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Could ginseng give you an energy boost?

Struggling to get some get up and go? You’re not alone. Fatigue is the primary cause of 1 in 5 GP visits in the UK. And the serious condition, chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as CFS, myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME) affects an estimated 250,000 of us and leaves 25% of those who have it housebound.

The stress factor

Stress and fatigue are inextricably linked: stress causes sleep loss; sleep loss causes stress. And even if you can get a good night’s sleep, it won’t necessarily help: severe or chronic stress causes hormonal changes which can make us feel mentally or physically exhausted, even when our bodies are well-rested.

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How can ginseng help?

An age-old treatment for flagging energy levels, ginseng is now believed to help the body adapt to, and cope with, the effects of stress by supporting and balancing the function of something called the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. The HPA axis is a set of three glands which interact with each other: the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (located in the brain) and the adrenal glands (which sit on top of your kidneys). The HPA axis controls the body’s response to stress and helps regulate the immune system, digestion, mood and energy.

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Ginseng is said to be an adaptogen – a natural substance that helps the body deal with stress. Adaptogens work by dialling up the production of stress hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemicals (to give you a boost when you’re tired) or down (to calm you down when you’re struggling to relax).

What is ‘adrenal fatigue’?

The adrenal glands produce various hormones which work together to coordinate the body’s response to stress, including cortisol (hydrocortisone), corticosterone, adrenaline and noradrenaline. If too much cortisol is produced, we may find it hard to relax and be unable to sleep. If too little cortisol is produced, we may lack energy and struggle to concentrate.

Over time, unpredictable schedules and chronic stress can mess with your body’s cortisol production, resulting in mental and physical fatigue. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been associated with abnormally low cortisol levels.

Scientific support

Could ginseng help? Clinical evidence suggests that panax ginseng treatment may improve energy, sleep, mood and mental performance in healthy adults, CFS, MS and fibromyalgia patients. Siberian ginseng has also been found to improve endurance and mental performance, suggesting it could help stop you flagging under pressure.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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