What is Ginseng?
There are three different herbs commonly called
Ginseng: Asian or Korean Ginseng (Panax ginseng
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius
Siberian “Ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus
The latter herb is actually not Ginseng at all, but the
Russian scientists responsible for promoting it
believe that it functions identically. “White" Ginseng
root (unprocessed) is sometimes bleached and then
dried, while "red" Ginseng is prepared from white
Ginseng by various processing methods, such as
steaming the fresh root before drying. There are
many types and grades of Ginseng, depending on the origin, root maturity, parts of the root
used, and methods of raw material preparation or processing. Korean Ginseng has the most
clinical potential and is the focus of this discussion.
Why recommend administration of Ginseng to my pet?
In Chinese medicine, Korean Ginseng is used as a Qi tonic to boost vitality. Likewise,
Ginseng is used for the same purposes by veterinarians, often as a component of a larger
herbal formula. Some practitioners use Ginseng in any weakened pet, to build resistance,
reduce susceptibility to illness, and promote health and longevity. There are some more
specific actions, however, of Korean Ginseng that can guide its use. For example, one of the
most recent laboratory studies demonstrated that Korean Ginseng reduces liver cell rupture
and minimizes fibrosis during liver repair.
One of the most important uses of Ginseng in Chinese medicine is in injectable form as a
component of a formula to treat hypovolemic shock (shock caused from decreased volume
of blood). Ginseng does, indeed, enhance heart function, by:
• Increasing blood flow to heart muscle • Reducing heart muscle damage during infarctions (heart attacks) • Reducing certain rhythm disturbances enhancing circulation
A general effect of so-called Qi tonics in Chinese medicine is
the lowering of fasting blood glucose (sugar), making
Ginseng worth considering as an adjunct to the management
of diabetes mellitus.
Probably the most profound hormonal effect of Ginseng,
however, is its effect on the adrenal gland, making it of
tremendous relevance in the management of refractory
Addison’s disease. Regarding the stimulation of adrenal
function, Ginseng helps one adapt to external stressors by:
• Increasing cortisol (stress hormone) release in acute
• Reducing cortisol release in chronic stress • Heightening alertness at rest
With a heightened sense of alertness comes improved cognitive (mental) function. A
placebo controlled study of 20 healthy volunteer humans showed that Ginseng significantly
enhanced short term memory.
Together with Licourice root extract, Korean Ginseng
is arguably the most powerful adrenal gland stimulant
in existence. Licourice root stimulates both parts of
the adrenal gland and increases the duration of the
adrenal hormone effects. Thus Ginseng and
Licourice root are routinely effective in the
management of refractory hypoadrenocorticism, or
How much experience is there with the use of
Ginseng in pets?
As is true with many herbs, Ginseng has been used
for many years by practicing herbalists. There are no controlled studies in pets.
What species of animals are being treated regularly with Ginseng?
Ginseng is commonly prescribed to dogs and cats. It may be of particular benefit in the
management of Addison’s disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes mellitus, chronic low
grade hepatitis and perhaps even cognitive dysfunction in dogs and cats. It can be used to
minimize stress in any animal.
How safe is Ginseng?
There are no recognized side effects of Ginseng, but based on
traditional herbal lore, the herb should be used with caution in
• Hypertension (high blood pressure) • Bleeding disorders • Hyperexcitability • Acute infections • High fevers • Patients treated with insulin
Veterinary advice should be sought when using Ginseng long
Where do I obtain Ginseng and do I need a prescription?
Your veterinarian may have preferred supplements that he or she will recommend. Pet
owners are cautioned against buying supplements without knowledge of the manufacturer,
as supplements are not highly regulated and some supplements may not contain the
labelled amount of ingredients. A prescription is not needed for Ginseng.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Steve Marsden, DVM ND MSOM LAc DiplCH AHG,
Shawn Messonnier, DVM and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH.
Copyright 2004 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. April 2, 2007.
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