Not taking Ginseng? You’re doing it wrong.

Study Title
Ginseng: potential for the enhancement of cognitive performance and mood.
Study Authors
David O Kennedy, Andrew B Scholey
Study Model Human
Abstract Link


I read a lot so you don’t have to…but I think you shouldn’t believe everything that the 1st page of Google tells you (cause most of the content seems to be a repeat of a repeat of a repeat – with so many content alterations that when you actually find the source information it says something completely different than expected). And that is why I think you should read the review article by David Kennedy and Andrew Scholey.

It’s a long article, but I’ve noted down a couple of my ‘highlights’. Firstly, not all Ginseng is the same. Many commercially available products contain very little active compounds, which make the supplement useless. That is why you need to pick quality over price when choosing your supplements. Pick a reputable, tested brand you can trust and don’t be swayed by marketing messages or nice packaging. Placebo effect is great, but so are active compounds in Ginseng.

Second observation is that Ginseng has an adaptogenic effect on the body, rebalancing systems, so that you can be ‘normal’ again when you feel tired, weak, fatigued. This could be thanks to many active compounds present in Ginseng, which affect multiple molecular pathways, e.g. reducing levels of a stress hormone – cortisol. When it comes to the brain though, the effect could be related to nitric oxide production, which is also investigated as a mechanism of action in case of other nootropic supplements.

Going back to quality over price – the third observation is that again quality is key if you want to see cognitive improvements. In particular, memory enhancing effects could be observed in Ginseng preparations with a high ratio of panaxatriol to panaxadiol (but not when the ratio of the two compounds was low).

‘400’ seems to be the key number. Take too much (600mg) or too little (200mg) and your cognition could be worse, take 400mg and your cognition could be better. With many studies investigating 200mg dose in a chronic setting it shouldn’t be a surprise that no positive effect was observed (200mg doesn’t work in acute setting, why would it work better after 4 or 8 weeks?). So maybe more studies are required with 400mg and a chronic use of ginseng.

For now, based on the research I think Ginseng should be taken as a separate supplement, not mixed with Ginkgo etc. but as 400mg of Ginseng cycled weekly: week on, week off. Or maybe even less frequently, to rebalance your body whenever you experienced high stress levels caused by e.g. increased workloads. This is where the Ginseng’s effect should be most pronounced.

Ultimately it is important that you feel the benefit of your supplements, so you should pick a routine that works best for you. Share your thoughts in the Comments section below – do you use Ginseng? what’s your routine like? does it help?

Dr Bart Alright


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