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korean ginseng:Strong, powerful, and wonderful

In 2008, when Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium and Chinese Astronaut Center (CAC) examined a number of astronauts who had finished space flights, they found that the Chinese astronauts were in the best state of health. The European, Russian, and U.S. astronauts, after returning to Earth, had abnormal pulse, blood pressure, and cardiac-vessel function levels, whereas most of the Chinese astronauts had good levels of the same. In this regard, CAC explained, “When the Western astronauts experienced health problems in a weightless state, medicines were prescribed to them by individual symptom. When the Chinese astronauts, on the other hand, experienced health-related problems, they were given prescriptions to maintain the harmony of their bodies’ yin and yang.”

Humans, when staying long in a weightless states, experience dehydration, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, and weakened immunity system, and when working in an enclosed space for a long time, experience stress, headache, and insomnia. As mentioned earlier, the Western astronauts were given prescriptions according to their individual symptoms, such as dehydration and vomiting, while the Chinese astronauts were given a total prescription involving taking a pill dubbed tai kong yang xin dan, made from dozens of medicinal herbs (e.g., ginseng, large Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida BUNGE), Acanthopanax senticosus, and orange peel) to effectively harmonize the yin and yang inside their bodies.

Ingredients of Korean ginseng, the world’s premier medicinal food

The research con ducted by CAC proved that harmonizing the yin and yang inside the body is helpful for good health. A key ginseng efficacy is to harmonize the body’s physical functions. Notably, saponin (“bubbling” in Greek), a major ingredient of ginseng and also the origin of soap, balances the bodily functions.

Ginseng’s saponin is divided into 37 types, including the diol, triol, and oleanane families, according to its basic ingredient structures. These types of saponin not only perform unique functions but also carry out counterfunctions, thereby delivering a wide range of diverse efficacies that cannot be found in drugs with chemical compounds.

The scientific name of ginseng is panax ginseng. Panax is a complex word made up of PAN(all) + AXOS (medicine), meaning “panacea.” Notably, ginseng, which contains both diols and triols, carries out counterfunctions to maintain physical balance. Specifically, the diols family, which carries out an inhibition function, and the triols family, which carries out an excitement function, work together according to the state of the body, thereby balancing a person’s physical conditions. This tendency is dubbed homeostasis, and while foreign-produced ginseng types, thus earning for itself the reputation of being the world’s best medicinal food. In addition to saponin, ginseng has diverse active ingredients, such as acidic polysaccharides, minerals, and amino acids, and these ingredients work together to offer diverse efficacies.

Western medicine began to disclose the efficacies of ginseng when Professor Brekhman of Russia studied the efficacies of Korean ginseng and red ginseng against stress.

In 1956, Professor Brekhman reported, “Ginseng provides something lacking in our body, and reduces something that is plentiful, thus balancing the body state. As such, it provides homeostasis.” Thereafter, many scientists conducted ginseng studies and published some 6,000articles on ginseng. Below are the major efficacies of ginseng.

  • 1. Strengthens immunity

    Immunity refers to the human body’s defense system against intruded germ or viruses. Immune molecule is spontaneously created in the body and prevents pathogenic bacteria (germs and viruses) from getting inside the body. If immunity weakens, one is likely to catch a cold or to develop inflammation. Numerous scientific studies have proven that ginseng enhances the body’s immunity.

    Chungnam National University Veterinarian College Professor Seo Sang-hui reported in Food and Nutrition Society forum held in 2007 that red ginseng is effective in preventing avian flu (AI). In the study, one group of rats took red ginseng ex- the other group did not. AI virus was injected into the two groups, and 60% of the red-ginseng takers died. Professor Seo stated, “Red ginseng activated their immunity system, enabling the rats to resist the AI virus.”

    Ulsan University Asan Medical Center’s Dr. Jo Yeong-geol reported that in a study where 70 AIDS patients took red-ginseng powder daily, the patients experienced no reduction in the number of CD4+T cells in their bodies, which are responsible for the immunity function, thus maintaining their immunity. This proves red ginseng’s effect of bolstering immunity by defending the body against ADIS, which destroys the body’s immunity.

    Northern Europe has a long, cold winter, making many people catch cold. After it was reported that it was proven in certain studies that ginseng can bolster immunity, the sales of drugs and health foods containing ginseng increased. A team led by National Hospital of Denmark’s Dr. Karazumi reported that in a study conducted in October 2004, ginseng enhanced the body’s immunity, cured inflammation faster, and was particularly effective in treating cold.

    In2001, Dr. Ganeko of Japan fed 41 outpatients aged 45-90 years 3g red-ginseng powder daily for an average of 76 months, and tracked them to see if they contracted influenza. As a result, their holistic activity improved, lowering their cold development symptoms by 50-60%. This paper and its results were reported.

  • 2. Anti-cancer

    The Chinese medical book Mingyi Bielu (Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians), compiled 1,500 years ago, describes the efficacy of ginseng in breaking lumps. Here, lumps can be interpreted to mean hardened lumps in the stomach, liver, and womb which, in terms of modern medicine, are ulcers or cancerous tumors. This suggests that ginseng is effective in treating the malicious hardened-lump tumors.

    After Professor Ueke of Japan reported in 1961 that Korean ginseng has anti-cancer effects, many scientists have been studying such. In 1987, Dr. Yun Taek-gu compared the cancer incidence between a ginseng-eater group and a non-ginseng-eater group. According to this study, the cancer incidence in the non-ginseng-eater group was 1.0, and that in the ginseng-eater group was a very low 0.56.

    In the 8th International Ginseng Symposium held in 2002, the team led by Korea University College of Medicine professor Seo Seong-ok reported a study in which among a group of gastric-cancer-operated patients, the red-ginseng eaters had a higher survival rate than the non-red-ginseng-eaters. This shows red ginseng’s immunity control efficacy. As such, Professor Seo administered anti-cancer drugs to gastric-cancer patients, along with immunity therapies, and compared the immunity activity in the ginseng-eater group with that in the non-ginseng-eater group, confirming that the ginseng-eater group showed improved in-vivo conditions for overcoming cancer.

    Also, in studies using animals, the ingredients saponin and polysaccharides were found to contribute to ginseng’s anti-cancer effects. Professor Saiki of Japan reported, “Ginseng’s saponin ingredient not only kills cancerous cells but also outstandingly inhibits their metastasis.” This suggests that ginseng’s saponin turns into a high-quality biological ingredient, effectively killing and inhibiting the spread of cancerous cells no less powerfully than anti-cancer drugs do. According to Dr. Yun Hyeon-suk of Korea Institute of Radiological & Medical Sciences (KIRAMS), “Ginseng’s polysaccharides are outstandingly effective in bolstering the body’s immunocytes so as to kill cancerous cell.”

    Putting together all these results, ginseng, coupled with the action of its saponin and polysaccharides, not only directly kills cancerous cells but also strengthens the immune system and thus indirectly resists cancerous cells.

  • 3. Anti-diabetic

    Donguibogam (Exemplars of Korean Medicine) and many other herbal-medicine books say, “Ginseng is effective in curing thirst symptoms.” The thirst disease is characterized by a dried lip and more frequent urination, and is similar to diabetic symptoms. Dr. Sotaniemi of Japan reported a clinical study of ginseng efficacies in which, when non-insulin-dependent diabetic patients took ginseng, their blood glucose levels were lowered, the glycosylated hemoglobin in their blood improved, and they felt better and performed better physical motions, without any side effect.

    In the 2002 International Ginseng Symposium, the team led by Professor Vladmir Vuksan of the University of Toronto in Canada, and the team led by Sukmyung Women’s University professor Seong Mi-gyeong, reported, “In patients with adult-type diabetes caused by obesity (diabetes type 2) who took red ginseng, the blood glucose level was outstandingly effective in improving adult-type diabetes.” In the study, type 2 diabetics took 6g red-ginseng powder daily for three months, and showed significant decrease of secreted insulin levels and inhibition of blood glucose increase. This suggests that red ginseng improves blood glucose resistance against insulin in type 2 diabetes patients, thereby inhibiting various metabolic disturbances caused by excessive insulin secretion.

    Prior to this study, Professor Yokozawa of Japan confirmed through experiments with animals that ginseng’s saponin has the antidiabetic effect of lowering the blood glucose level. Professor Kimura at Toyama University of Japan confirmed through experiments with animals that the blood glucose depressant ingredient DPG 3-2 separated from ginseng facilitates insulin secretion.

  • 4. Improves the blood flow

    One reason that ginseng is called a panacea is that it improves the blood flow. If blood does not smoothly flow within the body, the supply of oxygen, nutrients, various minerals and hormones, and moisture in the cells, as well as the disposal of wastes, will not be properly conducted, leading to fatal diseases. A good blood flow will ensure a healthy state. According to China’s ancient medical team Bencao Gangmu, ginseng stimulates the heart. This suggests that ginseng facilitates blood circulation.

    Dr. Jieun Wian of China’s Jungiluho Hospital (Circulatory Department) selected 75 healthy male and female adults. Of these, 50 were fed with red ginseng and 25 with placebos, and then their cardiac functions were measured and compared.

    As a result, the cardiac pre-ejection and pulmonary capillary wedge pressure increased in the red-ginseng-eater group, and the left-ventricle pressure was rapidly recovered at the end of the diastolic period, thus improving the circulatory function.

    Chungbuk national University College of Pharmacy professor Yun Yeo-pyo injected a 10% polymer dextran solution into the tail veins of test rats and, four hours later, took blood from the rats’ hearts and analyzed the blood platelets, fibrinogen, and decomposed products therein. In the rats with only dextran solution injection, the blood platelets and fibrinogen were reduced, and the fibrinogen breakdown products increased, creating blood congestion (blocking, coagulation). On the other hand, the test group that was made to take red ginseng one hour before dextran injection had more platelets and fibrinogen and had reduced fibrinogen breakdown products compared with the control group, thereby inhibiting their blood congestion. Human platelets, when red ginseng was added to them, took longer to condense, suggesting that coagulation was inhibited.

    Professor Hideaki Matsuda of Kinki University in Osaka, Japan confirmed the red-blood-cell transformation power of ginseng. Professor Matsuda lowered the blood temperature of experimental rats by as much as 5℃, slowed their blood flow, and injected red ginseng into them. As a result, compared with the non-red-ginseng-administered group, the red-ginseng-administered group had smoother blood flow, without clustering of the blood cells. This suggests that Korean ginseng improves the blood cell transformation power of blood vessels that even a single blood cell finds hard to penetrate, thereby outstandingly facilitating blood circulation. This explains why cold hands and feet became warn when ginseng is taken. Ginseng can facilitate blood circulation up to the hands and feet, the body parts farthest from the heart, thus energizing the body.

  • 5. Anti-stress, anti-fatigue

    Fatigue refers to a phenomenon in which when physical or mental work is performed for a long time, the efficiency falls. The human body has homeostasis, maintaining the harmony and balance therein and giving warning signals of excessive energy consumption leading to fatigue. Fatigue, when accumulated, will turn into stress. Stress and fatigue lower immunity, causing many diseases.

    Dr. Brakeman used rats and experimented on fatigue. He put rats in a spacious water tanker and let them swim, triggering fatigue. When they were already tired, ginseng alcohol was injected in to one, and regular alcohol into the other. They were then made to continue swimming. As a result, the rat into which ginseng alcohol was injected swam 56 minutes more, and the rat to which only regular alcohol was injected swam only 44 minutes more, confirming that the former had 26% more energy than other. Dr. Brakeman named this ginseng effect adaptogen.

    A research team of Korea Ginseng & Tobacco Research Institute divided 23 players into two groups. One group took 500mg red-ginseng extract three times a day for 12 weeks while the other group took placebos. Before and after the group that took red ginseng, their gradual load maximum motion amount was measured four times. After 12 weeks of ginseng intake, the average number of heartbeats per minute of the group that took red ginseng during the maximum load motion was drastically lowered, as opposed to the placebo group. Moreover, the plasma insulin levels of the group that took red ginseng decreased after intensive exercise, and their lactic-acid accumulation also distinctively decreased. Accordingly, the muscular pain, dizziness, fatigue, and fatigue index lactic-acid concentration in the blood of the group that took red ginseng greatly decreased compared with the group that did not take red ginseng, suggesting that red ginseng very effectively resists fatigue and stress.

    It is indicated in Boncho Gangmok that ginseng rapidly recovers a person’s strength while improving the functions of the internal organs, thereby suggesting that ginseng’s anti-fatigue and anti-stress effects had been proven a long time ago.

  • 6. Improves the memory

    In a study on the efficacies of ginseng, the memory of elderly people who took ginseng was found to have improved. Dr. Petkov of Bulgaria conducted the same study in 1989. This time, however, he experimented with young rats that were artificially made to lose their memory, and with old rats, and reported that ginseng was effective in improving the rats’ memory.

    Professor Kennedy of Northumbria University in U.K. divided 18 adults into two groups with nine people each, and conducted various tests on them for 20 weeks. In the 2006 International Ginseng Symposium, he reported that red-ginseng extracts can enhance the human memory and work performance capability. Kennedy administered red-ginseng extracts and placebos to his subjects for eight weeks, gave them a four-week medicinal-efficacy removal time, and switched the conditions of the two groups for eight weeks. On the mornings of days 1, 29, and 57, after taking red ginseng, the subjects’ work memory was evaluated before they were given red ginseng and three hours after they were given red ginseng. Kennedy revealed the said efficacy of ginseng through the Corsi block test designed for evaluating spatial perception.

    A research team led by Seoul National University professor Kim Man-ho also reported a study in which ginseng was proven to have improved the cognitive function of Alzheimer patients. In the study, 63 Alzheimer patients were divided into the ginseng-eater group and the control or non-ginseng-eater group. The ginseng-eater group took 4.2g ginseng powder a day while the control group received only supplementary treatment. At weeks 4, 12, and 24, the subjects’ cognitive improvement was evaluated using the cognitive-intelligence assessment and dementia assessment methods. The ginseng-eater group was found to have improved more than the control group did. When they were no longer taking ginseng, however, the patients in the test group showed no pronounced difference from those in the control group, proving that ginseng is also effective in preventing dementia.

  • 7. Skin beauty

    Folk remedies have long been used. One folk remedy for skin problems involves the use of ginseng, which is effective in skin anti-inflammation and in curing pimples. Many experiments are currently being conducted to prove this scientifically. The Skin Science Laboratory of Hanyang University College of Medicine has been able to prove this fact. In its study, 20 adults were made to sustain skin inflammation, and ginseng saponin ointment was applied to the affected skin. Forty eight hours later, the inflammation was found to have been considerably reduced compared with the control group, to which only ointment was applied.

    Ginseng is also known to be effective in preventing wrinkles. According to a study by the Pharmacology Laboratory of Seoul National University, free oxygen radicals, which are created through cell metabolism, are closely related to skin aging and regenerative changes, and the possibility that ginseng ingredients will interact with oxygen radicals, which are created through cell metabolism, are closely related to skin aging and regenerative changes, and the possibility that ginseng ingredients will interact with free oxygen radicals to inhibit skin oxidization revealed.

    In another study, saponin’s metabolic substance, compound K, was applied to rats, and 24 hours later, their skin tissues were removed to evaluate their reaction. As a result, compound K inhibited the decrease in hyaluronic acid, which is directly related to the effect of skin moisture. Hyaluronic acid, which exists on the surface of the corium, gradually decreases with the aging of the skin, leading to lower skin elasticity and moisture. Ginseng extracts maintain hyaluronic acid. World-renowned cosmetics makers harness this moistening function of ginseng and add ginseng ingredients to their cosmetics.

    In addition to these major efficacies, an array of ginseng’s efficacies, such as stamina enhancement, anti-aging, anti-allergy, improvement of atopic skin, relief for hangover, and easing of menopausal symptoms has been revealed. Notably, in the 10th International Ginseng Symposium, it was reported that in a number of studies, ginseng improved the liver function of patients with liver cancer or cirrhosis.

    More R&D efforts and investment are needed to further scientifically prove the forementioned efficacies of ginseng, and to commercialize relevant ginseng products through clinical trials. Pope John Paul Ⅱ remembered the Korean as strong and tenacious, like ginseng’s aroma, and praised South Korea for being strong, powerful, and wonderful.

* Source: Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in KOREA / Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation

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