Evaluation of supplements should always take into account the relevant differences in the substances involved. For studies of Ginseng, for instance, it is of utmost importance to determine if the data one is looking at pertains to Korean Red Ginseng, or its North American counterpart.
Korean Ginseng is scientifically known as Panax ginseng, a Latin name deriving from the same root as “panacea,” or “cure-all.” This reflects the history of Ginseng in the ancient world as being good for nearly all illnesses. North American ginseng is scientifically known as Panacis quinquefolis.
In this article, I’ll summarize what scientific studies have been able to determine about both Ginsengs, and their possible effect on blood pressure.
✲ American Ginseng has not been shown to have any effect on blood pressure, good or bad.
✲ Most studies regarding Korean Ginseng show a neutral effect.
✲ Menopausal women in a number of studies have reported improvements in quality of life and symptom relief.
✲ One study, however, may indicate that there is a blood pressure benefit to Panax ginseng, and that more research is warranted.
North American Ginseng
Given the prevalence of ginseng use in supplement circles, it’s no surprise that many Western scientists and doctors have begun studying it. Research conducted in 1979 by a doctor named Ronald Siegel has been cited by multiple latter researchers as a basis for their studies.
One such team, publishing in the journal Hypertension, sought to investigate whether North American Ginseng (NAG) had any of the supposed benefits of Korean Ginseng. While their study didn’t take into account all the purported uses of ginseng, it did follow blood pressure monikers very closely.
Their data showed no changes in blood pressure among 16 hypertensive individuals. It should be noted that the placebo control and ginseng were given to the same population, and that the study took blood pressure readings on the same day as treatment; there were no long term data reported.
It is good to note, however, that while they saw no evidence of ginseng improving blood pressure, it did not raise blood pressure, either.
Korean Red Ginseng Studies
Modern research has trended toward the use of meta-analysis to determine whether more research is needed in a field. As an example, if there are 900 studies on record showing that nicotine is bad, and statistical analysis of those studies shows no deviations, then a new study probably isn’t necessary.
In the case of supplements, these meta-studies can yield misleading results if read the wrong way. One report I found analyzed studies comprising over 1,300 people, and found “neutral vascular effect,”meaning no blood pressure changes, good or bad.
But the rest of their study points out several problems with relying on only the statistics: there was no detail of which Ginseng types were used; not all the studies were randomized or placebo controlled; and body-mass-index appeared to play a role in results.
While this bodes well for the safety of ginseng use, it is by no means indicative of correlations or causations between blood pressure and ginseng.
Studies with Results
Another meta-analysis I found did point to results that may indicate Panax ginseng, specifically, can help with blood pressure and hypertension. This analysis broadened and narrowed its scope.
It narrowed its focus to only include Korean ginseng, an important note because we’ve already seen that NAG has no effect, one way or the other. But this analysis also widened its focus to include high blood sugar, high fat content in blood, and high blood pressure. These three health issues have feedback-loop effects on one another, and by analyzing how Panax ginseng influences one, they may see how it lowers others.
Their results showed how ginseng may, indeed, help with indicators of obesity, and in so helping with those factors, may lower blood pressure. In addition to citing dozens of other research, they mentioned one specifically that pointed to the lowering of a specific marker that could be related to hypertension and blood pressure.
This marker, called lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2, or Lp-PLA2, was lowered in patients who had taken Korean ginseng versus the placebo; these patients also had lower blood pressure.
Other studies of Lp-PLA2 have indicated it may be the new key to unlocking many blood pressure and hypertensive diseases, and ginseng could play a role in controlling it.
Two main reasons to conduct research are to look for primary benefits and to look for primary dangers. Researchers can discover important secondary benefits, and then scientists can come behind them and conduct studies looking for those secondary outcomes as primary targets of their own research.
This is all important to know because with something as important as heart-health, dozens of factors can come into play. When researching ginseng for blood pressure impact, no one has found any harm, in primary or secondary outcomes.
They have, however, seen possible benefits–but only with Panax ginseng. And those benefits may be limited to the secondary outcomes of lowering a key blood marker, Lp-PLA2, or in helping with co-symptoms of high blood pressure, such as blood sugar.
No matter the primary aim of the research, no findings suggest any blood pressure or risk with the use of North American or Korean ginsengs.