“Siberian ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus or Acanthopanax senticosus) belongs to the same family (Araliaceae) of the more commonly known Panax ginseng. However, it is not considered to be a true “ginseng.” Both are used in traditional Chinese Medicine. It is now illegal in the United States to refer to Eleutherococcus senticosus as ginseng.
“Comparison of Eleutherococcus with the more familiar Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer (Araliaceae), ‘true ginseng’ has underscored that they differ considerably chemically and pharmacologically and cannot be justifiably considered as mutually interchangeable,” write M. Davydov and A. D. Krikorian in a review published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. “Accordingly, we recommend that the designation ‘Siberian ginseng’ be dropped and be replaced with ‘Eleutherococcus’.” 1
Eleutherococcus is considered to be an adaptogen, which supports health and corrects dysfunction without eliciting unwanted effects. In addition to its traditional adaptogenic usage, its components have shown a number of other effects.1
Effects on Immune and Heart Health
Eleutherococcus has shown an immunostimulatory action.2 This effect has been found in healthy individuals as well as cancer patients, and could be useful as an adjunctive therapy for patients undergoing cancer treatment. However, other research findings suggest that “this herbal preparation possesses immunomodulatory potency, rather than just being immunosuppressive or stimulating.”3
An Eleutherococcus compound abbreviated as SR has been shown to decrease the production of interleukin-6, interleukin-1 beta, cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), and other markers of inflammation in human joint tissue.4 The authors suggest that SR modulates the inflammatory process in arthritis via the suppression of the expression of various genes.
Eleutherococcus may have cardiovascular benefits. Rats subjected to middle cerebral artery occlusion that received a water extract of the herb had a 36.6% reduction in infarct volume in comparison with control animals and a decrease in the expression of COX-2 in the affected region.5 In a randomized trial involving 40 postmenopausal women, those who received Eleutherococcus experienced decreases in serum low density lipoprotein (LDL) and LDL to high density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio.6 Protein carbonyl levels and lymphocyte DNA damage also decreased among those who received the herb for 6 months. An analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials that compared the effects of Eleutherococcus with a placebo or no additional treatment among subjects with acute ischemic stroke found that treatment with the herb was associated with an increase in the number of participants whose neurologic impairment improved.7
Diabetes, Brain Health, and Fertility
In a trial that included 47 type 2 diabetics with early changes to the kidneys, 8 weeks of treatment with Eleutherococcus was associated with a decrease in urinary albumin excretion as well as plasma and urinary renal endothelin, indicating a protective effect.8 In diabetic mice that received an extract of Eleutherococcus for 3 days, plasma glucose levels following sucrose loading was reduced in comparison with a control group, suggesting that the herb could be a useful ingredient in functional foods to help improve postprandial glucose elevations.9 The researchers also uncovered an ability for the extract to inhibit intestinal activity of alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. A study involving diabetic rats found that a polysaccharide from Eleutherococcus root was more effective at reducing symptoms of diabetes and reversing kidney and liver damage when combined with the diabetes drug metformin than metformin alone.10
In research involving human neuroblastoma cells, the herb was shown to protect against ethanol induced programmed cell death.11 In a study involving healthy humans, Eleutherococcus improved short term memory and visual perception, with effects that were dependent upon time of day.12 Another investigation by the researchers found an increase in aural memory and a reduction in anxiety in association with Eleutherococcus extract that was also dependent upon whether it was morning or evening, as well as upon the individual chronotype of each participant.13 And in a study involving 20 participants aged 65 years and older who received Eleutherococcus or a placebo daily for 8 weeks, Eleutherococcus supplementation resulted in higher social functioning scores at 4 weeks.14
Among men with reduced sperm motility, varying concentrations of Eleutherococcus improved motility in comparison with a control group.15 The finding suggests a benefit for couples that have difficulty conceiving. This effect was validated in another study that found an increase in human sperm motility in association with the in vitro exposure to Eleutherococcus, in comparison with the effects elicited by caffeine or theophylline.16
A Chinese study found an antiproliferative effect for extracts of the herb in several types of tumor cells, and a reduction in the rate of tumor growth and increased survival when administered in a mouse model.17 A fractionated glycoprotein derived from Eleutherococcus has been shown to inhibit tumor metastasis.18 In a study involving lung cancer patients, several immune factors increased in those who received an injection of an extract of the herb, which suggests that the extract “can be used as an assistant drug to regulate the function of cellular immunity in the patients with lung cancer.”19
Eleutherococcus and Exercise Endurance
One of Eleutherococcus’best known uses is in sports. A 20-day trial of Eleutherococcus in high-class athletes reduced the increase in blood coagulation and blood coagulation factor activity that can occur as a result of intensive training.20 A comparison between Echinacea and a preparation that contained active Eleutherococcus senticosus components resulted in improvement in total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and oxygen use among those who received Eleutherococcus, indicating a fitness benefit.21 And in 13 healthy subjects between the ages of 50 and 57 years, Eleutherococcus increased oxygen uptake and spared muscle glycogen during endurance exercise.22
An 8-week randomized, crossover trial published in 2010 compared the effects of Eleutherococcus to a placebo in physically trained male college students.23 “This is the first well-conducted study that shows that 8-week senticosus supplementation enhances endurance capacity, elevates cardiovascular functions and alters the metabolism for sparing glycogen in recreationally trained males,” researchers J. Kuo and colleagues announced.
Eleutherococcus, whilesharing some benefits with Panax ginseng, has effects of its own that are only beginning to be fully explored. For those who wish to share the benefits that athletes have known or who just want to stay healthy and balanced, this herb may be worth considering as a regular part of one’s regimen.
- Davydov M et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Oct;72(3):345-93.
- Wagner H et al. Arzneimittelforschung. 1985;35(7):1069-75.
- Schmolz MW et al. Phytother Res. 2001 May;15(3):268-70.
- Yamazaki T et al. Toxicol In Vitro. 2007 Dec;21(8):1530-7.
- Bu Y et al. Phytother Res. 2005 Feb;19(2):167-9.
- Lee YJ et al. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008 Oct 10;375(1):44-8.
- Li W et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jul 8;(3):CD007032.
- Ni HX et al. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2001 Feb;21(2):105-7.
- Watanabe K et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Oct 28;132(1):193-9.
- Fu J et al. Int J Biol Macromol. 2012 Apr 1;50(3):619-23.
- Jang MH et al. Am J Chin Med. 2003;31(3):379-88.
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- Shan BE et al. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2004 Jan;24(1):55-8.
- Ha ES et al. Arch Pharm Res. 2004 Feb;27(2):217-24.
- Huang DB et al. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2005 Apr;30(8):621-4.
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- Szołomicki J et al. Phytother Res. 2000 Feb;14(1):30-5.
- Wu Y et al. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 1998 Nov 30;27(6):421-4.
- Kuo J et al. Chin J Physiol. 2010 Apr 30;53(2):105-11.