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Ginseng is a medicinal plant that has been used for more than 2000 years. Korean red ginseng is touted to help with many conditions, including erectile dysfunction (ED). But does science support using Korean red ginseng for ED? Read on to learn more.
What is Korean red ginseng?
Korean ginseng is known by many names, including red ginseng, Chinese ginseng, Asian ginseng, or Panax ginseng. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a root that’s been used as an herbal medicine for thousands of years. Depending on how it’s processed, you can get Korean red or white ginseng.
Native to Asia, Korean ginseng is the most commonly used type of ginseng; American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is the other. Don’t confuse these two with Siberian ginseng, which is a different plant and has different uses.
Both Asian and American ginseng contain ginsenosides (ginseng saponins), natural active compounds believed to give ginseng medicinal properties, like vasodilation (the relaxing of blood vessels), antioxidant activity, and its anti-inflammation and anti-cancer properties. Ginseng is an adaptogen, a substance used in herbal medicine believed to help the body deal with stress and increase well-being (Cambria, 2021).
Korean ginseng and ED
Korean red ginseng has long been used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED), and scientific studies have found it may be effective in treating ED symptoms. Research suggests that ginseng may improve erectile function; however, more studies are needed before firm conclusions can be drawn (Borrelli, 2018).
Ginseng might benefit ED because some studies have found it promotes nitric oxide production and relaxes blood vessels, which improves blood flow (Lee, 2020). ED medications like Viagra and Cialis (also called PDE5 inhibitors) work similarly.
PDE5 inhibitors block an enzyme (phosphodiesterase 5) that plays a role in making blood vessel muscles contract. The downstream effect is widening the arteries throughout your body, thereby increasing blood flow to the penis, which translates to an improved erection (Dhaliwal, 2021). Panax ginseng extract may similarly help sexual function.
Additional health benefits of ginseng
Korean ginseng may also have the following beneficial effects (although more clinical studies need to be done before researchers can say for sure):
- May help boost the immune system: Laboratory studies suggest that ginseng may enhance your immune function by stimulating lymphocytes, the cells involved in fighting off infections (Ratan, 2021).
- May help improve heart disease: Various human and animal studies suggest that ginseng may lower blood pressure, improve blood circulation, and reduce blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, all of which can benefit the heart (Irfan, 2020).
- May help enhance brain health: Some animal research has found that ginseng may improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. Ginseng-derived compounds may also enhance mental performance, learning, and memory (Choi, 2021).
- May help decrease stress: Some studies have found that ginseng can reduce stress levels (Lee, 2017).
- May help with diabetes: Ginseng may help lower blood sugar levels, a concern for people with diabetes. Small studies suggest that people with type 2 diabetes who use ginseng may have improved fasting glucose levels and lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels (Chen, 2019).
- May help fight cancer: Ginseng may help prevent tumor growth. It seems to lower inflammation and inhibit angiogenesis, two critical processes in the formation and progression of cancer (Dai, 2017).
Forms of ginseng
Korean red ginseng extract is sold as pills, capsules, and powder. You can also get dried ginseng root or tea bags that can be brewed.
Risks/potential side effects of ginseng
Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate ginseng supplements, 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 (LactMed, 2021):
- Changes in blood pressure
- Skin rash
- Vaginal bleeding
- Breast pain
Ginseng may cause drug interactions and can be dangerous to mix with certain medications. Always talk to your healthcare provider about the medications and dietary supplements you’re taking before starting any herbal supplement.
What is ED?
ED, or erectile dysfunction, 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
There’s a lot of stigma and embarrassment surrounding ED, but there doesn’t need to be. You owe it to yourself to get the help you need, to avoid potential health problems down the road, and to get back to enjoying a full sex life. 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.
- Borrelli, F., Colalto, C., Delfino, D. V., Iriti, M., & Izzo, A. A. (2018). Herbal dietary supplements for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Drugs, 78(6), 643–673. doi: 10.1007/s40265-018-0897-3. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29633089/
- Cambria C, Sabir S, Shorter IC. (2021). Ginseng. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538198/
- Chen, W., Balan, P., & Popovich, D. G. (2019). Review of ginseng anti-diabetic studies. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(24), 4501. doi: 10.3390/molecules24244501. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31835292/
- Choi, S. H., Lee, R., Nam, S. M., Kim, D. G., Cho, I. H., Kim, H. C., et al. (2021). Ginseng gintonin, aging societies, and geriatric brain diseases. Integrative Medicine Research, 10(1), 100450. doi: 10.1016/j.imr.2020.100450. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32817818/
- Dai, D., Zhang, C. F., Williams, S., Yuan, C. S., & Wang, C. Z. (2017). Ginseng on cancer: potential role in modulating inflammation-mediated angiogenesis. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 45(1), 13–22. doi:10.1142/S0192415X17500021. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28068835/
- Dhaliwal A, Gupta M. (2021). PDE5 inhibitors. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/
- Irfan, M., Kwak, Y. S., Han, C. K., Hyun, S. H., & Rhee, M. H. (2020). Adaptogenic effects of Panax ginseng on modulation of cardiovascular functions. Journal of Ginseng Research, 44(4), 538–543. doi: 10.1016/j.jgr.2020.03.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32617033/
- Lee, S., & Rhee, D.-K. (2017). Effects of ginseng on stress-related depression, anxiety, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Journal of Ginseng Research, 41(4), 589–594. doi: 10.1016/j.jgr.2017.01.010. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29021708/
- Lee, H. J., Kim, B. M., Lee, S. H., Sohn, J. T., Choi, J. W., Cho, C. W., et al. (2020). Ginseng-induced changes to blood vessel dilation and the metabolome of rats. Nutrients, 12(8), 2238. doi: 10.3390/nu12082238. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32727012/
- National Library of Medicine (US). (2021). Ginseng. In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30000873/
- Ratan, Z. A., Youn, S. H., Kwak, Y. S., Han, C. K., Haidere, M. F., Kim, J. K., et al. (2021). Adaptogenic effects of Panax ginseng on modulation of immune functions. Journal of Ginseng Research, 45(1), 32–40. doi: 10.1016/j.jgr.2020.09.004. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33437154/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.