Athletes, coaches, and their health providers are always on the lookout for safe and effective ways to enhance the athletic performance. The therapeutic values of many herbs are beneficial in not only supporting the performance but also in aiding the recovery process.
Herbs like Ginseng are believed to boost energy and endurance levels, which make them supplements invaluable to sportspersons. Ginseng root extracts have been used in Asian countries for thousands of years. It is one of the most popular herbal medicines in the world [Jia and Zhao, 2009]. Korean red ginseng is the second best sold herbal supplement in the United states.
Ginseng has plenty to contribute to human health. It is believed to:
- Increase the endurance and strength of athletes,
- Improve immunity leading to increased resistance to infections;
- Be an ergogenic aid that improves physical performance;
- Reduce physical fatigue;
- Reduce mental stress;
- Improve mental awareness;
- Increase life expectancy.
The Chinese Herbal “Qi”
Ginseng is recorded by Asians as a Chinese herbal “Qi” meaning energy and life force. According to traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng root extract tonic has beneficial effects on the central nervous system. It helps to reduce stress and has an anti-fatigue action. Ginseng has the ability to accelerate metabolism.
Herbs are non-woody plants whose flowers, seeds, or leaves are used for food, medicine, flavoring, or fragrance. The phytochemicals such as flavonoids, phenols, saponins, and terpenes in herbs are believed to account for their beneficial effects. Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb belonging to the genus Panax of the plant family Araliaceae. Adaptogens are therapeutic and restorative substances that promote a sense of general wellbeing. They help the body resist the damaging effects of stress. (Brekhman et al., 1966)
The main bioactive components in Ginseng are ginsenosides and gintonin (Leung and Wong, 2010). About 30 steroidal glycosides called ginsenosides, found only in ginseng species, were considered the primary components of ginseng (Shibata et al., 1965). The ginsenoside levels can vary depending on the species, age of the herb, harvesting season, type of soil, and the part of the root being used. The fleshy roots of Korean red ginseng, traditionally harvested 6 years after planting, will contain 1-2% ginsenosides.
Korean red ginseng: The Power of Ginsenosides
A research team in Germany noted that athletes consuming Korean Red Ginseng supplements experienced remarkable improvements in their aerobic capacity. Another research from California State Polytechnic University studied subjects who took ginseng for a month found that the subject’s endurance levels to reach exhaustion levels had increased by more than 7 minutes.
The adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH) has the capacity to bind to brain cells and affect a variety of stress-related processes in the body including motivation, performance, arousal and vitality. Ginseng’s positive effects are believed to be because of its interactions in the hypothalamic-pituitary axis to balance the secretion of ACTH.
Athletes are prone to fungal infections like jockey’s itch and athlete’s foot as they tend to sweat a lot. Ginsenosides are found to have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties.
Studies have also found that isolated ginsenosides can stimulate the central nervous system. They level up the production of corticotropin and cortisol, and act as immunostimulants. As immunity strengthens, athletes are able to ward off many infections and they heal faster from sports-related injuries.
Ginsenosides have the potential to prevent and treat inflammatory diseases. They play critical roles in inflammatory responses and diseases. They are said to regulate inflammatory responses by inhibiting the NF-κB signaling pathway. In vitro study results displayed the anti-inflammatory action of ginsenosides in treating many diseases. This is a great news for athletes as muscle injuries are extremely common among sportspersons.
Inflammation can be due to stress and the ensuing cortisol release into the body. Joints may swell up as muscle fibers break down after intense workouts. The muscle inflammation creates pain and dysfunction resulting in the inability to return to practice or competition. Managing the symptoms can optimize recovery and reduce the time to return to practice.
A Safe Herbal Supplement for Athletic Endurance
Ginseng offers so many health benefits to athletes, from increasing endurance and energy to soothing muscle inflammation and preventing fungal infections like athlete’s foot, that it has become one of the most sought after dietary supplements in the athletic world.
Since there are no known allergic reactions, drug interactions, or toxicity related to plants in the ginseng family, Korean red ginseng is considered quite safe for consumption. It is available for purchase as whole root, dried powder or standardized extracts.
For adaptogenic and energetic benefits, a daily intake of 100 to 300 mg is recommended for a minimum of three to six weeks. Standardized extracts that contain 4-5 percent ginsenosides are considered the best for consumption for athletes as this ensures effectiveness of the product.
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