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Info about Eleuthero

Scientific Name: Eleuthero

Other Names: Acanthopanax senticosus, Ci Wu Jia, Devil's Bush, Eleutherococcus senticosus, Russian Root, Shigoka, Siberian Ginseng, Taiga, Thorny Pepperbush, Touch-Me-Not, Wild Pepper

Who is this for?

NOTE: Eleuthero is different from both American ginseng and Panax ginseng. They are not interchangeable.

Products formerly labeled as “Siberian ginseng” must now use the common name “Eleuthero” or the scientific name “Eleutherococcus senticosus”.

Like members of the Panax (true ginseng) family of plants, eleuthero is considered to be an “adaptogen”, a substance that may help individuals cope with physical and emotional stress. It is also used widely in eastern Asia to increase the capability to do physical work However, results from several studies on physical performance are inconclusive with work capacity increased in some instances but actually decreased in others.

Other findings that are more positive have resulted from animal and human studies of eleuthero’s other potential effects. Chemicals in eleuthero appear to produce moderate reductions in blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels and modest improvements in memory and concentration. Eleuthero may also have mild estrogenic effects, and it appears to boost immune system function slightly. In laboratory studies, various chemicals found in eleuthero have also shown antiviral and anticancer properties, but these effects have not been well studied in humans. All of these possible uses need to be studied further before eleuthero can be recommended.

When should I be careful taking it?

In clinical studies of both humans and animals, eleuthero has increased the heart rate or increased blood pressure. Both of these effects may worsen many types of heart conditions. Individuals who have heart disease, including high blood pressure and previous heart attacks, should not take eleuthero without supervision from a healthcare professional.

Even though eleuthero appears to be safe during pregnancy and breast-feeding, some of the other plants commonly mistaken for eleuthero are known to be harmful to developing babies or small children. Because the exact contents of eleuthero products cannot always be guaranteed, young children and pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid the use of eleuthero.

Precautions

Individuals with diabetes should avoid using large amounts of eleuthero because it can lower blood sugar levels, potentially resulting in hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is too low). Indications of low blood sugar include shakiness, sweating, confusion, distorted speech, and loss of muscle control. If not corrected, low blood sugar can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

What side effects should I watch for?

Individuals with heart disease who take eleuthero may experience a rapid heartbeat or high blood pressure. Long-term use (more than 2 months) of eleuthero has been associated with muscle spasms due to nerve inflammation. Therefore, taking eleuthero continuously for more than 2 months is not recommended.

Less Severe Side Effects

In studies involving humans, the most commonly reported side effects from eleuthero were:

  • Anxiety
  • Breast pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache

What interactions should I watch for?

Prescription Drugs

Digoxin is a drug used to increase the force and to decrease the rate of heartbeats. In one reported case, an individual taking eleuthero at the same time as digoxin, developed increased blood levels of digoxin. No serious consequences resulted, but high digoxin blood levels could cause potentially dangerous changes in heart rhythm.

In laboratory studies, eleuthero has been shown to increase the time blood needs to clot. When it is taken with antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs, the effect of the drug may be increased, resulting in uncontrolled bleeding.

  • Antiplatelet agents include Plavix and Ticlid
  • Anticoagulants include heparin and warfarin

Eleuthero may interfere with insulin and oral drugs for diabetes, such as:

  • Actos
  • Amaryl
  • Avandia
  • glipizide (Glucotrol XL)
  • glyburide (Glynase)
  • Glyset
  • metformin (Glucophage)
  • Prandin
  • Precose

When eleuthero is taken with prescription drugs that promote sleepiness, the effects of the drug may be exaggerated, resulting in sedation or mental impairment. Prescription drugs that can cause sleepiness include:

  • Anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine, phenytoin and valproic acid
  • Barbiturates such as phenobarbital
  • Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and diazepam
  • Drugs for insomnia such as Ambien and Sonata
  • Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, amoxapine, doxepin and nortriptyline

Because it is broken down by certain enzymes in the liver, eleuthero may possibly interfere with the use of prescription drugs that are processed by the same enzymes. Some of these drugs are:

  • Allergy drugs such as Allegra
  • Antifungal drugs such as ketoconazole (Nizoral) and Sporanox
  • Cancer drugs such as etoposide, paclitaxel, vinblastine, or vincristine
  • cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
  • Drugs for high cholesterol such as lovastatin
  • fluvoxamine
  • haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Oral contraceptives
  • theophylline (Slo-bid, Theo-Dur)

Non-prescription Drugs

Eleuthero can affect the ability of blood to clot after an injury. Aspirin can also delay clotting, so eleuthero should not be taken at the same time as aspirin.

The sleep-producing effects of over-the-counter products containing diphenhydramine can be enhanced by taking eleuthero at the same time. Diphenhydramine is contained in many non-prescription sleeping pills as well as in some cough and cold products, therefore caution should be used when taking these medications with eleuthero because excessive drowsiness may result.

Herbal Products

Theoretically, if eleuthero is used with other herbs that affect blood clotting, bleeding may occur. Some of the most common herbal products that might inhibit blood clotting include:

  • Danshen
  • Devil's Claw
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Ginkgo
  • Horse Chestnut
  • Panax Ginseng
  • Papain
  • Red Clover
  • Saw Palmetto

Because eleuthero may decrease blood sugar levels, taking it with other blood sugar-lowering herbal products may result in hypoglycemia — blood sugar that is too low. Herbals that may reduce blood sugar include:

  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger (in high amounts)
  • Kudzu
  • Panax Ginseng

Eleuthero may cause excessive sedation if taken with other sedating herbs such as:

  • Catnip
  • Hops
  • Kava
  • St. John's Wort
  • Valerian

Foods

Drinking alcohol at the same time as taking eleuthero may result in increased drowsiness.

A few individuals have reported indigestion or altered taste perception after eating spicy or bitter-tasting foods while taking eleuthero.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

Among its provisions, the U.S. Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 made illegal the use of the name “ginseng” for any product not derived from a plant of the Panax genus (family). Eleuthero is related to American ginseng and Panax ginseng, but it is not a member of the Panax genus. In the United States, products formerly labeled as “Siberian ginseng” must now use the common name “Eleuthero” or the scientific name “Eleutherococcus senticosus”.

Although it was formerly known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero is not actually a member of the plant family considered to contain the “true” ginsengs. It is, instead, a related shrub about 6 to 8 feet tall. Its branches are covered in sharp thorn-like barbs. The leaves of eleuthero may be dried and used as tea. Eleuthero blooms in late summer and then bears very dark red or black fruits the size of marbles. The fruits may be eaten fresh or cooked. While the roots of Panax species resemble carrots or parsnips in texture, the roots of eleuthero are hard and woody. Native to eastern Asia, eleuthero is now grown extensively on farms in China, Korea, Japan, and Russia.

Eleuthero did not come into wide use until the mid-1900s when the world supply of Panax species was extremely low. Russian and Chinese scientists discovered that other species – particularly Eleutherococcus – had medicinal effects that are similar to ginseng’s, but could be grown faster. Nearly all the research done on eleuthero has been done in Asia.

Dosage and Administration

Eleuthero is available in a number of different oral dosage forms that include liquid extracts and capsules containing dried root powder. Many eleuthero products are standardized to contain 0.3% of an active ingredient called eleutheroside E. Standardization by the manufacturer should assure the same amount of this active ingredient in every batch of commercial preparations. Be aware, however, that the amounts of active chemicals in eleuthero vary greatly according to how the plants are grown, when the roots are harvested, and how they are processed. Several plants that resemble eleuthero grow in the same regions, so eleuthero frequently may be contaminated with material from those different plants.

Dosing for eleuthero depends on the condition being treated. If you decide to use eleuthero, follow the directions on the package you purchase. Taking eleuthero continuously for more than 2 months is not recommended.

Summary

Best known as a general tonic to improve overall mental and physical health, eleuthero may produce modest improvements in immune function and memory. It may reduce blood levels of sugar and cholesterol, slightly. Other possible uses need to be investigated more thoroughly before they can be recommended.

Risks

Individuals with heart conditions, pregnant women, small children, and women who are breast-feeding should not take eleuthero. It should be taken with caution by individuals who have diabetes.

Side Effects

Long-term use of eleuthero may result in muscle spasms. It may cause rapid heartbeats, high blood pressure, anxiety, and drowsiness.

Interactions

Eleuthero may interact in various ways with many drugs and other herbal products, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Bitter or spicy foods
  • Digoxin
  • Drugs and herbals that affect blood clotting
  • Drugs and herbals that lower blood sugar
  • Sedating prescription, non-prescription, and herbal products

Last Revision October 19, 2004

References

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Blumenthal M. Farm bill bans use of name “ginseng” on non-Panax species: “Siberian ginseng” no longer allowed as commercial term [press release]. Austin, Texas: American Botanical Council; Fall 2002.

Cicero AF, Derosa G, Brillante R, Bernardi R, Nascetti S, Gaddi A. Effects of Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus maxim.) on elderly quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics Supplement. 2004;(9):69-73.

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