Siberian Ginseng, a relatively new addition to Western natural medicine, has quickly gained a reputation similar to that of the better known and more expensive Korean Ginseng. Unlike many herbs with a medicinal use, it is more useful for maintaining good health rather than treating ill-health. Research has shown that it stimulates resistance to stress and so it is now widely used as a tonic in times of stress and pressure. Regular use is said to restore vigour, improve the memory and increase longevity. It has been used during convalescence and in the treatment of menopausal problems, geriatric debility, physical and mental stress and a wealth of other ailments.
Siberian Ginseng or Eleuthero has been used in China for 2000 years as a folk remedy for bronchitis, heart ailments, and rheumatism, and as a tonic to restore vigour, improve general health, restore memory, promote healthy appetite, and increase stamina. Referred to as ci wu ju in Chinese medicine, it was used to prevent respiratory tract infections as well as colds and flu. It was also believed to provide energy and vitality. In Russia, eleuthero was originally used by people in the Taiga region of Siberia to increase performance and quality of life and to decrease infections.
The ability of Siberian Ginseng to increase stamina and endurance led Soviet Olympic athletes to use it to enhance their training. Explorers, divers, sailors, and miners used eleuthero to prevent stress-related illness. After the Chernobyl accident, many Siberian citizens were given eleuthero to counteract the effects of radiation.
Although a relatively new addition to Western natural medicine, it has quickly gained a reputation similar to that of the better known and more expensive Korean Ginseng. Unlike many herbs with a medicinal use, it is more useful for maintaining good health rather than treating ill-health. Research has shown that it stimulates resistance to stress and so it is now widely used as a tonic in times of stress and pressure. Regular use is said to restore vigour, improve the memory and increase longevity. It has been used during convalescence and in the treatment of menopausal problems, geriatric debility, physical and mental stress.
They are classified to the group of adaptogens, which raise resistance to various negative factors: physical, chemical, biological and psychological. The preparations stimulate physical and mental ability, raise the organism resistance at various kinds of sicknesses, poisoning, irradiation. They stimulate the central nervous system sex glands activities, decrease sugar and cholesterol level in blood, improve appetite, sharpen sight and hearing.
Siberian Ginseng produces a comprehensive strengthening and toning impact; it has been recommended in treating various neural diseases, impotence, lung ailments, medium forms of diabetes mellitus, and malignant tumours.
The results of pharmacological investigations of Siberian Ginseng have been summarised by I. V. Dardymov and E. l. Khasina (1993) in their book. The authors postulate postulate that effects of Siberian Ginseng on the body, which involve an energy-mobilizing impact primarily through intensified utilization of glucose and a stress-protective effect conditioned by change in central nervous system and hormonal regulation. In an alarming situation, the adrenal glands release corticosteroids and adrenaline which prepare the organism for the fight or flight reaction. When these hormones are depleted, the organism reaches an exhaustive phase. Siberian Ginseng delays the exhaustive phase and can allow a more economical and efficient release of these hormones.
Another way that Siberian Ginseng reduces stress on the body is to combat harmful toxins. Siberian Ginseng has shown a protective effect in animal studies, against chemicals such as ethanol, sodium barbital, tetanus toxoid, and chemotherapeutic agents. Siberian Ginseng can also reduce the side effects of radiation exposure.
Siberian Ginseng has been shown to have neuroprotective effects against breast (mammary gland) carcinoma, stomach carcinoma, oral cavity carcinoma, skin melanoma and ovarian carcinoma. It was found to have a pronounced effect on T lymphocytes, predominantly of the helper/inducer type, but also on cytotoxic and natural killer cells. Its active ingredients may also be of use in combating herpes simplex type II infections.
Germany's Commission E approved Siberian Ginseng as a tonic in times of fatigue and debility, declining capacity for work or concentration, and during convalescence. Other uses for Siberian Ginseng are for chronic inflammatory conditions and traditionally for functional asthenia (Bruneton, 1995). Siberian Ginseng has also been reported to increase stamina and endurance and protect the body systems against stress-induced illness and fatigue.
Siberian Ginseng has been shown to enhance mental acuity and physical endurance without the letdown that comes with caffeinated products. Research has shown that Siberian Ginseng improves the use of oxygen by the exercising muscle. This means that a person is able to maintain aerobic exercise longer and recovery from workouts is much quicker.
Other findings that are more positive have resulted from animal and human studies of Siberian Ginseng, other potential effects. Chemicals in Siberian Ginseng appear to produce moderate reductions in blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels and modest improvements in memory and concentration. Siberian Ginseng may also have mild estrogenic effects. In laboratory studies, various chemicals found in eleuthero have also shown antiviral and anticancer properties, but these effects have not been well studied in humans.
Several studies were conducted to evaluate the effects of Siberian Ginseng on eye conditions and color distinction. One study evaluated the pre and postoperative effects of Siberian Ginseng extract (1.5 ml twice daily) on 282 male or female patients suffering from primary glaucoma (102 cases) and eye burns (58 cases). Beneficial effects were noted in both treatments. Siberian Ginseng was also found beneficial in 122 cases of myopia treatment (Zaikova, 1968).
In 50 patients with normal trichromatic vision a single dose of Siberian Ginseng extract (2 ml) stimulated color distinction (red and green) within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion. Maximum effect was reached in six to seven hours and persisted for a minimum of 29 hours (Sosnova, 1969).
Evidence is also mounting that Siberian Ginseng enhances and supports the immune response. Siberian Ginseng may be useful as a preventive measure during cold and flu season. Recent evidence also suggests that Siberian Ginseng may prove valuable in the long-term management of various diseases of the immune system, including HIV infection, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune illnesses such as lupus.
In perhaps the most convincing study carried out so far, B. Bohn and co-workers in Heidelberg, West Germany looked at immune parameters in 18 individuals in a randomised, double-blind fashion for a total of four weeks. The subjects in this study had venous blood drawn both before and after Eleutherococcus Senticosus administration, and the samples were analysed by flow cytometry, which counted absolute numbers of immune cells present in their blood.
Overall, the Eleutherococcus Senticosus group showed an absolute increase in all immune cells measured. Total T-cell numbers advanced by 78 per cent, T helper/inducer cells went up by 80 per cent, cytotoxic Ts by 67 percent, and NK cells by 30 per cent, compared to the control group. B Lymphocytes, which are cells that produce antibodies against infectious organisms, expanded by 22 per cent in the Eleutherococcus Senticosus subjects, compared to controls. Most importantly, no side effects were noted in the Eleutherococcus Senticosus subjects up to five months after Eleutherococcus Senticosus administration ended.
The researchers stated: 'We conclude from our data that Eleutherococcus senticosus exerts a strong immunomodulatory effect in healthy normal subjects.' The Bohn study has caused drug companies to spend millions of dollars in an effort to get Eleutherococcus Senticosus approved as a drug by the FDA in the States.
The increases in T, B, and NK cells in people given Eleutherococcus Senticosus suggest that it could be very useful in alleviating immune suppression associated with strenuous exercise. In addition, one might speculate about a positive effect of Eleutherococcus Senticosus in the very early stages of HIV (AIDS-virus) infection. In an HIV-infected patient, Eleutherococcus Senticosus might prevent or retard the spread of the virus, thanks to the synergistic positive actions of elevated numbers of both helper and cytotoxic T cells.
Supporting these findings, Eleutherococcus Senticosus is now used in the support of cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, especially in Germany. Studies have shown that E.S., when administered to patients, drastically reduces the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy (e.g., nausea, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and loss of appetite). Other research with cancer patients has linked Eleutherococcus Senticosus with improved healing and recovery times, increased weight gain, and improved immune cell counts. In Russia, the administration of Eleutherococcus Senticosus to cancer patients seemed to permit larger than normal doses of drugs utilised in chemotherapy, thus speeding treatment periods.
How does Eleutherococcus Senticosus actually spur the immune system to greater activity? At present, there is no consensus. Some researchers believe that Eleutherococcus Senticosus induces increased interferon biosynthesis (interferon is a powerful chemical which boosts immune-system activity), while others believe that polysaccharides (long-chain sugar molecules) naturally found in Eleutherococcus Senticosus stimulate the activity of special white blood cells called macrophages. These macrophages play a number of roles in the immune system, including the breakdown of infected cells and the stimulation of other immune cells. However, the polysaccharides are probably 'nonspecific' immune stimulants, which means that their effectiveness fades fairly quickly and that they must be administered continuously or at regular intervals in order to produce a positive effect.
Athletes & Antibiotics
Why should athletes try to stimulate their own immune systems, rather than rely on antibiotics and other remedies to control infections? Obviously, prevention of infection can promote more consistent, high-quality training and lower the risk of missed competitions. In addition, many microorganisms are now resistant to many of the commonly used antibiotics. That means that an infection picked up during heavy training may be more difficult to shake off than ever before.
Some of the more notable antibiotic-resistant organisms include Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes 'strep throat', upper respiratory infections, and is reported to be resistant to both penicillin and chloramphenicol. Another common bacterial species, Haemophilus influenzae, which produces both ear and upper-respiratory tract infections, is now resistant to a variety of antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, ampicillin, and tetracycline. Staphylococcus aureus, which causes 'staph infections' of the skin, especially around surgical wounds, is resistant to erythromycin, tetracycline, and the so-called B-lactam antibiotics. Finally, certain strains of Escherichia coli, which have caused deaths in recent incidents when customers of restaurants have consumed contaminated or poorly cooked meat, are resistant to a variety of different drugs.
Investigators in the US recently completed a pilot study in which Eleutherococcus Senticosus extract was given to AIDS patients in hopes of improving their immune-system functioning and overall survivability. The results were very promising, and so a four-city, randomised, double-blind, clinical trial will be carried out with Eleutherococcus Senticosus in the near future.
Extracts of Eleutherococcus senticosus appear to have the ability to prevent immune suppression in vigorously training athletes and may limit the risk of infection. By boosting recovery following hard workouts, E. senticosus may also downgrade athletes' chances of overtraining.
There is a relatively small number of controlled clinical trials performed with Siberian Ginseng. A single-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial lasting eight days investigated the effect of Siberian Ginseng extract (2 ml, twice daily) on working capacity, and fatigue of six male athletes, aged 21-22. Oxygen uptake, heart rate, total work, and exhaustion time were measured. Significant results were observed in all parameters, particularly the 23.3% increase in total work noted in the Siberian Ginseng test group compared with 7.5% of the placebo group (Asano, 1986).
An eight-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the efficacy of Siberian Ginseng extract (3.4 ml daily) on submaximal and maximal exercise performance of 20 highly trained distance runners. No significant difference was observed between test and control groups in heart rate, oxygen consumption, expired minute volume, respiratory exchange ratio, perceived exertion, and serum lactate levels (Dowling, 1996).