My first flirtation with natural medicine came just a few short weeks before my final medical examinations. Not the most diligent student during my time at college, I was doing some serious burning the midnight oil in an attempt to fill the gaping lacunae in my knowledge. Energy reserves were running low and my 10-mug-a-day Nescafe habit appeared not to be providing adequate relief. Out of desperation I entered the then alien world of the health food store and explained my predicament to a homely assistant. She dispensed Siberian ginseng, a remedy fabled for its abilities to combat stress and fatigue. I took it as directed, and remember quite quickly sensing a lift in my energy levels and mental faculties. I passed my finals and scooped a couple of prizes to boot. My apparent herb-induced transformation from dunce student to apparent academic did make me think that there might more to this natural medicine lark than met the eye.
I am open to the idea that the subjective benefits that Siberian ginseng offered me all those years ago were little more than a suped-up placebo response. So recently I resolved to discover whether the supposed tonic effects of this herb are the stuff of folklore or fact. It turns out that Siberian ginseng has been the subject of several scientific studies, and the evidence suggests it has the capacity to protect us from stress and illness, and increase our productivity too.
Experiments have shown that Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) has the capacity to have very real effects on the physiology of animals and humans. One internal action the herb has is to enhance the health of the adrenal glands, the chief organs in the body responsible for dealing with stress. In animals, Siberian ginseng has been shown to help protect against a diverse array of potential stressors including heat, cold, surgery, blood loss and infection. Studies in humans have shown benefits for individuals engaged in a variety of employs including sailors, deep sea divers, rescue workers, truck drivers, pilots and factory workers. My experience with the herb more than a decade ago made my especially interested in a study which found that proof-readers worked more quickly and make fewer mistakes when taking Siberian ginseng.
In addition to its general tonic properties in the body, Siberian ginseng is also known to enhance the action of the immune system. These two combined effects may help to explain why long term use of this herb has been shown to reduce the rate of infection and absenteeism in workers. A study of 1000 factory workers found that taking Siberian ginseng for just 30 days reduced days lost due to absenteeism by 40 per cent over the next year. General illness rates for the same period were cut by half.
The normal dose is Siberian ginseng is widely available in health food stores. 300 ” 400 mg of concentrated herb extract should be taken each day. While Siberian ginseng is known to be generally safe, it is not suitable for pregnant or breast-feeding women, or for those suffering from high blood pressure. However, for many people finding themselves floored by life’s challenges, Siberian ginseng can often provide the lift they need to rise to the occasion.
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