There are more than 13 distinct species of ginseng that have been identified, including American ginseng or Panax quinquelfolius, which is native to North America. Ginseng in its many forms has a long history of traditional medicinal uses leading to many investigations into its potential for a variety of health benefits, including the support of healthy glucose metabolism.*
The possible mechanisms regarding the potential of American ginseng to support healthy glucose metabolism remain under investigation. The effects of American ginseng likely stem from bioactive phytochemicals, especially ginsenosides. Studies point to the possibility of American ginseng promoting beta cell function, including the potential to regenerate beta cells, which may reduce the risk of insulin resistance. This herb may also help modulate the absorption, transport, and/or disposal of glucose, or the secretion and binding of insulin. American ginseng also supports antioxidant status in the body and promotes a healthy inflammatory response.* Type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose metabolism are associated with excess oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Thus, some of the potential benefits of American ginseng may stem from its promotion of redox balance and a healthy inflammatory response.*
In a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study with 24 participants who had type 2 diabetes, researchers examined the efficacy of American ginseng as an adjunct therapy for diabetes management. Compared to a placebo, 8 weeks of American ginseng supplementation indicated significantly reduced hemoglobin A1c levels (by an average of 0.29%) and fasting blood glucose levels (by an average of 0.71 mmol/L). American ginseng also increased the secretion of insulin by about 33%, which demonstrated its potential to beneficially affect beta cell function. These findings also indicated improved systolic blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and nitric oxide levels. This was a small study and further research is required, but it does demonstrate a promising potential for American ginseng.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of ginseng on diabetes included three studies with American ginseng and 12 studies with Panax ginseng or Asian ginseng. The combined meta-analysis using all ginseng studies found that supplementation led to a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose levels with an average reduction of 0.31 mmol/L. This effect was greater in those with diabetes compared to those who did not have diabetes.
Many lifestyle factors, including diet, may support healthy glucose metabolism. Finding additional ways to promote normal glucose uptake and insulin secretion may support overall health. Bioactive compounds found in herbs, such as the ginsenosides in American ginseng, may support the body’s processes involved in normal glucose metabolism, including the promotion of normal beta cell function, redox balance, and a healthy inflammatory response.*
By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS