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Ginseng Benefits Cognitive Function

NANTONG, China—Ginseng may have some beneficial effects on cognition and behavior, according to an updated Cochrane Database Review; however, more rigorously designed studies are needed in this area (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;12:CD007769. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007769.pub2). Researchers coordinated out of the Medical School of Nantong University in China aimed to evaluate the efficacy and adverse effects of Panax ginseng given to improve cognitive performance in healthy adults or in those with cognitive impairment or dementia; they also examined the quality and quantity of available research.

While all double blind and single blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials assessing the effects of ginseng on cognitive function were eligible for inclusion, only nine trials met the inclusion criteria, and only five of those had extractable information. These five trials formed the basis of the analysis; all five investigated the effects of ginseng on healthy participants (n=289), who were predominantly young or middle-aged. The analysis found ginseng exerted some improvement on aspects of cognitive function (i.e., learning, working memory, reaction time), behavior and quality of life (i.e., social relationships, general health). The researchers concluded more randomized controlled trials with large sample sizes are needed to investigate the effect of ginseng on cognition in different populations.

In a statement issued by the Health Behavior News Service, JinSong Geng, M.D., the lead review author, stated: “Ginseng appears to have some beneficial effects on cognition, behavior and quality of life. “But at present, recommendations about [whether to take the herb] cannot be made due to the lack of high-quality evidence." He noted one challenge was because of differences in study design, herbal preparations and assessment tools, the authors were unable to pool the data for comparative purposes.

Steven Dentali, Ph.D., chief science officer, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), noted these types of reviews are designed to look at the most rigorous of clinical trials without considering traditional use or getting into the mechanisms of action or biomarkers. “It would be much more helpful to learn how different ginseng active constituents affect certain pathways in the body and what biomarkers we can measure," he said. “This is a positive review, but it would be more helpful to know what it actually does in the body."

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