8 Ways Ginseng Works for Memory and Brain Health

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Last updated September 11, 2023.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

American ginseng is known for its proven ability to improve memory, counteract stress, boost mood, and protect against neurological diseases. Read how.

Ginseng is one of the most popular and widely researched herbal remedies.

It’s close to being a natural cure-all.

In fact, the botanical name for ginseng is Panax ginseng, with panax meaning “heal-all” or “panacea.”

Its use in Asia, where it is known as the “elixir of life,” goes back over 5,000 years

Ginseng has been used as a balancing tonic, an herb with the unique ability to both stimulate and relax the nervous system.

It is now marketed mostly as an energy and sexual vitality booster, but ginseng also offers a wide array of cognitive and mental health benefits.

The Cognitive and Mental Health Benefits of Ginseng

The sale of ginseng has become a multibillion-dollar industry, with 99% of the world’s supply coming from four countries: China, South Korea, the United States, and Canada. 

Ginseng is commonly referred to as Asian, Chinese, or Korean ginseng, depending on where it is grown.

There is also a different ginseng species grown in North America known as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).

All species of ginseng contain ginsenosides, compounds unique to ginseng that are responsible for this herb’s many physical and mental health benefits.

" American ginseng is highly regarded not just for its superior quality, but for its effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer.

Over 100 ginsenosides have been discovered so far; they have been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties

They also stimulate the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter associated with learning and memory. 

In South Korea, 1,000 researchers are devoted to the study of ginseng and publish more than a hundred research papers on it every year. 

Here’s a look at some of the most notable proven brain-related benefits of ginseng.

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1. Ginseng Improves Memory and Mental Performance

Ginseng can help prevent memory loss and mitigate age-related mental decline.

There’s evidence that at least some of ginseng’s cognitive-boosting power is due to its anti-fatigue effects

This makes ginseng a good choice if you want an increase in mental and physical energy.

When Alzheimer’s patients took ginseng root daily for 12 weeks, they experienced improved cognitive performance

This effect was apparent even in those with moderately severe Alzheimer’s

Ginseng can also improve memory in stroke patients

When ginseng and ginkgo supplements are taken together, they have a synergistic effect, improving both working and long-term memory. 

2. Ginseng Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

Oxidative stress and inflammation are key contributing factors to neurodegenerative diseases.

Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, ginseng shows promise for preventing and treating many of the most severe neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s diseases, brain ischemia, and stroke. 

3. Ginseng Increases Blood Flow to the Brain

Ginseng increases circulation, sending more blood to all our organs.

This is why it’s often taken for erectile dysfunction.

This same mechanism also increases blood flow to the brain

A steady flow of blood delivers oxygen, glucose, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and other essential nutrients to the brain.

Cerebral blood flow also clears away harmful substances such as carbon dioxide, toxins, and metabolic waste products.

Ginseng can help restore sufficient blood supply to the brain after a stroke or brain injury

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4. Ginseng Increases Important Brain Chemicals

Ginseng increases levels of the most important neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine

When taken by Parkinson’s patients, ginseng helps keep the brain cells that create dopamine from dying. 

Ginseng raises the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that stimulates the growth of new brain cells

It keeps existing brain cells healthy via a number of mechanisms.

BDNF increases brain plasticity, suppresses brain inflammation, acts as a natural antidepressant, offsets the negative effects of stress on the brain, and guards against neurodegenerative diseases

5. Ginseng Increases Resilience to Stress

Ginseng belongs to a category of supplements known as adaptogens.

Adaptogens are herbal remedies that increase resilience to mental, physical, and environmental stress.

They work by reducing the stress hormone cortisol while strengthening the adrenal glands.

Adaptogens can simultaneously reduce stress and increase energy without being overstimulating.

Ginseng has been found to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and help the body maintain the state of balance known as homeostasis.

Ginseng also protects against stress-related diseases, including diabetes, asthma, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, and anxiety disorders. 

6. Ginseng Boosts Mood and Mental Well-Being

Ginseng study participants often report improved overall well-being, as well as better energy, sleep, sex life, and personal satisfaction. 

Ginseng is a main ingredient in the traditional Chinese herbal remedy Kai-Xin-San.

This herbal formula shows promise for helping those with drug-resistant depression

It works by normalizing levels of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters related to mood. 

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Ginseng is particularly helpful for managing the unwanted symptoms of menopause, especially low libido, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue. 

7. Ginseng Can Ease Addiction Withdrawal

The mental and energy boosts from ginseng are smooth compared to the ups and downs of caffeine.

This makes ginseng tea a good coffee substitute for those quitting caffeine.

If you drink too much alcohol, it’s a proven herbal hangover remedy

There’s evidence that ginseng may be useful for treating the anxiety and depression that can accompany alcohol withdrawal

8. Ginseng Defends the Brain Against Secondary Health Effects

Ginseng’s ginsenosides modulate both the immune system and the inflammation response.

Ginseng’s properties can help ease symptoms, improve quality of life, and even improve survival rates for a wide array of health conditions, including: 

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • colds and flu
  • immune disorders

These conditions can, in turn, contribute to memory loss, brain fog, depression, and anxiety.

Why American Ginseng Is Superior to Asian Ginseng

American ginseng belongs to the same genus (Panax) as Asian ginseng but is a different species with a distinct ginsenoside profile

American ginseng was used by Native Americans as a sacred healing herb.

When the first European settlers came to North America, they made American ginseng a top export, second only to furs.

Now American ginseng is grown commercially, mainly in Wisconsin and Canada

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It turns out that harsh growing conditions encourage higher concentrations of ginsenosides.

These compounds protect the plants from the severe climate and protect the health of those who consume them.

Commercially grown American ginseng must meet rigorous standards and is widely considered the highest quality ginseng in the world. 

Even the Chinese now prefer American ginseng since they have become wary of homegrown herbs that are laden with heavy metals and other contaminants

The Los Angeles Times reports:

“Few consumers are more faithful to American products than Chinese users of ginseng. American ginseng fetches the highest price of any cultivated variety.” 

In herbal medicine, American ginseng is considered a cooling, soothing herb while Asian ginseng is considered warming and stimulating. 

American Ginseng for Memory

American ginseng is highly regarded not just for its superior quality, but for its effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer

Cereboost® is a patented ginseng formulation derived from American ginseng.

It helps improve memory by increasing acetylcholine levels

In a clinical trial, a single dose of Cereboost quickly improved memory, mental clarity, and sharpness within hours of ingestion.

So far, supplements containing Cereboost are not generally available.

The one supplement I’ve found that contains Cereboost is Purity Products Chris Kilham’s Ginseng 3X™.

Warning: When buying ginseng, quality matters. Store brand ginseng supplements for Walmart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens were found to contain either contaminants and/or little to no ginseng. Walgreens’ brand was found to contain nothing but garlic and rice. 

How to Take Ginseng

When you set out to buy ginseng, you’ll find many options.

There are ginseng supplements in the form of capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid extracts.

There are ginseng tea bags and loose bulk tea.

You can buy dried ginseng roots either whole or pre-sliced — these are usually used to make tea or added to cooked foods like soup.

If you don’t mind the taste, you can even gnaw on dried slices of ginseng.

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Ginseng Dosages

If you are taking Asian ginseng supplements, the typical dosage is 200 to 400 mg daily. 

If you are making tea or cooking with ginseng, aim for 0.5 to 2 grams per day. 

The upper-end 400 mg dose is usually needed to provide maximum benefits for brain function. 

A typical dose of American ginseng is 500 mg daily. 

Asian Ginseng Side Effects and Interactions

A review of over 1,400 studies on Asian ginseng concluded that it is generally safe and, during clinical trials, no serious adverse effects were reported. 

However, it’s not right for everyone.

Ginseng’s most common side effect is insomnia, especially if you take it while consuming caffeine. 

Less common reactions include headache, anxiety, change in blood pressure, and digestive upset. 

Talk to your doctor before taking ginseng if you have high blood pressure, bipolar disorder, an autoimmune disease, or a history of breast cancer. 

American Ginseng Side Effects and Interactions

American ginseng is also considered generally safe.

Side effects are rare; the most common side effects include anxiety, diarrhea, insomnia, headache, and nervousness. 

People with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder should avoid American ginseng because it may increase the risk of mania.

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Since its ginsenosides can act like estrogen, do not take American ginseng if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a hormone-sensitive cancer.

Caution: If you take any medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking either form of ginseng. Until then, you can check for possible interactions using a reputable drug/supplement interaction checker. Some medications that should not be combined with ginseng include blood thinners, diabetic medications, and anti-inflammatory drugs.

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