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Korean ginseng, also known as red or Asian ginseng or Panax ginseng, is a root used as an herbal medicine for thousands of years. Native to Asia, it’s one of two main types of ginseng: American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is the other. There are 12 species of ginseng overall, including Siberian ginseng, which is a different plant that doesn’t have the same natural chemicals or effects on the body.
Both Asian and American ginseng contain ginsenosides (ginseng saponins), natural chemicals believed to give ginseng medicinal properties, including vasodilation (the relaxing of blood vessels), antioxidant, anti-inflammation and anti-cancer (Lu, 2009).
Ginseng has a stimulating effect on the body, although American ginseng is considered less stimulating than Korean red ginseng. Ginseng root and ginseng extract have been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a tea, often to treat weakness or fatigue.
Ginseng is known as an adaptogen, a substance used in herbal medicine believed to help the body deal with stress and increase well-being.
- Korean ginseng (a.k.a. Red ginseng or Panax ginseng) is an herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
- Studies show that Korean ginseng may be helpful in treating erectile dysfunction (ED), but they are inconclusive.
- Researchers believe ginseng has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects, and encourages the relaxation of blood vessels.
- Ginseng may have several other health benefits, although more research is needed.
Korean ginseng and ED
Korean ginseng has long been used as a treatment for impotence, and scientific studies have found it may be effective in treating the symptoms of ED.
In a 2018 meta-analysis of 24 controlled trials involving 2,080 men with ED, researchers found that ginseng “significantly improved erectile function” and “may be an effective herbal treatment for ED,” although they cautioned that more studies were needed before firm conclusions can be drawn (Borrelli, 2018).
An earlier review of studies specific to red ginseng and ED looked at seven randomized controlled trials and found “suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction” (Jang, 2008). In six of the seven studies, men with ED reported improvement in their erections after taking ginseng, compared to men who took a placebo. The doses of red ginseng they took were 600 mg, three times daily, in four studies, 900 mg in two trials, and 1000 mg in one trial.
Ginseng might be beneficial for ED because studies have found it relaxes blood vessels, which enables blood flow. A 2007 Japanese study found that one type of ginsenoside releases nitric oxide via a membrane sex steroid receptors, relaxing vascular smooth muscle cells, promoting vasodilation and preventing arteries from contracting (Nakaya, 2007).
That’s similar to how ED medications like Viagra and Cialis work. Called PDE5 inhibitors, they block an enzyme (phosphodiesterase 5) that is part of a reaction that makes smooth muscle cells contract. That widens arteries throughout the body—easing blood flow, including to the penis—by increasing their supply of nitric oxide.
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Additional health benefits of ginseng
Korean ginseng may also have the following beneficial effects (although more studies need to be done before researchers can say for sure):
May help boost the immune system. One study found that taking 100 mg of ginseng daily for 12 weeks made the flu vaccine more effective—study subjects who took ginseng had fewer cases of flu and colds and higher levels of antibodies and germ-killing cells (Scaglione, 1996). Another study found that healthy people who took 100 mg of ginseng twice a day for eight weeks had higher levels of lymphocytes and T-helpers, cells that help the body fight infection (Scaglione, 1990).
May help lessen heart disease symptoms. A 2012 review of studies says that ginseng “may be potentially valuable in treating cardiovascular diseases,” pointing to various human and animal studies that found ginseng might improve blood circulation, reduce blood lipids, increase vasodilation, all of which can benefit the heart (Kim, 2012).
May help improve brain health. Some research has found that ginseng may improve mental performance, learning, and memory. It’s believed that ginseng’s chemical agents increase the brain’s level of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
May help decrease stress. Some studies have found that taking ginseng can reduce stress levels (Lee, 2017).
May help treat diabetes. Ginseng may help lower blood sugar, a concern for diabetics. A 2016 meta-analysis of studies found that people with Type 2 diabetes who took ginseng had improved levels of fasting glucose and post-meal insulin, along with improved blood triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol, compared to a control group (Gui, 2016).
May help fight cancer. In one study of more than 4,000 people over age 40, those who used ginseng were found to have a lower risk of cancer (Yun, 1998). Some studies have found that ginseng may be protective against colon cancer (Vayghan, 2014). Ginseng may help prevent tumor growth; it seems to lower inflammation and inhibit angiogenesis, two key processes in the formation and progression of cancer (Dai, 2017).
Forms of ginseng
Korean ginseng is sold as pills, capsules, powder, in teabags, or as a dried root that can be brewed.
Risks/potential side effects of ginseng
Keep in mind that ginseng supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so there’s no way of assuring the purity or potency of any variety you buy. Ginseng hasn’t been FDA-approved to treat any medical condition.
Ginseng may also have the following side effects:
- Heighten the effects of caffeine or cause insomnia
- Nosebleeds or vaginal bleeding
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Headache or nervousness
Ginseng may cause drug interactions and be dangerous to mix with certain medications. Always talk to your healthcare provider about the medications and supplements you’re taking before you begin any herbal supplement.
What is ED?
Technically speaking, ED is the inability to keep or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfying sex. That could mean you have softer erections, less frequent erections, erections that don’t last as long as you’d like, or a lack of morning erections.
Frequent ED (or worsening ED symptoms) can be an early warning sign of more serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, or a hormone imbalance. So it’s important to address ED at the first signs of trouble.
Don’t give in to ED stigma
You owe it to yourself to move past any shame or embarrassment associated with ED. Ignoring ED symptoms because you’re embarrassed can mean potentially life-threatening health problems down the road. ED happens to most guys at some point in their lives.
If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, talk to a healthcare provider today. And read our expert guide to ED, including ED treatments, the common causes of ED, and how ED medication (like Viagra, or sildenafil) works.