Use of Korean Red Ginseng

We are interested in the RedGidity product. My husband does have high blood pressure that is controlled by a small dose of medication plus one aspirin per day. Otherwise, he is a strong and active healthy individual.

Your warning on RedGidity says that someone with high blood pressure should not take this product. If the high blood pressure is controlled with small dose of medication does this warning still apply?

ROBIN, San Diego, CA

Dear Robin,

I’ve sometimes wondered who writes many of the blurbs on the labels, myself. A lot of it sounds like an FDA-paranoiac attorney wrote it.

Panax ginseng has been used in traditional Korean and Asian herbal medicine as an adaptogenic tonic to restore and enhance normal well-being for thousands of years.1 Panax means “all healing,” and reflects the belief that ginseng is a panacea that heals all aspects of the body and promotes longevity.2

I graduated from Han Yang University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, in 1978, where I was imbued with the numerous anecdotal benefits of ginseng. I was surprised, therefore, by an early report in JAMA that ginseng allegedly caused hypertension.3 This was followed by a number of articles in “reputable” journals that parroted what I believed to be an erroneous observation,4,5 becoming a “pseudo-fact” that was even repeated on a Life Enhancement label.

One of the earliest well-done studies that I read that soundly refuted the mainstream dogma was conducted by scientists from the prestigious Seoul National University College of Medicine in Korea.6 The scientists evaluated the changes of diurnal blood pressure after 8 weeks of red ginseng medication (4.5 g/day) by 24 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring. In 26 subjects with essential hypertension, the 24-hour mean systolic blood pressure decreased significantly while diastolic blood pressure showed a non-significant tendency to decline. The decreases in pressures were observed at daytime (8 AM–6 PM) and dawn (5 AM–7 AM). In 8 subjects with “white coat hypertension,” no significant blood pressure change was observed. The scientists suggested that red ginseng might be useful as a safe adjuvant to antihypertensive medications.

In 2006, scientists from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, conducted the first-known randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the long-term effect of North American ginseng on blood pressure and kidney function.7 After a 4-week placebo run-in, 52 participants were given 3 g/day of ginseng or placebo for 12 weeks. This was followed by an 8-week washout and a subsequent 12-week period in which the opposite treatment was administered. 37 participants completed the trial (15 were removed from the study for unrelated reasons). The 12-week ginseng treatment was associated with no effect on all ambulatory BP parameters compared with placebo. Ginseng also did not affect serum cystatin C level (a sensitive, highly sophisticated test of kidney function). The scientists concluded that “Overall, long-term ginseng use had no effect on 24-hour BP and renal function in hypertensive individuals.”

More recently, scientists from the University of Zagreb, Croatia, conducted a study to evaluate the effect of American ginseng (AG) on arterial stiffness, as measured by augmentation index (AI), and blood pressure (BP), in type 2 diabetes patients with concomitant hypertension.8 In this study, 64 individuals with well-controlled essential hypertension and type 2 diabetes (22 Males, 42 Females, average age: 63 ± 9.3 years, BP: 145 ± 10.8/84 ± 8.0 mmHg, HbA1c: 7.0 ± 1.3%, fasting blood glucose (FBG): 8.1 ± 2.3 mmol/L) were given 3 g per day of AG or placebo for 12 weeks (in addition to their usual antihypertensive and anti-diabetic therapy). Compared to placebo, 3g of AG significantly lowered radial AI by 5.3% and systolic BP by 11.7% at 12 weeks, although there was no effect on diastolic BP. The scientists concluded that addition of AG extract to conventional therapy in hypertensive diabetics improved arterial stiffness and lowered systolic BP.

In February, 2014, scientists from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China, aware of ginseng’s popular use to treat cardiovascular complications in oriental countries, investigated the mechanisms underlying the purported vascular benefits of ginsenoside Rb3 (Rb3) (an active component of the ginseng herb) in hypertension.9 Testing Rb3 on human endothelial cells derived from renal arteries of hypertensive patients, the scientists reported that Rb3 led to increased nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability (this is the same effect of the ED drug, Viagra), and reduced oxidative stress, suggesting (conservatively) that Rb3-containing medicinal plants might be effective in curtailing oxidative stress and protecting endothelial function in hypertension.

Aside from ginseng’s potential antihypertensive effect, other studies have confirmed the anti-diabetic,1,10 erectile-enhancing,11 and cognitive-enhancing effects12 of Korean red ginseng. In view of the abundance of studies reflecting the numerous benefits of the ingredients in RedGidity, and absence of adverse effects, I would disregard what I consider an erroneous caution on the label, and include RedGidity in my daily regimen (which I do) as well as that of your husband.

Ward Dean, M.D.

References

  1. Cho YH, Ahn SC, Lee SY, Jeong DW, Choi EJ, Kim YJ, Lee JG, Lee YH, Shin BC. Effect of Korean red ginseng on insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic healthy overweight and obese adults. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2013;22(3):365-71.
  2. Kim JH. Cardiovascular Diseases and Panax ginseng: A Review on Molecular Mechanisms and Medical Applications. J Ginseng Res. 2012 Jan;36(1):16-26.
  3. Siegle RK Ginseng abuse syndrome. Problems with the panacea. JAMA. 1979;241: 1614-5.
  4. Klepser TB, Klepser ME. Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 1999;56:125-41.
  5. Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: Selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158:2200-11.
  6. Han KH, Choe SC, Kim HS, Sohn DW, Nam KY, Oh BH, Lee MM, Park YB, Choi YS, Seo JD, Lee YW. Effect of red ginseng on blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension and white coat hypertension. Am J Chin Med. 1998;26(2):199-209.
  7. Stavro PM, Woo M, Leiter LA, et al. Long-term intake of North American ginseng has no effect on 24-hour blood pressure and renal function. Hypertension. 2006 Apr;47:791-6 DOI: 10.1161/01.HYP0000205150.43169.2c.
  8. Mucalo I, Jovanovski E, Rahelić D, Božikov V, Romić Z, Vuksan V. Effect of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) on arterial stiffness in subjects with type-2 diabetes and concomitant hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Oct 28;150(1):148-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.08.015. Epub 2013 Aug 22.
  9. Wang Y, Dong J, Liu P, Lau CW, Gao Z, Zhou D, Tang J, Ng CF, Huang Y. Ginsenoside Rb3 attenuates oxidative stress and preserves endothelial function in hypertension. Br J Pharmacol. 2014 Feb 26. doi: 10.1111/bph.12660. [Epub ahead of print]
  10. Kim HO, Park MJ, Han JS. Effect of fermented red ginseng on blood glucose and insulin resistance in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Korean Soc Food Sci Nutr. 2011;40:696-703. DOI: 10.3746/jkfn.2011.40.5.696
  11. Jong, DJ, Lee, MS, Shin, BC, et al. Red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction: a systematic review. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2008; 66;444-50. DOI: 1011/j.13652125.2008.03236.x
  12. Heo JH, Lee ST, Chu K, et al. An open-label trial of Korean red ginseng as an adjuvant treatment for cognitive impairment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Eur J Neurol. 2008;15:865-8. DOI: 10.1111/j.14681331.2008.02157.x

Ingredients in this Article

FREE Subscription

  • You're just getting started! We have published thousands of scientific health articles. Stay updated and maintain your health.

    It's free to your e-mail inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time.
    Loading Indicator