American ginseng root is one of the most prized herbs in the world and is believed to have health-improving elements. In fact, it is most revered in China, even though an almost identical herb, called Asian ginseng, is native there. Here's how American ginseng root works as an alternative medicine.
Research on American ginseng root in the past 20 years has increasingly shown that it can help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes mellitus. The effect seems most prominent when American ginseng is taken 30 to 60 minutes before eating. This suggests American ginseng may work in part by slowing the absorption of sugars from the diet. Other research hints that American ginseng may work at least in part by making the cells more receptive to insulin in people who are insulin resistant.
Regardless of how American ginseng works, it must be used in conjunction with dietary and lifestyle changes. American ginseng works well with these therapies but is not effective by itself. It may help avoid the need for oral diabetes drugs in people with type II diabetes but can never substitute for insulin in people with type I diabetes. However, there have been no long-term studies on this.
American ginseng also helps the body cope with stress and strengthens the immune system. Compounds known as saponins that are found in ginseng reduce the damage the body's stress hormones cause. Saponins may also help muscle cells produce and use energy more efficiently, which helps the body cope with stress. These compensatory mechanisms reduce the negative impact of stress on immunity.
Cancer cells tend to secrete compounds that inhibit the immune system, and there is some evidence that ginseng can reduce the immune-suppressing and immune-damaging effects of cancer and of treatments for cancer, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. This seems to improve quality of life, though its effect on longevity is not yet known. Ginseng also directly augments the effects of T helper cells, the leaders of the immune system, which are also quite helpful to cancer patients.