The Panax ginseng plant has long been prized for its ability to improve mood and subjective wellbeing. Research on the topic has turned up rather ambiguous results, with some studies showing a beneficial effect, while other show no effect at all. Let’s take a closer look at five of the most relevant studies on the topic.
Study 1: Panax ginseng (G115) improves aspects of working memory performance and subjective ratings of calmness in healthy young adults. A study carried out at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK, tested the anecdotal claims of Panax ginseng conferring a calming effect on those who supplement with it. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 30 volunteers with an average age of 23 were treated with either 0mg, 200mg, 400mg of a Panax ginseng supplement for an 8-day period. Testing was done on day 1 and day 8. On testing days, emotional response surveys were completed before dosing with ginseng, as well as 1, 2.5, and 4 hours after dosing. It was found that supplementing with Panax ginseng increased calmness in a dose-dependent manner after ingestion.
Study 2: Ginseng does not enhance psychological well-being in healthy, young adults: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. In one of the few American studies on Panax ginseng, a research team out of Oregon State University set out to determine if ginseng has any mood altering effects. Eighty-three adults (40 women, 43 men) took part in the study, where they were divided into a three groups receiving either 0mg, 200mg, and 400mg of a Panax ginseng extract. Each study participant was instructed to ingest the ginseng supplement daily for an 8-week period. Measures of the study participant's emotional states were collected both pre-treatment and post-treatment, which revealed that there were no statistically significant changes in any of the measured mood parameters. These results do not support the claims of mood enhancement resulting from prolonged Panax ginseng supplementation in healthy young adults.
Study 3: Effects of Panax ginseng on quality of life. Another American study carried out at the University of Connecticut followed a similar methodology to the previously discussed study. Thirty study participants were divided into two groups, one receiving a placebo, and another receiving 200mg of a Korean Red ginseng supplement daily. The study took place over 8 weeks, with quality of life measurements taken pre-administration, 4 weeks post-administration, and 8 weeks post-administration.The measurements taken at the 4-week marker showed significant improvements in mental health markers, as well as subjective measures of social function. However, these benefits became significantly insignificant compared to placebo at 8 weeks. This study seems to indicate that supplementing with Panax ginseng has short term benefits for mood improvement, but these benefits diminish overtime.
Study 4: Effects of a standardized ginseng extract on quality of life and physiological parameters in symptomatic postmenopausal women: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. This large scale study was done to test the beneficial effects on mood for women experiencing postmenopausal symptoms. This double-blind, placebo controlled study was carried out on 384 women of an average of 53, with 193 women receiving a supplement of Panax ginseng, and 191 receiving a placebo. Effects were measured through a series of standardized metrics, including: Psychological General Well-Being (PGWB) index, Visual Analogue (VA) scales, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol levels, Women's Health Questionnaire (WHQ), maturity index, and vaginal ph. While all of the physiological metrics showed no statistically significant changes compared to placebo, the subjective psychological measurements did show a significant improvement. These results show that the beneficial effects of Panax ginseng on mood are likely not caused by hormonal changes in the postmenopausal women.
Study 5: A double-blind comparison of the effect on quality of life of a combination of vital substances including standardized ginseng G115 and placebo. In this placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 390 healthy volunteers were given either an oral Panax ginseng extract (205 test subjects), or a placebo (185 test subjects) for a period of 12 weeks in an effort to measure changes in subjective quality of life. Quality of life was measured through a series of self-administered questionnaires, including the Psychological General Well-Being (PGWB) index and the Sleep Dysfunction scale. Interestingly, both the placebo and ginseng group showed improvements in quality of life over the 3-month study period. However, the ginseng group showed greater improvements, implying that Panax ginseng may be an effective way to improve the subjective quality of life in healthy adults.
Conclusion Whether or not Panax ginseng can improve mood and quality of life in healthy individuals is still uncertain, but considering the number of positive results seen in the above studies, the question warrants further research.
What the Doctor Recommends
One big set of chemicals that control mood are the neurotransmitters in the brain led by the pleasure "drug" serotonin. These substances determine whether you feel good and energetic or tired, irritable, and spacey. They run on sugar, preferably the form that comes from low glycemic carbohydrates (not doughnut sprinkles), according to Molly Kimball, RD, sports and lifestyle nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation and Hospital in New Orleans.
The idea, she says, is to maintain a stable blood sugar level through the day, slowly feeding these substances into the brain. Low glycemic carbs include whole grain bread, beans, whole grain crackers, soy, apples, pears, peaches, and other fruits.
Recommendations for Managing Moods
Maintain a stable blood sugar, no big swings. This means frequent small meals and snacks, every four hours or so.
Drink a lot of water.
Exercise 20 minutes a day for mood -- and an hour for fat-burning.
Do not follow an extremely low-fat diet (quick weight loss is also bad for mood, Heller says). Fat is needed for anti-depression. Stick with polyunsaturated and monounstaurated fats and fatty fish or flaxseeds, which are full of healthy omega-3 fats.
Take in tryptophan, an amino acid that makes blood sugar accessible to the neurotransmitters. This means milk or turkey. Eat a carb alongside your tryptophan source for better absorption.
Spend time in the produce department when you shop (try to eat a lot of bright colors, which means fruits and veggies).
Pass on food items that come wrapped in crackly cellophane.