A small study on young adults suggests that ginseng can affect exercise and perhaps aging.1 The finding is based not on ginseng itself, but on a particular compound found within it. The full study is free to read at the Journal of Ginseng Research.
Ginseng composition can vary wildly between species and, depending on season and soil, even within the same species. That’s why scientists sometimes focus on individual ginseng compounds in their research. One of those is a ginsenoside called Rg1, and it was the active ingredient used in this study.
In Taiwan, researchers assigned 12 young adult men to Rg1 or a placebo precisely one hour before an hour of high-intensity cycling. A small amount of muscle tissue was then extracted from each participant before, immediately after, and three hours after exercise. The process was repeated by each participant in crossover fashion. A separate group of men performed the same exercise but at a higher power output and to exhaustion. Everyone’s performance and tissues were compared.
Using a variety of tests, the researchers found Rg1 was associated with a longer time to exhaustion, higher power output, lower markers of exercise-induced inflammation, and increases in the body’s clearing of aged cells. Combined, the potential benefits sound like they would be especially great for the elderly.
Cellular senescence is a condition wherein cells no longer divide. It’s believed to be a significant factor in age-related diseases, especially when these cells are allowed to accumulate.2 This study revealed that such cells do accumulate in small amounts in the human skeletal muscle at a young adult age—and that Rg1 may help clear them from the body.
The researchers say this cell-clearing support could be useful for the elderly, but future studies will have to make sure of that.
An important takeaway from this study is to remember that while these potential effects have been associated with ginseng, they were on a concentrated amount of one ginsenoside. Rg1 is found in numerous ginseng species, but it’s reportedly most abundant in those of the Panax genus.3 Chinese and Korean ginseng are in this genus.
Funding for this study came from Taiwanese government grants and NuLiv Science USA Inc. (Brea, CA). The company provided Rg1 for the study. Rg1 is featured in NuLiv’s branded ginseng extract ActiGinand is right now the focus of a three-year study on aging muscles.
- Wu J et al. “Ginsenoside Rg1 supplementation clears senescence-associated β-galactosidase in exercising human skeletal muscle.” Journal of Ginseng Research. Published online June 21, 2018.
- Childs BG et al. “Cellular senescence in aging and age-related disease: from mechanisms to therapy.” Nature Medicine, vol. 21, no. 12 (December 2015): 1424–1435
- Listing for “Ginsenoside RG1.” PubChem Open Chemistry Database, US National Library of Medicine. Accessed July 16, 2018, pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov