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Information about Red Berry

Scientific Name: American Ginseng

Other Names: Anchi, Canadian Ginseng, Five Fingers, Ginseng, American, North American Ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, Red Berry, Ren Shen

Who is this for?

NOTE: American ginseng is different from Panax ginseng and Eleuthero (formerly Siberian ginseng). They are not interchangeable.

As its name indicates, American ginseng is native to North America. While it is related to Panax ginseng, which originated in Asia, American ginseng is a distinct species with a different chemical makeup than Panax ginseng. Most notably, American ginseng typically has higher levels of a chemical known as ginsenoside Rb1 and no ginsenoside Rf. Ginsenoside Rb1 is believed to limit or prevent the growth of new blood vessels. American ginseng has not been studied as extensively as Panax ginseng, but, in general, ginsengs are considered to be adaptogens, or substances that may help individuals adjust to physical and emotional stress.

American ginseng may have several main effects in the body. For example, in small studies of humans, taking American ginseng has appeared to lower blood sugar levels for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Non-diabetic study participants also experienced reductions in blood sugar levels, although their reductions were smaller than those seen in individuals with diabetes. Results from one small study in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed that American ginseng combined with ginkgo biloba may help to control disruptive behavior associated with ADHD. American ginseng has also been shown in animal and laboratory studies to protect nerve cells from damage caused by a lack of oxygen. In humans, this effect could help prevent or limit impairment from strokes. None of these potential effects have been studied well enough to recommend the use of American ginseng to treat any of these conditions.

Even though American ginseng is thought to have estrogen-like components that ordinarily may worsen hormone-dependent conditions such as some types of breast cancer; laboratory studies have shown that it may have a cancer-fighting effect for breast cancer cells. Both the methods used to process American ginseng and possible fungal contamination may contribute to potential estrogenic effects. Further studies of American ginseng’s possible use as add-on therapy for breast cancer and investigations of its potential to relieve symptoms of menopause are underway.

Frequently, American ginseng is added to sports supplements and beverages that are promoted to increase physical performance. In small studies, however, products containing American ginseng did not show any benefit over placebo (sugar pills) for athletes who took it.

When should I be careful taking it?

American ginseng is thought to have some estrogenic properties, which could worsen certain conditions. Women with hormone-dependent conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, or uterus should not take American ginseng due to its possible estrogenic effects. Men with prostate cancer should also avoid taking it.

American ginseng is thought to slow the rate and decrease the force of heart beats. It may also reduce blood pressure in some cases. All of these effects may worsen many types of heart conditions, therefore individuals with heart disease should not take American ginseng without supervision from a healthcare professional.

Taking high doses of American ginseng has been reported to worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia in some individuals.

Precautions

Individuals with diabetes should use only recommended amounts of American ginseng and monitor their blood sugar levels closely while taking it. Taking more than is recommended may result in hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is too low). Indications of low blood sugar may include shakiness, sweating, confusion, distorted speech, and loss of muscle control. If not corrected, low blood sugar can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

Very little information is available on how American ginseng might affect a developing fetus, an infant, or a small child. Therefore, its use is not recommended during pregnancy, while breast-feeding, or during early childhood.

Taking American ginseng may cause or worsen insomnia.

What side effects should I watch for?

Infrequently, the use of American ginseng has been associated with insomnia, irritability, nervousness, or restlessness, but these effects are usually mild and temporary.

What interactions should I watch for?

Prescription Drugs

A small recent study found that taking American ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of the “blood-thinning” drug, warfarin. As a result, warfarin may not be as effective and blood clots could form. Whether American ginseng interferes with other anticoagulant drugs (such as heparin) or with antiplatelet drugs (such as Plavix and Ticlid) is not known. Individuals taking a drug to prevent blood clots should not take American ginseng before discussing its use with a healthcare professional.

Because American ginseng may reduce blood sugar levels, it may interfere with insulin and oral drugs for diabetes including:

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

In reported cases, the risk of side effects such as headache, insomnia, and shakiness increased when American ginseng was taken with antidepressants known as MAO inhibitors. Drugs in this class include:

  • isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • phenelzine (Nardil)
  • selegiline (Eldepryl)
  • tranylcypromine (Parnate)

American ginseng is believed to affect levels of neurotransmitters, chemicals that carry messages from nerve cells to other cells. Antipsychotic drugs used to treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia also alter the levels of neurotransmitters. If American ginseng and antipsychotic drugs are taken at the same time, the effectiveness of the drug may be changed, so it is best to avoid using American ginseng while taking drugs such as:

  • chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • risperidone (Risperdal)

Because it is a general central nervous system stimulant, American ginseng may increase the effects and the side effects of prescription drugs that also stimulate the central nervous system. Used mainly to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, and obesity; stimulant drugs can raise heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulants include:

  • amphetamine salts (Adderall)
  • dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • methylphenidate (Concerta, Methlyn, Ritalin)
  • phentermine (Adipex-P, Ionamin)

Chemicals in American ginseng may act like estrogen in the body. When it is taken at the same time as estrogen replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, American ginseng may interfere with the way the body uses the estrogen. As a result, estrogens or oral contraceptives may not be as effective, some women may experience increased side effects, or the risk of an unintended pregnancy may be slightly higher.

Non-prescription Drugs

Stimulants may be included in non-prescription drugs that are used for increasing energy, losing weight, raising mental alertness, or treating colds or asthma. If American ginseng is taken by mouth at the same time as one of these products is being used, the central nervous system may be overstimulated, possibly resulting in insomnia, and irritability. Increased blood pressure is also possible. If you are not sure whether the non-prescription drugs you take contain stimulants, ask your doctor or pharmacist before you begin taking American ginseng.

Herbal Products

Because American ginseng 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: Because American ginseng 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:

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

Certain herbal products are stimulants that may result in side effects if they are taken with American ginseng. These herbal products include ephedra (which has been removed from the market), guarana, and mate. If any of these are taken with American ginseng, insomnia, irritability, nervousness, and other side effects may result.

Foods

Caffeine increases the central nervous system stimulation effect of American ginseng. The combination may cause excessive nervousness and irritability, along with other signs of over-stimulation. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee, soft drinks, and tea should not be consumed when taking American ginseng.

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?

American ginseng was originally found in the central woodlands of the northern United States and southern Canada. Although it was used by Native Americans to treat several conditions, the North American medical community did not adopt its use as a medicinal plant until well after 1900. After being introduced to China in the 18th century, however, American ginseng was quickly adopted by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Now, it is grown commercially in China, and sometimes distributed back to North America. Because American ginseng is an international endangered species, its collection from wild sources has been strictly regulated for nearly 20 years. Wild American ginseng root is preferred to cultivated root; however, so it usually sells for a higher price. Therefore, the control of illegal harvesting of wild American ginseng from public land is a major problem for the U.S. National Park Service.

American ginseng plants are small — only about a foot tall. When mature, they have three or four groups of five dark green leaves arranged in rough circles around short stems. The species name, quinquefolius, means "five-leaves". On a larger central stem at the center of each plant, a group of small red berries forms after little yellow flowers bloom in summer. In the wild, American ginseng grows in cool, dark, damp areas under the cover of trees. When it is grown as a crop, American ginseng must be shaded by awnings or trellises. Commercial cultivation is difficult and crops mature slowly.

Very early results from chemical analyses have found some active ingredients in American ginseng leaves and berries, but the part of American ginseng currently used for medicine is the root. Harvested in the autumn from plants that are 4 years old or older, American ginseng roots are usually thick at the top and branch into two or sometimes three smaller sections toward the end. Smooth-skinned, the roots have a firm texture similar to carrots. They do not have a sweet smell like Panax ginseng roots, but they have a characteristic sweet/spicy taste that reminds some individuals of licorice. The roots typically are dried for use in medicine. American ginseng is also used in cosmetics, perfumes, soap, and soft drinks.

Dosage and Administration

American ginseng may be taken as fresh or dried root, as capsules containing powdered root, or as a liquid tincture. Although dosing recommendations for American ginseng are not consistent, typical recommendations are 200 mg to 500 mg twice a day for most individuals. In one study, doses for children with ADHD were 200 mg of American ginseng with 50 mg of ginkgo biloba extract taken twice a day for 4 weeks. To reduce blood sugar levels after meals for individuals with type 2 diabetes, a dose of 3,000 mg (3 grams) taken 2 hours before meals may be used. Participants in a study of American ginseng’s effect on blood sugar levels took up to 9,000 mg (9 grams) per day with no apparent increase in side effects. However, no additional reduction of blood sugar was seen from doses higher than 3,000 mg (3 grams).

Summary

Classed as an adaptogen, American ginseng may be taken to increase the body's resistance to stress. It has been shown in clinical studies to lower blood sugar levels, and it may also be useful in preventing damage from strokes and in relieving symptoms of ADHD. Its hormone-like effects are being studied for possible relief of menopausal symptoms.

Risks

Individuals who have heart conditions, endometriosis, schizophrenia, or hormone-dependent cancers should not take American ginseng. It should also be avoided by young children, individuals with insomnia, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. If individuals with diabetes take American ginseng, they should take no more than recommended doses and also check their blood sugar levels carefully to make sure they do not develop hypoglycemia.

Side Effects

Side effects attributed to American ginseng generally involve excitement of the central nervous system, including insomnia and restlessness.

Interactions

American ginseng may interfere with many prescription drugs, non-prescription products, and herbals, including:

  • caffeine
  • Central nervous system stimulants
  • Drugs and herbals used for the treatment of diabetes
  • Drugs used to treat schizophrenia
  • MAO inhibitors
  • warfarin

References

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American ginseng and cancer drugs inhibit breast cancer growth in in vitro study. HerbalGram. 2001;53:18.Oliff HS. Should ginseng be used to treat diabetes? HerbalGram. March 22, 2002.Popovich DG, Kitts DD. Generation of ginsenosides Rg3 and Rh2 from North American ginseng. Phytochemistry. 2004;65(3):337-344.Rotshteyn Y, Zito SW. Application of modified in vitro screening procedure for identifying herbals possessing sulfonylurea-like activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2004;93(2-3):337-344.Schulman RN. American ginseng reduces blood sugar levels after meals in type II diabetes in small trial. HerbalGram. 2001;53:19.Sengupta S, Toh SA, Sellers LA, et al. Modulating angiogenesis: the yin and the yang in ginseng. Circulation. 2004;110(10):1219-1225.Shao ZH, Xie JT, Vanden Hoek TL, et al. Antioxidant effects of American ginseng berry extract in cardiomyocytes exposed to acute oxidant stress. 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(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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