Panax ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine to enhance stamina and capacity to cope with fatigue and physical stress. Major active components are the ginsenosides, which are mainly triterpenoid dammarane derivatives. The mechanisms of ginseng actions remain unclear, although there is an extensive literature chat deals with effects on the CNS (memory, learning, and behavior), neuroendocrine function, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, immune function, and the cardiovascular system. Reports are often contradictory, perhaps because the ginsenoside content of ginseng root or root extracts can differ, depending on the method of extraction, subsequent treatment, or even the season of its collection. Therefore, use of standardized, authentic ginseng root both in research and by the public is to be advocated. Several recent studies have suggested that the antioxidant and organ protective actions of ginseng are linked to enhanced nitric oxide (NO) synthesis in endothelium of lung, heart, and kidney and in the corpus cavernosum. Enhanced NO synthesis thus could contribute to ginseng associated vasodilatation and perhaps also to an aphrodisiac action of the root. Ginseng is sold in the U.S. as a food additive and thus need not meet specific safety and efficacy requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, such sales amount to over $300 million annually. As public use of ginseng continues to grow, it is important for this industry and Federal regulatory authorities to encourage efforts to study the efficacy of ginseng in humans by means of appropriately designed double blind clinical studies.
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