“Ginseng” refers to eleven different varieties of a short plant that grows throughout the world. In medicine, its most common use is to restore and indeed to enhance well-being. To the naked eye, it consists of a long stalk, a light root that is shaped like a fork and green, oval-shaped leaves. Two of the eleven varieties; the Asian ginseng (also known as Panax quinquefolius) and to a lesser extent the American ginseng (P. ginseng) are used to lower cholesterol, treat diabetes and reduce stress among other uses. Although research is still ongoing to ensure confirmation, it is generally believed that ginseng draws its medicinal quality from the chemical compounds known as ginsenosides it contains.
Ginseng products are used in a variety of treatments. First, it may help provide stimulus to someone who is physically or mentally tired. A recent study indicated that it was particularly helpful in aiding cancer patients suffering with fatigue. The same study also showed that it is much more useful when it is employed during treatment as opposed to afterwards. Research has also indicated that ginseng may have a use in sharpening cognitive skills such as thinking power. The possibility of adding American ginseng to foods has also been explored. Although the studies remain ongoing, ginseng does appear to have an effect on cognitive behaviour.
Another possibility regarding ginseng is that it could be used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction in men. In a 2002 Korean study, it was found that 60% of men who took ginseng reported a marked change in their symptoms.
Red ginseng in particular was singled out as having a positive effect. However, more recent studies have been inconclusive and research into the question is still ongoing. One area in which ginseng is showing promising results is in the lowering of blood sugar and thus could potentially be used in treating diabetes. There is a possibility, currently being explored through research, that the ginsenosides influence the production of insulin in the pancreas and improve insulin resistance. The main focus of ongoing research now is to determine what specific does will be required if ginseng is to be used as a diabetic treatment.
Ginseng is generally considered safe for consumption. However, like all treatments and supplements, side effects have been observed in its users. These range from headaches to sleep problems, from digestive problems to irritability and from dizziness to a dried mouth. Not all potential side effects are known at this stage. Doctors advise not to take ginseng alongside certain anti-depressants known as MAOIs as the combination can cause bouts of manic depression and tremors. It is also advised not to mix ginseng and heart medication without first consulting a doctor.
In spite of research still being conducted on the effectiveness of ginseng, it is nonetheless safe to take in small does, particularly if it produces beneficial effects.
“Turmeric” is a bright yellow spice which has been used in Asia for hundreds of years but has only been introduced to the West within the last few decades. It has become popular not only because it is an ingredient of curry, but because it carries with it numerous health benefits. For thousands of years, China and India have grown turmeric for use in cooking, dyeing of fabrics, cosmetics and traditional medicine. The key ingredient of turmeric is curcumin and it is from this which the majority of the health benefits stem.
To begin with, turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory. The curcumin has been proven to halt the actions of molecules in the body which cause inflammation. Tests and studies have shown that turmeric produces positive results in people with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Turmeric is also a powerful antioxidant. This means that it defends your body’s cells from damage by harmful molecules known as free radicals. If left untreated, those molecules can become a key influencer of cardiovascular diseases developing in your body. Thus, turmeric can be used to both manage and prevent heart disease, as well as potentially reducing the risk of such ailments as cataracts and glaucoma.
Much research has been conducted on the possibility of turmeric having anti-cancer effects. It has since discovered that it can reduce the spread of cancer throughout the body – it is important to note here that it can only reduce and not halt the spread – and can assist in killing off cancerous cells. In addition, evidence is mounting that turmeric can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
It does this by not only reducing inflammation but also by reducing the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain which share much in common with Alzheimer’s. A study of some sixty patients reached the conclusion that curcumin was potentially beneficial in treating depression by increasing the levels of neurotropic factor which is derived from the brain. A reduction in this chemical has been linked to depression.
Research has suggested that the manner in which turmeric is ingested will determine how efficient its health benefits are. A recent study indicated that cooking the spice with oil is the best way of absorbing the most curcumin. It has been suggested that binding turmeric with fat, such as that found in olive oil are cooking oil, renders the spice more easily absorbable by the gut.
Overall, research and studies into exactly how beneficial the spice is to human health is ongoing, but the findings thus far have given cause for cheer. People who are thinking of using turmeric for health reasons should still discuss their options with their GP. Overall, the best way of deriving benefits from any food source remains to incorporate it into a balanced diet.
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