Ginsengs Actions in the Brain

Ginseng seems to increase mental alertness and then maintain it in a relatively steady state, thereby smoothing out the ups and downs of the stress response.

Pharmacologically, ginseng may stimulate the production of epinephrine, which helps to indirectly suppress stress-induced release of cortisol and related steroids that may damage hippocampal nerve cells.

Ginseng seems to boost cholinergic neurotransmission in the brain. Given the link between loss of cholinergic nerve cells and memory loss, this may explain its memory-enhancing effects. Ginseng contains a class of compounds called saponins, also known as glycosides, which may affect the function of neurotransmitters in ways that are not fully understood. In experiments involving people ranging from telegraph operators to students, ginseng reduces the time required to perform some neuropsychological tasks. This activating property may, in turn, lead to improved registration of new memories.

Types of Ginseng Preparations

Three common forms of ginseng are Asian (Panax ginseng), Siberian, and North American (Panax quinquefolium). The claims that any one type is superior have not been proven. Ginseng doses range from 500 to 3,000 mg daily, and the middle of this range is frequently used: 750 to 1,500 mg daily. A Chinese medicine called Ching Chun Bao contains a potent form of ginseng and is thought to be a general antiaging tonic, juicing up energy level, sexual performance, and cognitive ability. Sometimes ginseng is marketed as a tincture that contains a fairly high alcohol content. People who take this tincture may feel better because of the alcohol and not the ginseng itself.

Given the limited knowledge base on ginseng in people with mild memory loss, I am currently not recommending it as part of your promemory program. The preparations listed above are not known to have any major side effects, so I am not campaigning against their use either.

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