The benefits of ginseng

Tienchi ginseng (Panax notoginseng) is a medicinal plant cultivated in the Southern Chinese provinces of Guangxi and Yunnan, where it\’s called tien chi or san chi. One of its other popular names, jin bu huan, means \”more valuable than gold\”, which attests to the priceless reputation of this ginseng variety.

Active constituents

The active constituents of tienchi ginseng root include saponins (ginsenosides), flavonoids (antioxidants), polysaccharides (immune modulators), sterols (beta-sitosterol) and essential oils. Scientific research demonstrates the ginsenosides have profound pharmacological effects on cellular metabolism, haematopoiesis (blood production) and blood function, endocrine and hormonal activity, liver metabolism and protection, blood sugar and cholesterol regulation, immune function, aerobic performance, injury prevention and recovery, cognition and cardiovascular health, especially the heart and circulation. While the ginsenosides of tienchi ginseng are common to other species of Panax, constituent analysis using liquid chromatography and capillary electrophoresis demonstrated that tienchi ginseng contains considerably higher levels of ginsenosides than any other species of ginseng.

Therapeutic benefits

The haemostatic effect (ability to stop bleeding) both internally and externally, without causing blood stasis, is one of the most important benefits of tienchi ginseng. It also has the ability to promote normal circulation, assists in the dispersal of congealed blood and enhances the resorption of blood clots. The haemostatic effect can also assist a wider range of bleeding conditions than soft tissue injury and bruising. Tienchi ginseng can help stop vomiting and the coughing of blood, nosebleed, as well as gastrointestinal and urogenital bleeding such as occurs with gastric ulcers, Crohn\’s disease and menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding). Tienchi ginseng also reduces associated swelling and helps alleviates pain in the affected organ.

Following injury or surgery, tienchi ginseng helps relieve bleeding, pain, inflammation, swelling and contusion (bruising). Tienchi ginseng is more than an anti-trauma remedy for the treatment of soft tissue injuries; it\’s an all-round sports medicine that can be used for pre-treatment and recovery from injury or surgery.

Injury prevention is facilitated through tienchi ginseng\’s ability to inhibit microscopic injury and bleeding into soft tissue, which commonly follows strenuous exercise. The only symptoms at this early stage of injury to a muscle or tendon might be mild pain and stiffness. Tienchi ginseng not only stops bleeding, inhibits swelling and relieves pain but also resolves small clots that can slow the healing process. This action, together with tienchi ginseng\’s ability to increase the supply of fresh blood to the affected area, ensures faster healing of micro-injury before it develops into major injury, disrupting training and competition.

During exercise tienchi ginseng enhances energy production and economises oxygen utilisation to improve stamina and endurance, increase muscle strength and enhance aerobic performance. After exercise tienchi ginseng helps heal associated micro-injury by reducing inflammation, pain and swelling, while enhancing recovery and increasing protein synthesis to produce a mild anabolic effect on muscle tissue.

Energy metabolism and oxygen utilisation are economised through Tienchi ginseng\’s ability to retard the breakdown of high energy phosphates during hypoxia (period of insufficient oxygen). This is particularly beneficial for athletes but research demonstrates tienchi ginseng inhibits hypoxic damage to neurons (brain cells) during transient ischemic attacks and to hepatocytes (liver cells) during transplant-induced ischemia. Further research is necessary but this action may have profound implication for people at risk of stroke or heart attack and during transplant or other surgical procedures that cause hypoxia.

Metabolic-enhancing effects of Tienchi ginseng find special application in weight management when combined with exercise and an appropriate diet. During exercise, tienchi ginseng conserves glycogen (stored energy) and stimulates muscles to burn fat for energy. This allows the muscle to sustain longer periods of activity with less lactic acid buildup, which could otherwise cause muscle fatigue.

The cardiovascular effects of tienchi ginseng lead to increased coronary blood flow, enhanced collateral circulation (around blocked coronary arteries) and reduced blood insufficiency or stasis due to myocardial ischemia (lack of blood to the heart muscle). Its vasodilation and analgesic actions help relieve chest pain associated with angina pectoris and decreases myocardial oxygen consumption. Tienchi ginseng has antiarrhythmic action (corrects irregular heartbeat) and helps normalise blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides levels.

Blood sugar levels are lowered in Type 2 diabetics (non-insulin dependent) through tienchi ginseng\’s ability to enhance the action of insulin without increasing blood insulin levels. Tienchi ginseng also increases the synthesis of liver glycogen, a preferred storage form of excess blood sugar (glucose) that might otherwise be converted to fat for storage.

Male infertility caused by inferior sperm motility and progression is enhanced by ginsenosides Rc and Rb2 found in tienchi ginseng. Two separate studies published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine demonstrate that sperm motility is increased by ginsenoside Rc, while sperm progression is enhanced by Rc and Rb2.

An adaptogen is a normalising herb that helps the body maintain an adequate \”stress response\” while improving its adaptation to stress during times of particular demand. Adaptogens achieve this by enhancing the adrenal cortex stress hormone response, which produces more efficient and effective physiological processes in the body. This in turn results in greater resistance to the stressor and the preservation of energy reserves within the body. Tienchi ginseng is a powerful adaptogen not only for people feeling \”stressed out\” but for anyone in need of a general tonic, anti-fatigue remedy, performance enhancer or longevity aid.

Research shows that when tienchi ginseng is taken during radiation therapy the tumours shrink faster and collateral damage to normal tissue is minimised. In addition, tienchi possesses significant chemo-protective properties that work against the harmful side-effects of chemotherapy used to treat various forms of cancer. Tienchi ginseng also shows valuable anti-tumour and immune modulating action and contains antioxidants to enhance general disease resistance.

Complementary medicine

Tienchi ginseng\’s cardio-protective benefits are achieved progressively over weeks or months. Therefore, tienchi ginseng must not be viewed as an immediate substitute for conventional medication; rather it is an excellent complementary medicine for people working with their practitioner to improve long-term health outcomes and reduce their need for conventional medication.

Medicinal properties

Apart from its anti-inflammatory, anti-haemorrhagic, anti-contusive, analgesic, anti-arrhythmic, anti-hypertensive (lowers blood pressure), cardio-protective (protects the heart), anti-lipaemic (lowers high cholesterol and triglycerides), hepato-protective (protects the liver), hypoglycaemic (lowers high blood sugar levels in non-insulin-dependant type 2 diabetes), metabolic enhancing (enhances cellular energy metabolism), adaptogenic (improves resistance to stress), mild anabolic and androgenic (stimulates protein synthesis and muscle development), antioxidant, chemo- and radiation-protective properties, tienchi ginseng also demonstrates anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal effects in vitro.

Herbal energetics

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), tienchi ginseng is considered to have an affinity for the liver, stomach and large intestine meridian systems. Its energetic qualities, or therapeutic properties, are said to enter the body via these channels. It is therefore not surprising that recent experiments show that where the portal vein is cut before oral ingestion, tienchi ginseng loses its effectiveness as a haemostatic (ability to stop bleeding).

Tienchi ginseng is sweet, astringent, bitter, dry, restoring and relaxing with a warm energy. Cooked tienchi ginseng does not have the blood-regulating action of raw tienchi ginseng and is considered a blood (xuè) tonic and yin tonic. Blood tonics provide substantial energy and nutritive forces to restore the blood, strengthen the body and improve its nutrition. Yin tonics are said to nourish, nurture and moisten the material aspects of the body.

Medicinal forms and preparations

Medicinal-grade tienchi ginseng root appears as shrivelled nuggets approximately 3cm in diameter with a dark greyish-brown colour, rock-hard consistency and a thin cortex. Modern medicinal preparations include concentrated powdered extracts and liquid extracts in varying concentrations.

The most common medicinal-grade liquid extract available in Australia is in a ratio of 1:2, where one gram of the dry root is equivalent to two millilitres of the extract.

Tablet preparations available in Australia are manufactured from a concentrated powdered extract. This concentrated extract is pre-digested for fast absorption and high bioavailability. It usually also carries a guarantee of potency and indication of the equivalent quantity tienchi ginseng per tablet, eg \”Contains concentrated extract equivalent to Panax notoginseng (Tienchi) dry root 1000mg per tablet\”. Traditionally, the Chinese decoct or simmer 3-9 grams (3000-9000mg) of the ground dry root of tienchi ginseng in three cups of water, reduced to one cup. The liquid is then strained and drunk as a single dose.

Dosage and treatment recommendations

The following dose regimes are based on premium-grade raw tienchi ginseng root taken as a readily absorbed powdered extract (in tablet form) or as a liquid extract. Always read the label to determine the dry tienchi ginseng root equivalent quantity.

  • To treat most complaints, enhance energy and increase resistance to stress take 1000-2000mg of tienchi ginseng once or twice daily. Ongoing therapy may be required for up to 12-18 months without a break.
  • One hour before exercise take 2000-4000mg of tienchi ginseng and again immediately following heavy exercise or competition.
  • To treat tissue injury including fractures, sprains and strains, take 2000-4000mg of tienchi ginseng three or four times daily for up to 72 hours, reducing to 2000-4000mg twice daily until fully healed.
  • To assist with weight loss take 1000-2000mg of tienchi ginseng three times daily together with a suitable exercise and dietary program.
  • To promote male fertility take 2000mg of tienchi ginseng twice daily.
  • Treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding or other acute bleeding disorders may require 2000-4000mg of tienchi ginseng every 2-4 hours until haemorrhaging stops, then reduce dose to three times daily.
  • As complementary therapy with heart medication, chemo- or radiation therapy get the advice of a qualified health professional.
  • Pre- and post-operatively take 1000-2000mg of tienchi ginseng twice daily, increasing to 2000-4000mg three or four times daily for up to 72 hours to help stop bleeding, encourage healing and speed recovery.
  • Topical application (to complement oral therapy) for tissue injury including bleeding wounds, sprains, strains and contusions: spread onto gauze a soft paste made from 4g of powdered root or equivalent crushed tablets, mixed with sufficient sterile water. Apply to affected area and secure with a firm bandage; change dressing every 4-6 hours depending on results.

Contraindications and precautions

Tienchi ginseng is not recommended for children under 12 years without professional advice. Tienchi ginseng is contraindicated during pregnancy and while taking warfarin to inhibit blood clotting. Apart from rare, transient, mild discomfort in the stomach during the initial treatment period, there are no known adverse effects or adverse drug interactions. Always consult a healthcare practitioner if you are uncertain about the suitability of tienchi ginseng for your condition.

Recently I had occasion to talk to a respected professor of oriental medicine. He said the best ginseng for women is tienchi because it is not as heating as Korean ginseng. Tienchi ginseng is also more balanced in its action and not so stimulating as other ginsengs. It can help expel menses more efficiently while reducing blood loss. To this extent, he went on to say, it must never be taken during pregnancy as it could cause the expulsion of the foetus.

Paul Keogh is a naturopath and medical herbalist with 15 years experience. He is based in Northern NSW. Tel: (02) 6680 7622. Email:

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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