Ginseng is a herbal remedy that is obtained from the root of a plant and is believed by some to slow the aging process, increase life quality and productivity. Ginseng is also used to treat a variety of conditions, including nausea, dyspepsia, headaches, diabetes, and illnesses of the heart, liver, and kidney. Depending on the culture, ginseng may be classified as either a food or a drug. Ginsenosides are the active ingredient in ginseng and 13 different ginsenosides have been identified.


Athletes use ginseng for many reasons including:

  • To increase exercise capacity.

  • To slow the effects of detraining.

  • To enhance concentration and alertness.

  • For general well-being.


  • Confusion.

  • Hypertension.

  • Sleeplessness.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Skin rash.

  • Hypotension.

  • Vaginal bleeding.

  • Altered blood sugar levels (interferes with control of diabetes).

  • Asthma.

  • Altered moods (depression and euphoria).

  • Withdrawal syndrome (symptoms begin when ginseng is stopped).

  • Swelling of feet (edema).

  • Antiplatelet effects.

  • Breast tenderness and breast nodules.


Adding ginseng to one's diet is believed to be relatively safe, but the proper dose is not clear. Ginseng is associated with symptoms of withdrawal if taken at high doses for long periods of time. Negative symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, and edema have been noted with doses of 3 to 15 grams per day. If you are taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors to treat depression or digoxin for a heart condition, the use of ginseng is not recommended. Patients taking calcium channel blockers may also have difficulty with ginseng.


Consult your caregiver before beginning a regimen of ginseng. Athletes must know the ingredients of the supplements they are taking. Ginseng is not banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or International Olympic Committee, but it is often sold in combination with drugs that are banned by these organizations.