Is Ginseng Good for Weight Loss? What Science Says

Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of a number of herbal medicine and mind and body practices to heal various disorders.

One such herbal remedy is ginseng.

The roots of this plant are used for medicinal purposes.

Natural dry ginseng is called white ginseng and steaming of fresh roots gives you red ginseng.

Excessive steaming which leads to high concentration of bioactive compounds gives you black ginseng.

Gisenosides are important active compounds found in ginseng roots. Other organic compounds and polysaccharides are also present in the roots.

11 varieties of ginseng are available and they belong to the genus ‘Panax’. However Siberian ginseng is not a true ginseng as it does not belong to genus ‘Panax.’

Two broad classifications are Asian ginseng and American ginseng.

 

Why ginseng can turn out to be a great weight loss remedy?

Ginseng is famous for boosting energy, improving cognitive performance, prevents cancer and even helps with weight loss.

Lets find out how.

In addition to providing energy by stimulating metabolism, ginseng exhibits different properties that can aid in weight reduction.

1. It has anti-obesity property

A clinical trial reported that obese women receiving Korean red ginseng experienced significant reduction in body weight, BMI, waist hip ratio and food intake in comparison to the group receiving placebo (similar but fake treatment).[1]

Ginseng supplementation brought about a marked improvement in quality of life of the volunteers.

Studies conducted on animal models report the various ways by which Korean red ginseng exerts anti-obesity effect :
Manipulates genes involved in lipid metabolism. [2][3][4]

Influences hormones such as leptin, insulin and adiponectin which are involved in fat and cholesterol metabolism
reduces fat tissue but inhibiting angiogenesis (development of blood vessels; supply of blood is vital for survival and growth of tissue)

Chinese ginseng extract prevents obesity by stimulating oxidation of fats and thereby reducing body fat, improving insulin and glucose levels and preventing high blood pressure. [5]

Fermented red ginseng prevents weight gain and reduces body fat by reducing cholesterol, blood glucose, leptin levels and food intake. [6]

Ginsenosides present in ginseng exert anti-obesity effect by acting on mechanisms at molecular level which leads to reduced food intake, lowered blood glucose and lowered blood lipid levels. [7][8][9][10][11]

Few of the mechanisms involved is increase in cholecystokinin (hormone secreted in the intestine for digestion of fats and protein; it regulates appetite and body weight) and activation of biochemical pathways like AMP activated protein kinase activity( enzyme that stimulates breakdown of fats and prevents fat deposition).

Grapeseed oil extract of ginseng is shown to have anti-obesity property in animal study.[12]

It lowers body weight, visceral fat, blood lipids and fat tissue by influencing PPAR protein activity which controls metabolism of fats.

What does this mean? Ginseng promotes weight loss by controlling hormones and enzymes that regulate appetite and prevent fat deposition. Korean red ginseng has shown favourable weight loss outcome in human clinical trial.

can Ginseng help in weight loss

2. It exerts blood sugar control

A meta analysis of 16 clinical trials led to a conclusion that ginseng definitely reduces blood glucose in individuals with or without diabetes. [13]

Ginseng root fractions are proven to reduce post meal glucose levels up to 120 minutes after the meal.[14]

8 week ginseng therapy administered to non insulin dependent diabetes patients reported decrease in blood glucose accompanied with loss of body weight. [15]

Panax ginseng berry extract is reported to lower blood glucose and body weight in animal studies. [16] Ginsam, a vinegar extract of Panax ginseng, lowers body weight by favourably influencing glucose metabolism. [17]

Ginsenosides control blood sugar levels by increasing glucose uptake and activating biochemical pathways that improve insulin and leptin sensitivities.[18][19][20]

Overall this leads to reduced body weight.

What does it mean? Ginseng root extracts and berry control blood sugar levels which regulates appetite and reduces subsequent calorie intake.

3. It improves insulin sensitivity

Panax ginseng induces weight loss, especially fat mass reduction, by improving insulin sensitivity. [21][22]

Ginsenosides also prevent fat deposition by improving insulin sensitivity and promoting glucose uptake.[23][24]

One of the mechanisms involved is activation of PPAR-γ pathway. PPAR is a type of protein that controls metabolism of lipids, carbohydrates and protein and modulation of its activity can help in treating diabetes and obesity.

Interestingly, results of a clinical trial suggest that oral ginseng or ginsenoside therapy does not improve insulin sensitivity in obese individuals.[25]

However researchers say that poor bioavailabilty of the compounds could be responsible for this.

What does it mean? Ginseng is popularly used in treating diabetes because it enhances insulin activity and improves glucose metabolism. Carbohydrates if not utilised as energy can lead to weight gain.

4. It improves digestion

Our intestines contain healthy microorganisms which aid in digestion.

Microbes found in intestines of obese individuals derive maximum energy from diet and activate pathways which support fat accumulation in tissues and blood. The kind of microflora present can influence an individual’s body weight and metabolism. [26]

A clinical trial conducted to evaluate the anti-obesity effect of Panax ginseng extract, reported that Panax ginseng extract consumed for 8 weeks induced significant weight loss with favourable changes in gut microflora. [27]

Black ginseng extract tackles high fat induced obesity by preventing digestion of fats and promoting fat excretion from the body. The study revealed that this effect led to lowered body fat and inhibited accumulation of lipids in blood and liver.[28]

Korean white ginseng also promotes weight loss by delaying absorption of fats in the intestine and lowering leptin levels and reducing activity of genes that support fat deposition. [29]

What does it mean? Another technique by which ginseng promotes weight loss is by improving intestinal microflora which prevents absorption of fat from diet.

5. It enhances exercise capacity and stamina

Ginseng extract is included in many energy drinks and companies claim that ginseng extract boosts stamina. Mixed responses are available with regards to this idea.[30]

Research states that perhaps ginseng is an ergogenic aid (drugs that enhance atheletic performance), but loopholes in the designs of previous clinical trials prevent researchers from confirming this idea.

Some studies suggest that ginseng alone or in combination with caffeine at high doses, does improve endurance, stamina and exercise capacity of individuals. [31][32][33]

A proprietary supplement consisting of soybean peptides, taurine, Pueraria isoflavone, and ginseng saponin complex is proven to increase endurance and exhaustion time as well as promote utilization of fats in humans. [34]

Whereas results of some experimental studies indicate that ginseng supplementation especially Thai ginseng has no effect on exercise performance. [35][36]

Such equivocal results leave us in doubt, but the negative results could be due to lack of bioavailability of the compounds in the body.

What does this mean? Enhanced exercise performance by ginseng consumption leads to burning of calories.

Other health benefits of ginseng

Ginseng is used to treat various disorders due to its different medicinal properties some of which are listed below:

  • It boosts immunity.
  • It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-microbial activity.
  • It improves cognitive function and alleviates depression, anxiety and brain related disorders.
  • It has anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties.
  • It is good for cardiovascular health.
  • It provides energy and prevents fatigue.

How to take ginseng for weight loss?

No standard dosage of ginseng has been prescribed for weight loss.

Fresh or dried roots, tinctures, fluid extracts and standardized supplements in form of capsules are available.

Consumption of 200mg of standardized ginseng extract daily is recommended. In case of roots 0.5 to 2 grams dried roots can be taken in the form of tea or chewed daily.[37]

It is advisable to take it for 2 or 3 weeks and then take a break of two weeks before consuming it again. [38]

If you are looking out for Asian ginseng check for Panax, red or Korean ginseng, in case of American ginseng, you should buy Panax quinquefolius and Eleutherococcus senticosus is called Siberian ginseng.[39]

Asian ginseng is the best choice.

Precautions

Panax ginseng is well tolerated. If taken at high doses, it can cause sleeplessness and nervousness. [40]

Rare side effects seen are gastrointestinal upset, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, vaginal bleeding etc.
Ginseng should be avoided if one is taking [41]:

  • Antidepressants
  • Blood glucose lowering drugs
  • Heart or blood pressure medications
  • Blood thinning agents

Ginseng should be avoided in case of pregnancy and lactation.

Children should not be given ginseng. Individuals suffering from low blood sugar, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, bipolar disorders should avoid ginseng.

In case of confusion, the best approach would be to consult a physicisn before taking ginseng supplements.

Conclusion

Most of the studies with regards to ginseng are conducted on animal models.

Based on them, ginseng can induce weight loss if consumed over long period of time in combination with exercise and low calorie diet.

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