Ginseng is one of the most well-known and widely used herbal medicines in the world. Ginseng is said to treat a wide variety of ailments. To name a few: the roots of the ginseng plant have been used for thousands of years in traditional Eastern medicine to boost energy, relieve stress, and bring about total body balance. More recently, ginseng has been investigated as a therapy to help control blood sugar, improve circulation, bolster immunity, improve stamina and increase resistance to stress.
Though human study results on ginseng are mixed, one study of people with type 2 diabetes who consumed ginseng showed a significant improvement in hemoglobin A1C after 12 weeks of taking the herb. Another study showed a slight improvement in insulin sensitivity. These studies looked at forms of ginseng known as "Korean red ginseng" and "American Ginseng", and researchers have noted that the type of ginseng as well as the variability in potency of commercially sold ginseng may affect the ability to replicate positive study results.
Caution: Ginseng has been reported to cause nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, muscle tension, and fluid retention. The safety of ginseng use during pregnancy has not been determined, and therefore it should be avoided. More research is needed on what the long-term effects of ginseng supplementation may be. Also, ginseng may interfere with both diabetes medications and blood thinning drugs -- so you should consult your physician prior to beginning any type of ginseng supplementation. Sources
Jenkins AL, Sievenpiper JL, Morgan L, et al. Reduction of HbA1c after long term administration of American ginseng and konjac mannan fiber in type 2 diabetes. Abstract #1676-P. American Diabetes Association 63rd Scientific Sessions, New Orleans, LA, presented June 14, 2003.
Sotaniemi EA, Haapakoski E, Rautio A. Ginseng therapy in non-insulin-dependent diabetic patients. Diabetes Care 1995;18:1373-1375.
Vuksan V, Sivenpiper JL, Koo VYY, et al. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) reduces postprandial glycemia in nondiabetic subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Archives of Internal Medicine 2000;160:1009-13.
Vuksan V, Sievenpiper JL, Sung MK, et al. Safety and efficacy of Korean red ginseng (SAEKI): results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial. Abstract #587-P. American Diabetes Association 63rd Scientific Sessions, New Orleans, LA, presented June 15, 2003.
Vuksan V, Stavro MP, Sievenpiper JL, Beljan-Zdravkovic U, Leiter LA, Josse RG, Xu Z. Similar postprandial glycemic reductions with escalation of dose and administration time of American Ginseng in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 23(9):1221-1225, 2000.