Ginseng

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Several different types of ginseng are available. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), is the most common and most extensively studied form. Another type of ginseng is Siberian ginseng or eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus).

Both Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng are derived from roots. They are referred to as adaptogens, which means that they are believed to increase resistance to stress and increase energy levels. Although the effects of these herbs may be desired by many people with MS, it is not clear that consuming either of them is the best way to produce these effects.

Asian ginseng has been associated with many different biological actions. Ginsenosides, which may be the active constituents in Asian ginseng, have a chemical structure similar to that of steroids, which are used to treat MS attacks and suppress the immune system. Paradoxically, activation of the immune system also has been associated with Asian ginseng. Multiple studies have shown that the herb stimulates immune system cells, including T cells and macrophages. On the basis of these immune-system effects, Asian ginseng has been investigated as a possible treatment for cancer and AIDS. Clinical studies of the effects of Asian ginseng on stress and fatigue have yielded mixed results.

Although Siberian ginseng is an entirely different herb from Asian ginseng, research on Siberian ginseng has produced results similar to that on Asian ginseng. Specifically, scientific research on the herb indicates that it may have immune-stimulating properties, and clinical studies do not definitely show beneficial effects on stress and fatigue.

Side effects and drug interactions are possible with the use of Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng. Both herbs may produce sedation and may conceivably worsen MS fatigue or accentuate the sedating effects of medications and alcohol. Asian ginseng may interact with steroids, which sometimes are used to treat MS attacks. Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng may increase bleeding tendency and should be avoided by people who are undergoing surgery, people who have blood-clotting disorders, and people who take blood-thinning medications or aspirin.

Because Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng may activate the immune system and have not been shown to have definite clinical benefits, it is reasonable for people with MS to avoid high doses and the regular use of these herbs.

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