Ginseng has been used for thousands of years in the Chinese medical tradition, where it is often consumed as a general health tonic, in addition to specialised roles in increasing stamina and strength, increasing focus and energy, and it is sometimes used as an aphrodisiac. Because of its importance in traditional medicine, this versatile root has attracted the interest of the Western scientific community, and has been subject to a great deal of study over the past few decades.
As science discovers new uses for the plant, ginseng use is spreading through the western world. It is commonly used to improve mental focus, and it is an ingredient in a number of supplements, in particular testosterone boosters and formulations that support overall health, like vitamins and green food supplements. If the results of one study are anything to go by, science may have found a new, and very exciting role for this versatile remedy.
A team of American scientists decided to investigate the role of consumption of Chinese ginseng on metabolism by studying obese mice. The mice were split into two groups. One group was fed a high fat diet, while the other received the same diet supplemented with 0.5g of ginseng per kg of food.
At the conclusion of the study, the mice fed on the high fat diet containing ginseng showed a significantly lower degree of weight gain and insulin resistance than the mice on the control diet. Researchers looked at many variables to try and account for this difference.
Firstly, they observed that both groups showed the same levels of energy expenditure, respiration rate, and locomotive activity. The two groups also had similar food intakes, showing that the effect was likely to be metabolic, rather than related to external energy expenditure or intake.
This theory was supported by the finding that mice on the ginseng diet had a higher average body temperature, and increased rates of fatty acid oxidation in the liver. Further analysis showed that this group had higher levels of fatty acid synthase and decreased fasting blood concentrations of insulin. The researchers also reported that the ginseng supplemented mice had lower levels of hypertension.
The weight loss industry is huge, and always welcoming to a natural remedy that has been proven safe and effective, particularly one with a number of secondary benefits. While additional studies need to be undertaken to gauge the influence of ginseng on human fat metabolism, this research is a very promising first step.
Li X, Luo J, Anandh Babu PV, Zhang W, Gilbert E, Cline M, McMillan R, HulverM, Alkhalidy H, Zhen W, Zhang H, Liu D. Dietary Supplementation of Chinese Ginseng Prevents Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome in High-Fat Diet-Fed Mice. J Med Food. 2014 Jul 30.