How Ginseng Works

The direct beneficial effects of the ginseng herb on many organs and glands in the human body has been identified in various tests by clinical researchers that measure the benefits of various chemical compounds in the herb.

However, the exact biochemical basis for most of these effects the herbal constituents have on the body is still a mystery and requires further investigation. Current scientific know how is still insufficient to gauge all the potential and actual nature of the diverse chemical constituents in the ginseng herb, it is still not possible to probe and get a precise knowledge of their functions and map out all their effects.

That so many physiological effects are due to just one herb, sometimes does seem unlikely and even impossible, this is one reason that the ginseng is often called the wonder herb in the literature. The effects of ginseng on hormones may provide a clue, and the entire biochemical explanation for the benefits of the herb may be at the level of regulation of hormones and their role in the human body.

Primary human glands

The hypothalamus

The hypothalamus in the brain, the endocrine pituitary gland, and the endocrine adrenal glands above the kidneys are responsible for the release of a large number of regulatory hormones in humans.

These internal structures produce hormones that regulate stress and our response to it, our response to physical fatigue and trauma or shock, control and regulate our blood sugar levels, check the blood pressure and pulse rate, maintain body temperature or homeostasis, maintain the sexual functioning of gonads, aid in the detoxification of the blood, and regulate immunity - all of these factors in the human body are also events which the ginseng herb affects.

The main controlling region for both the endocrine glands is the secretion region of the brain called the hypothalamus, which is a structure in the region of the lower brain - this region secretes regulating factors that control the release of hormones from the pituitary gland.

The advent of any external threat on the body as well as the maintenance of internal stasis and physiological functions is the main role of the hypothalamus - this area of the brain is constantly monitoring the state of the body. The body and the brain both give nervous to the hypothalamus continually and homeostasis is maintained in this manner.

All physiological functions such as the hormone levels in the blood, the blood pressure, the body's water balance and fluid content, the levels of blood sugar, among other important physiological parameters are monitored continuously by the hypothalamus.

A stressful situation perceived by the sub-conscious mind also elicits a response from the hypothalamus and appropriate signals are sent to the body signaling stress. Physical as well as mental stimuli can cause the hypothalamus to respond and secrete factors triggering the release of appropriate hormones to prepare the body for reaction.

The regulation and adrenal glands

The regulation and secretion of the pituitary gland is under the direct control of the hypothalamus, the pituitary can be said to perform like an executive officer under the orders of the hypothalamus, once directed and affected by the former, the pituitary release hormones which will regulate and change the nature of the general metabolism in the body, its hormones will affect appetite, the hormones it release will affect the body temperature, and other important functions like the water balance and osmo-regulation in the body.

The pituitary thus acts when activated by the hypothalamus, which the real region that coordinates all these key bodily functions in a smooth flowing manner - the hypothalamus in turn recovers all signals from the brain and the body, for example, the intensity of light absorbed by the eyes directly affects the hypothalamus and directs it to activate the pituitary for the release of hormones which will control our sleep, wake cycle under normal circumstances.

The endocrine hormones of the pituitary intermediary is not necessary for the hypothalamus for all functions, this region of the brain has some direct affects on human sexuality, it directly affects the growth in the human body, and it also has a role to play in the reproductive cycle.

The secretion of hormones which result in the activation of another endocrine gland the adrenals, is one of the most important secretions of the pituitary, these adrenal glands release the adrenaline hormone, which is the main chemical that is responsible for the "fight or flight" reaction in all animals, including humans.

Alarm or danger, is processed by the brain through visual or other cures and this is transmitted immediately to the hypothalamus region, which in turn will activate the pituitary gland, that results in pituitary secretions which travel to the adrenal glands and activate it - the result is the release of stress hormones which flood the body - priming it for fighting or fleeing from the danger and the stress.

The process relies on a feed back system and the stimulation of the pituitary in turn is affected by these very stress hormones, which stop the pituitary gland from further stimulating hormone release once they are in the blood in requisite amounts.

The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is the term applied by life scientist to these interactions that result in the regulation of all the vital functions in the human body. Ginseng is believed to act on this axis and affects the regulation of hormones, by an unknown mechanism yet to be studied, the biochemical activity of herbs like the ginseng and the related adaptogens is believed by some scientist to be primarily on the functioning of the hormonal system and in the regulating of the vital functions of the body.

The wide ranging effects of the ginseng can be explained in some part if it is capable of controlling or modifying hormonal flow in the body as these hormones are the chemical agents which have universal control over the entire body - any herb that can interfere with their flow can also in theory control and affect the vital functions of a human body.

Ginseng and the adrenal glands

The connection between the functioning of the adrenal glands and the ginseng has been studied thoroughly and is well documented in the literature. The resistance of the body to stress is increased by taking ginseng and this has been proven in animal tests where animals that had their adrenal glands removed could get no benefit from administrations of ginseng.

Ginseng may have an indirect regulatory action on the adrenals through the hypothalamus, or it could be acting directly on the adrenals in controlling stress in the body - but the fact that it has a controlling influence over the adrenals is not disputed in the literature.

One of the main roles of ginseng in normal animals facing stress is the stimulation of the biochemical production of stress hormones in large amounts, helping the body to cope with stress immediately.

The herb has a very strong action in this regard, for example, the production of stress hormones in the adrenals stops immediately when the stress goes away in animals that are not given ginseng, but this is not the case in animals given ginseng which continue to produce hormones for some time even when the stress disappears.

The adrenals of ginseng administered test animals seem to conserve the produced stress hormones after the passage of the stress inducing factor and seem to prolong endurance in the body. The adrenals of animals treated with ginseng and other adaptogens reacts better to stressful situation and is more adaptable in the event of trauma, in general, the efficiency of the adrenals is increased by the ginseng and other adaptogens given during tests.

Scientist have still not been able to identify the exact pathway of action and if these biochemical effects of the herb are solely felt by the adrenal glands, or if the hypothalamus and the pituitary are also affected in some way.

Sensitizing the hypothalamus

The role of the ginseng in sensitizing the hypothalamus to increase its efficiency and performance has been possibly revealed in the experiment of a ginseng researcher from Great Britain.

The direct action of ginseng on the pituitary and the adrenal glands and its effects on the sex glands that are under the regulation of the hypothalamus could be revealed if this experimental results are proven to be true, ginseng then will also be indirectly connected and will be presumed to have an effect on the target organ tissues that these glands act on and regulate in the physiology of the body.

During one study, all possibility of stress hormones being produced by adrenal glands and ovaries in laboratory rats were eliminated when these structures were removed from the test animals. These laboratory rats were then separated into two testing groups, one group was given only placebos for eight days, while the other group of test rats received ginseng for the same duration.

The main stress hormone in mammals, called corticosterone was then injected into all these animals following the dosage with placebos and ginseng. In order to know, where exactly in the body the corticosterone ended up, the researchers chemically "tagged" the hormone before injecting them into the test animals.

Compared to the placebo group of test rats, the rats that were given ginseng, showed corticosterone deposition of more than seven times as much in the brain regions surrounding the hypothalamus - thus ginseng is directly responsible in these animals in how stress hormones are handled.

The balancing action of the hypothalamus to hormone levels in the body is apparent and in all normal bodies, the hypothalamic area operates a feedback loop for the stress hormone corticosterone and other hormones. Once the elevated levels of theses hormones are detected by the brain, a balancing biochemical mechanism comes into play and the levels of hormones are regulated in this way.

The effectiveness of the corticosterone in combating stress may be increased by the ginseng because the herb may sensitize the hypothalamus to the operation of this biochemical feedback loop in the brain.

Brain efficiency of people on ginseng is believed to be greater, because the herb acts in "priming" the hypothalamus, resulting in the initiation of hormonal secretions that lead to greater efficiency in brain functioning, according to the studies of one ginseng researcher.