5 Potential Benefits Of Ginseng For Parkinson’s

Name: Ginseng, True ginseng
Types: Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng), Panax quinquefolius L. (American ginseng), Panax notoginseng (Chinese ginseng)
Active Compounds: Ginsenosides, polysaccharides, triterpenoids, and flavonoids
Goes well with: Gingko Biloba
Number of scientific references: 55
Level of Evidence: Level I What is this?

Note: Ginseng holds the potential of resolving motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease by increasing dopamine levels and protecting dopaminergic cells from neurodegeneration. It is a potential neuroprotective agent and can help prevent cognitive decline. Further research in human studies will help confirm its benefits as an add-on therapy in Parkinson’s

Ginseng is one of the most widely used herbal medicines. The herb holds multiple benefits for metabolic health, heart health, immunity, skin health, ageing etc.

Apart from preventing skin ageing, this herb does a fantastic job when it comes to protecting the ageing brain. It boosts the antioxidant defences of the brain that are reduced due to a consequence of normal ageing and lifestyle choices.

It also supports neurogenesis or formation of new brain cells that strengthen memory. It positively regulates our brain chemistry to halt the age-related cognitive decline and to prevent neurodegenerative diseases.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease that is characterised by degeneration of cells in the part of the brain that controls are a movement-related function. These cells predominantly utilise a neurotransmitter or brain chemical dopamine to execute functions such as the ability to walk, coordinate our movement etc. and are referred to as dopaminergic neurons.

Abnormal accumulation of certain proteins (specifically alpha-synuclein) in the brain leads to the death of dopaminergic neurons and causes Parkinson’s.

Ginseng and its active components ginsenosides benefit in Parkinson’s disease by rescuing dopaminergic neurons from degeneration. It increases dopamine levels, reduces inflammation, boosts antioxidant defences and protects from neurotoxicity. This helps in ameliorating motor symptoms as well as a cognitive decline in Parkinson’s.

These findings are limited to animal studies. They are promising and must be investigated in human studies. Ginseng can be a potential add-on therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

Suggested Ginseng Supplements For Parkinson’s

Please consult a health practitioner before taking health supplements.

Ginseng Root Extract Supplements

Here is a list of recommended ginseng root extracts. These are identified based on composition, company profile, user reviews and global availability.

Please follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosage.

Solgar Full Spectrum Korean Ginseng Auragin Korean Red Ginseng Nature’s Plus American Ginseng

Image Credit: Solgar, Inc.

Image Credit: Auragin

Image Credit: Nature’s Plus

Contains 200mg ginseng root powder with 250mg standardised extracts( 8% ginsenosides) Contains 300mg ginseng root with 8% ginsenosides Contains 250mg American ginseng root powder with 5% ginsenosides per vegetarian capsule
Buy from Amazon (US, UK, Canada)

Buy from iHerb (Global)

Buy from Amazon (US, UK) Buy from Amazon (US, Canada)

Buy from iHerb (Global)

Patented Ginseng Formulations

G115 is a patented extract of ginseng developed by Pharmaton, Switzerland and contains about 4% ginsensosides. GINST15 is a patented formulation containing enzyme fermented ginseng extract and is developed by Ilhwa Co. Ltd.

These standardized preparation are used in studies primarily because their content and quality is reliable.

Pharmaton Vitality Capsules Ilhwa Enzyme Fermented Ginseng

Image Credit: Pharmaton, Sanofi Ireland Ltd.

Image Credit: Ilhwa Co. Ltd.

Contains G115 and multivitamins and minerals Contains GS15-4 extract only
Buy from Amazon (US, UK, Canada)

Buy similar product from iHerb (Global)

Buy from Amazon (US, UK, Canada)

Buy from iHerb (Global)

5 Potential Benefits Of Ginseng For Parkinson’s Disease

Let’s go over a few pre-clinical studies that show how this Chinese herb can help in ameliorating symptoms of PD.

1.Ginseng has an anti-Parkinsonian effect

Ginseng possesses multiple pharmacological properties that can aid in prevention and treatment of neurological diseases.

In 2003, Van Kampen and his colleagues demonstrated that oral intake of ginseng extract prevents loss of dopaminergic cells in the substantia nigra (part of the brain that is adversely affected by Parkinson’s disease). The extract also reduced motor deficits or impairment of movement.

These findings suggested that the herb can prevent the progress of Parkinson’s disease.

Further in 2014, the same group of researchers corroborated these findings by evaluating the efficacy of Panax ginseng extract in models that closely mimicked the progressive nature of the disease.

The extract successfully reduced the loss of dopaminergic cells, prevented accumulation of alpha-synuclein ( abnormal aggregation of this protein contributes to symptoms of Parkinson’s) and inhibited abnormal activation of the brain’s immune cells.

It also prevented any movement related deficits and offered neuroprotection.

Ginsensosides, present in ginseng, are identified as potential herbal anti-Parkinsonian drugs.

Pseudoginsenoside-F11, present in American ginseng, is proven to benefit from multiple neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease. (Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013)

In an animal model of Parkinson’s, pseudoginsenoside-F11 ameliorated motor deficits and increased extracellular dopamine levels in the brain. It also reduced oxidative stress and boosted antioxidant defences in the brain.

Another important active component present in the herb is Ginsenoside Rg1. A review study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017 highlighted the multiple benefits of ginsenoside Rg1 for Parkinson’s disease:

  • Preventing motor deficits
  • Improving dopamine synthesis
  • Reducing inflammation in the brain
  • Stimulating antioxidant defences
  • Preventing cell death of neurons

These results suggest that ginsenosides present in the herb exert anti-Parkinsonian effect and can potentially prevent disease progression.

Quick Gist: Ginseng extracts are proven to benefit from Parkinson’s disease by improving dopamine synthesis and preventing accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein. Abnormal accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein creates toxic conditions in the brain that pave the way for Parkinson’s onset.

2.Ginsenosides can reduce motor symptoms in Parkinson’s

Motor symptoms such as rigidity, bradykinesia and tremor are the cardinal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, the disease is heterogeneous; some patients present with tremor-dominant symptoms while rigidity and bradykinesia are the major complaints of some patients.

The disease progression rates differ based on which symptoms are dominant. The clear pathological process that leads to these symptoms is not yet understood; degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the brain is one aspect of the entire cascade.

Ginsenoside Rg1 is proven to prevent motor symptoms in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease. It prevents loss of dopaminergic cells by suppressing oxidative stress.

Mitochondria are energy-producing units of the cells. Previously while exploring potential benefits of astaxanthin in Parkinson’s, I have mentioned about the PINK1 gene and inherited risk of Parkinson’s disease.

PINK1 gene keeps a check on mitochondrial function and errors in this gene expression contributes to mitochondrial dysfunction in PD. Antioxidants targeting mitochondrial function helps restore their function.

A recent study published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2015 demonstrated that ginsenoside Rd reduces levels of reactive oxygen species in the cells and preserves mitochondrial function to protect dopaminergic cells.

Researchers from Ewha Woman’s University, Seoul, South Korea have found that ginsenoside Re improves the functioning of defective PINK1 gene and helps target mitochondrial dysfunction in PD.

Apart from curbing oxidative stress, ginsenoside Rg1 employs its anti-neuroinflammatory property. It reduces the elevated levels of pro-inflammatory agents which were induced by aberrant alpha-synuclein accumulation.

As per pre-clinical studies, ginsenosides increase dopamine levels in the substantia nigra. This is the same mode of action that conventional therapy utilises to treat motor symptoms in PD.

Quick Gist: Ginsenosides ameliorate the major symptoms of PD: motor deficits. They reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain which helps rescue dopaminergic cells.

They may also increase dopamine levels, modulate genetic factors and improve mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s to reduce motor symptoms.

3.It offers neuroprotection

Ginseng protects against major neurodegenerative diseases. The most important ginsenosides that confer neuroprotection in Parkinson’s disease are Rb1, Rg1, Rd and Re and to a certain extent Notoginsenoside R2 and Pseudoginsenoside-F11.

These components exhibit a variety of pharmacological actions to protect brain health in PD such as reduction of inflammation, oxidative stress, protecting from neurotoxicity.

The role of neuroinflammation or inflammation in the brain in Parkinson’s disease is still a mystery. Accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein in the brain triggers inflammation or an autoimmune response.

This uncontrolled inflammation leads to neurodegeneration or loss of neuronal cells. However, researchers highlight that this neuroinflammation is a ‘double-edged sword’: it can be protective at earlier stages and detrimental during later stages of disease progression.

Ginsenosides reduce such neuroinflammation and protect dopaminergic cells in Parkinson’s. They regulate the levels of pro-inflammatory agents such as COX-2, prostaglandins and prevent neurodegeneration.

Ginsenosides also protect from neurotoxicity (toxicity in the brain) and prevent cell death by activating cell survival pathway.

As per findings of preclinical studies, they also promote repair and growth of neuronal cells. Glutamate is one of the chemicals in our brain that is involved in the transmission of signals via the nervous system.

High levels of glutamate and its abnormal activity create a condition that is referred to as ‘glutamate excitotoxicity’. This condition accelerates degeneration of brain cells in PD.

Ginsenoside Rb1 suppresses this condition and improves the communication between the brain cells to reduce motor symptoms and rescue brain cells (Neuropharmacology, 2017)

The incidence of Parkinson’s disease is less in women than in men. This indicates that possible the female sex hormones offer neuroprotection against PD.

Various pre-clinical studies have shown that estrogen protects from dopamine depletion in Parkinson’s.

Since conventional hormone replacement therapy has side effects, women opt for phytoestrogens.

Ginsenoside Rg1 is a phytoestrogen that also protects brain health. It rescues dopaminergic neurons by reducing iron overload and preventing cell death. Aberrant function of iron transporters in PD leads to high levels of iron in neurons and causes degeneration of neurons.

Li and his colleagues have demonstrated via their research as to how ginsenoside Rg1 mediates estrogenic effect and increases dopamine levels to protect brain cells in PD.

Insulin-like growth factor-I receptor (IGF-IR) is a protein present in our cells. One of its function is to support the growth of the nervous system and protect from neurodegeneration. Pathways involving IGF-IR interact with estrogen receptors to protect brain health.

In the study, Li et al. showed that phytoestrogen ginsenoside Rg1 protects dopaminergic neurons from damage by activating the IGF-IR pathway. This provides better insights on the multifaceted action of ginseng in Parkinson’s.

Quick Gist: Ginseng is a promising neuroprotective agent for Parkinson’s therapy. Apart from reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, ginsenosides prevent cell death, initiate repair, exert estrogenic effect and regulate neurotransmission.

This can reduce neurodegeneration and prevent the disease from progressing.

4.It can help treat dementia and depression in PD

Individuals with Parkinson’s disease have a six-fold increased risk of developing dementia than individuals of the same age without Parkinson’s.

Toxic accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein in the brain creates toxic protein aggregates called Lewy bodies. These contribute to the occurrence of motor symptoms as well as cognitive impairment.

Around 40-50% of the patients with PD experience depressive symptoms. If left untreated the depressive symptoms could manifest beyond mood disturbances; it could worsen quality of life, worsen functional disability, lead to earlier initiation of dopaminergic therapy and make it more challenging for a caregiver.

Treatment of these symptoms with conventional therapy, at times, could be challenging as certain psychiatric drugs could worsen motor symptoms and cognitive symptoms.

Ginseng as an add-on therapy can help mitigate depressive symptoms and cognitive decline.

Ginsenosides have a cognition-enhancing effect. Lee et al. have shown that administering 4.5g of Panax ginseng root per day for 12 weeks improves cognition in Alzheimer’s disease.

These active compounds exert an anti-dementia effect by regulating neurotransmitters or chemicals in our brain that are involved in our mood, cognition and memory function.

This property of ginseng to regulate brain chemistry is also proven to help with depression. Though not related to PD, there has been a study where treatment with Korean Red ginseng (3g/day) for eight weeks is proven to resolve symptoms of the major depressive disorder.

Other unique ways by which ginsenosides relieve depressive symptoms are by reducing inflammation in the body and supporting neurogenesis (formation of new brain cells).

Quick Gist: Ginseng’s antidepressant and anti-dementia activity can help treat non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and improve patients’ quality of life.

5.Ginseng protects the ageing brain and can prevent neurodegenerative disorders

Aging is said to be one of the causes of neurodegenerative diseases. As per a hypothesis, reduced antioxidant defences and increased oxidative stress contribute to ageing.

Memory lapses, cognitive decline and onset of neurodegenerative diseases are few signs of the ageing brain.

A recent study published in Journal of Ginseng Research, 2017 reported that chronic dietary intake of ginseng extracts halts age-related cognitive decline by regulating antioxidant defences and our brain chemistry.

Here are a few ways by which ginseng protects the ageing brain:

  • Improves the connection and communication between brain cells to improve memory
  • Promotes neurogenesis or development of new brain cells in the hippocampus (part of the brain that primarily deals with memory)
  • Reduces oxidative stress and deactivates biochemical pathways that cause cell death of brain cells
  • Protects brain function and can enhance cognition (thinking and overall brain performance)
  • Protects memory from adverse effects of abnormal blood sugar levels and improves insulin activity
  • Reduces age-related inflammation in the brain
  • Enhances memory

These medicinal benefits of ginseng can aid in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Quick Gist: Ginseng extracts protect the ageing brain in multiple ways. It prevents age-related cognitive decline and strengthens memory.Ginseng supplementation or dietary inclusion can help in preventing Parkinson’s disease.

Dosage of Ginseng For Parkinson’s Disease

There is no prescribed dosage of ginseng for Parkinson’s. I have not come across on human studies assessing the effect of ginseng in Parkinson’s disease. For other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a dose of 4.5g of Panax ginseng root powder per day for 12 weeks is found to be beneficial.

The extracts are available in the form of powder, supplements, tinctures or liquid extracts. Not much data is available as to which type of ginseng is beneficial for Parkinson’s; based on current evidence it is advisable to use Asian ginseng.

For Parkinson’s prevention, a dose of 200-400mg of standardised ginseng extract or even dietary inclusion of the herb can be beneficial.

Please consult a health practitioner before taking ginseng supplements.

Precautions with Ginseng Use

Ginseng is considered as a safe herb. Few adverse effects have been noted with high doses: insomnia, headache, diarrhoea, constipation, gastric upset, nausea, vomiting, cramps.

Experimental studies reveal that the herb may not be safe during pregnancy.

It has antiplatelet activity, and this may affect the activity of blood thinners such as warfarin. The herb’s use is to be discontinued one week before surgery to avoid interference with antiplatelet activity.

It may interact with drugs that alter brain chemistry; please consult a health practitioner before taking ginseng in such cases.

If taking any medications, avoid taking ginseng at the same time since it may interfere with drug metabolism. Also, consult a health practitioner before taking ginseng supplements to learn about dosage and possibility of drug interactions if any.

UMM has listed a few drugs which ginseng may interact with: heart and blood pressure medicines, blood thinners, caffeine, diabetes medication, immunosuppressants, psychiatric drugs, stimulants, diuretics, opioid analgesics.

Conclusion

Ginseng is a potential therapeutic agent for neurodegenerative diseases. It helps in Parkinson’s disease primarily by increasing dopamine levels and rescuing dopaminergic neurons in the brain.

This action helps relieve motor symptoms. It also reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain. Ginsenosides, the active compounds of the herb, can help treat dementia and depression in PD.

Its multi-modal action can protect the ageing brain from neurodegenerative diseases. Further research in the form of clinical trials is warranted to confirm the pre-clinical findings and to understand its safety and efficacy as an add-on therapy to conventional treatment for Parkinson’s.

Have you tried ginseng for early symptoms of Parkinson’s or for preventing it? If you have, then do share your experience in the form of comments below.

Ginseng benefits for Parkinsons

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