and productivity. It is also important to note that such animal studies are proof that the benefits of ginseng are not related to a placebo effect since animals obviously cannot distinguish between a placebo and the real substance being tested.


The saponins and trace elements contained in ginseng roots interact with the chemical events in the body. These nutrients literally moderate the stress reaction so that the body remains stronger, healthier, and better able to handle any challenge.

Researcher indicates that this moderating influence occurs because ginseng directly affects the body’s hormonal system. The most important evidence for this indicates that ginseng alters the functioning of the adrenal glands, which are the first line of defence against stressors. Ginseng’s influence in the adrenal glands has been measured in several controlled studies in which one group of lab animals was given ginseng injection while another group of test animals was not. Both groups were exposed to stress. The group given the ginseng showed significantly less enlargement of the adrenal glands than the groups not given ginseng. Less enlargement indicates that the adrenal glands were being taxed much less because of the ginseng. As a double-check of such studies, another research experiment removed the adrenal glands from lab animals. The animals were then given performance tests but without their adrenal glands their performance was significantly worse, even when given ginseng. This indicated that ginseng worked on the adrenal glands. Similarly, in another study, ginseng was shown to inhibit the adrenal glands from shrinking after a severe stress.

The specific biology of how ginseng protects or supports the adrenal glands is not precisely known but one study indicates that ginseng initially speeds up the production of hormones from the adrenal glands and then aids in quickly restoring the glands to their normal state. This effect would indicate that ginseng helps the adrenals react to stress more quickly in phase 1 and recover from it more quickly in phase 2.

Steven Fulder writes” in stress, ginseng helps the adrenal glands to mount an immediate hormonal response; more stress hormones are released and more manufactured. But when stress stops, the adrenal glands shut down more quickly. If stress is long and severe, the glands converse their resources and do not release so much hormone”.



MoraMarco J. (1998). The complete ginseng handbook. Contemporary books.



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