Friday, November 25, 2016

Ranking the best ginseng supplements of 2016 (review)

If you want to boost your immune system, improve your concentration levels, and feel more energized, ginseng is a great place to start.

Part 1 of this guide reviews the best ginseng supplements on the market and ranks them in an ordered list. Part 2 breaks down what exactly ginseng is and how it benefits your body. Here are the top ten ginseng supplements on the market, ranked.

1.  Auragin Korean Ginseng

ginsengAuragin is a best-selling authentic Asian ginseng supplement produced in Korea.  Each tablet contains 300 mg of Korean ginseng root, of which 8% are ginsenosides, the suspected active ingredient.  It’s tremendously minimalistic; ginseng root is literally the only ingredient.

It’s pressed into tablets and packaged; there are no preservatives, additives, or fillers included whatsoever.

Independent lab testing calls into question the true content of ginsenosides, however.  Analytical testing shows that the true content is more like 5%, though part of this might be the difficulties of detecting ginsenosides at low concentrations.

Regardless, other supplements are able to come closer to their label-stated ginseng content, so it’s certainly doable.

Partially because it’s imported from Korea, Auragin is not going to be the cheapest ginseng supplement on the market.  Despite this, many people believe that Asian ginseng is superior to American ginseng, albeit while being more expensive to produce and import.  This has a lot to do with its place in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for a number of health problems.

2.  NuSci Panax Ginseng

If you know exactly how much ginseng you want, and you want it as cheap and as readily available as possible, this is the product for you.  NuSci Panax Ginseng comes in powder form, packaged in a foil bag, with only one ingredient; ginseng extract.  It contains 10% ginsenosides, making calculations easy to do, assuming you have a scale.

Therein lies the major advantage and disadvantage of free powdered ginseng extract.  You need to do all of the measuring yourself.

It’s a lot of extra work, and you’ll need to purchase a high quality micro scale to accurately determine the milligram amounts of powder that you want, but if you know how much ginseng you want to be taking every day, it’s a tremendous value. This has to be number one in the cost-savings department, assuming you already have a scale and are comfortable using it.

Lab testing confirms the purity of NuSci Panax Ginseng.  In fact, it seems that the powder actually contains more like 12% ginsenosides per serving, meaning you get even more value.

One tricky part about powder is figuring out how to consume it.  If you have your own capsule loading machine, that is one option, but that can get expensive and time-consuming.

Mixing ginseng powder into food is another approach that can work, but it has a fairly potent taste.  For best results, mixing it into a protein shake or smoothie will help it go down easier.

3.  Nature’s Answer American Ginseng

This ginseng supplement comes in an unusual form.  Instead of a tablet, capsule, or free powder, it comes as a liquid in an eye-dropper bottle.  The standardized serving size is listed in number of drops, and since it’s so high (56 drops per serving!) counting them out can be very tedious.

However, it delivers an incredibly potent ginseng dose, with each serving containing 2000 mg of ginseng extract, of which 75 mg (about 4%) is ginsenosides.

The other ingredients are included purely to dissolve the ginseng extract, and they are vegetable glycerin and purified water.

Because it already comes in a liquid format, it’s very easy to add to a glass of water to take your ginseng dosage.

The label is also very accurate: 2 mL of the solution (56 drops) is supposed to contain 75 mg of ginsenosides, and a lab-tested quantity of the same amount of solution measured 80 mg of ginsenosides.

Taking Nature’s Answer American Ginseng would be even easier if you had an accurate micro-pipette, but these are even harder to come by than a micro scale.  Most people will have to make do by counting out droplets from the eye dropper.

This is the only real drawback to this ginseng supplement, assuming you are okay with the ginsenosides coming from American ginseng instead of Korean ginseng.

4.  Solgar Korean Ginseng

The ginseng supplement from Solgar comes in a traditional capsule form, with each vegetarian cellulose capsule containing 250 mg of Korean ginseng extract, of which 8% is ginsenosides.  Interestingly, it also contains ginseng powder, which is presumably unextracted ginseng root.

For unknown reasons, the ginsenoside content of this second source of ginseng is not listed.

However, based on some simple math from the actual lab determined ginsengoside content of the supplement, we can figure out how much extra the root powder adds.

Assuming the 8% figure is accurate, 250 mg of ginseng root extract should provide 20 mg of ginsenosides.  Lab testing reveals that the supplement contains 28.8 mg of ginsenosides per capsule, meaning the extra root powder adds 8.8 mg of ginsenosides.

Because the supplement is in capsule form, it needs some extra ingredients to act as preservatives and bulking agents.  In Solgar Korean Ginseng, these com in the form of magnesium stearate and a proprietary blend of beta-carotene and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

In this case, these anti-oxidants aren’t included for a direct health benefit; they just prevent oxidative damage from degrading the ginseng over time while it’s in storage, preserving the shelf life.

5.  Puritan’s Pride American Ginseng

The proudly American-made Puritan’s Pride ginseng supplement provides a fairly high 500 mg of ginseng per capsule.  The capsule is gelatin based, which is fine for most people unless you have objections to animal products (gelatin, of course, being made from animals).

According to the label, each capsule contains 25 mg of ginsenosides, but lab testing found quite a bit more than that— 41 mg! Large errors of this magnitude (~60%) don’t give the impression that the product is carefully made and that manufacturing processes are sound, but the good news is that the error is in your favor—you’re getting a lot more ginsenosides than you pay for.

All this aside, the capsule contains the usual magnesium stearate and magnesium silicate, both simple binders and stabilizing agents.

If you are okay with some errors in the measurement accuracy of the manufacturing process, Puritan’s Pride is a fairly good source for an American ginseng supplement.

6.  aSquared Nutrition Pure Red Korean Panax Ginseng

aSquared Nutrition’s ginseng supplement sells quite well online, though you’d be hard-pressed to find it in a brick and mortar store.  Each vegetable cellulose capsule provides 500 mg of Panax (Asian) ginseng, and the only other ingredients in the capsule are rice powder and magnesium stearate, fairly standard for this kind of product.

Unfortunately, no independent lab testing is available to see what the actual ginsenoside content of the supplement is, and the label is similarly unhelpful.

Given how widely ginsenoside content varies from product to product (ranging from less than two percent to over 10%) it’s hard to give aSquared Nutrition’s ginseng supplement a ringing endorsement.

Nevertheless, if you assume that the ginsenoside content is fairly high (which is not guaranteed), it could be pretty good value in terms of cost.

7.  Buddha’s Herbs Ginseng

As the name suggests, this ginseng supplement makes use of strictly Panax (Asian / Korean) ginseng for its capsules.  In keeping with the name, the capsules are also made from vegetable cellulose instead of gelatin, which is an animal product.

In addition to 100 mg of Panax ginseng root extract per capsule, (with a standardized ginsenoside content of 10%), each capsule also contains rice flour, silicon dioxide, and magnesium stearate, fairly standard stabilizing agents.

Laboratory testing uncovers a difference in the actual ginsenoside content, however.  Testing shows that each serving contains 16 mg of ginsenosides instead of the expected 10 mg.

While this does mean you are getting better value per capsule, it also may point to problems with quality control in the manufacturing process—an error of 60% is quite large, and does not bode well for the overall quality of the supplement.

Because of these concerns over quality, Buddha’s Herbs is not ranked as highly as it could be if these were addressed.  Additionally, the absolute ginseng content per capsule is on the low end of what’s expected for a ginseng supplement.

8.  Nature’s Bounty Ginseng Complex plus Royal Jelly

Nature’s Bounty is a brand that’s commonly sold at drug stores and pharmacies, and its ginseng product is a top seller on  The approach to this supplement is more maximalist or holistic; it’s not just a pure ginseng supplement.

First off, it includes two kinds of ginseng: American ginseng and Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng).  The Asian ginseng contains 2% ginsenosides and the American ginseng contains 5% ginsenosides.

Each is included at an amount of 25 mg per capsule, totaling 50 mg of ginseng from all sources per capsule.  Notably, this is substantially lower than some of its competitors.

The supplement also includes 500% of your recommended daily value for vitamin B12—this is probably an effort to further boost energy levels, since a lot of energy drinks also contain high levels of vitamin B12.

Additionally, as the name of the supplement suggests, it also contains royal jelly concentrate, which is a compound secreted by honey bees to feed larvae.  It’s concentrated in sugars and amino acids, as well as a small amount of fats and trace vitamins.

One thing to be aware of is that royal jelly carries and allergic reaction risk, since it contains many kinds of animal proteins and animal products.  You should think twice before taking this supplement if you have had allergic reactions in the past.

9.  NOW Foods American Ginseng

Depending on your opinion of the relative worth of American versus Korean ginseng, your opinion of NOW Foods’ ginseng supplement may vary.

The supplement, as the name suggests, uses only American ginseng.  Each capsule provides 500 mg of ginseng root, though the label does not list the standardized ginsenoside content.

Independent lab testing, however, did reveal the actual ginsenoside content: a paltry 11 mg per capsule.

This computes out to only roughly two percent ginsenosides by weight in the American ginseng root extract. Some other supplements contain five times this much in terms of ginsenoside concentration.

Because of this, even though the raw price of the supplement is fairly low, the actual value in terms of dollars per quantity ginsenoside per serving is not very good.

The capsules also contain a few stabilizers and bulking agents.  The capsule itself is vegetarian, being comprised of cellulose, and the only other two ingredients are rice flour and magnesium stearate.  These act as stabilizers and fill up the rest of the capsule.

Because of these deficits, NOW Foods American Ginseng does not find itself ranked very highly among the top ginseng supplements despite its best-selling status.

10.  Swanson Full Spectrum Korean Red Ginseng Root

Swanson Vitamins is typically a reliable and high quality brand.  How does their ginseng supplement stack up? For one thing, it’s Korean ginseng, which will win over traditional medicine purists.

Secondly, it comes in capsules containing a fairly respectable 400 mg of ginseng root each.  In addition to ginseng root, the capsule is comprised of gelatin—a negative for vegans and anyone else who avoids anima products—along with cellulose, magnesium sulfate, and silica.

Unfortunately, the label does not list the ginsenoside content.  However, independent lab testing has confirmed that each capsule contains 6.8 mg of ginsenosides.  This is a rather disappointing result.  This comes out to less than two percent of the total ginseng contents of the capsule.

This also hurts the value in terms of cost per milligram of ginsenosides.  Even though the relative price of the capsule is low, since it contains so little ginsenosides by weight, it is not your best bet for value or quality.

Combining these factors makes it clear that Swanson Vitamins’ ginseng offering does not measure up to its competitors, and indeed does not even measure up to the fairly high standard that this brand usually represents.

Part 2: What is ginseng and how can it benefit your body?

Ginseng is an ancient herbal remedy that’s been used for centuries to treat a range of ailments.  Currently, advocates for ginseng supplements believe that it can improve concentration, increase sport performance by giving you more energy, and boost your immune system.

Benefits of ginseng supplements

While ginseng has been an ingredient in traditional medicine for centuries, modern science has only recently begun to investigate its effects on the body.

Ginseng appears to modulate your body’s immune system response to external stimuli.  A 2008 study by Patricia D Biondo and other researchers at the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition investigated the effects of a ginseng supplementation routine on the body’s immune response to exercise (1).

The experiment, described in a paper published in the scientific journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, recruited ten healthy men who received either a ginseng supplement (1125 mg of American ginseng extract per day) or a placebo supplement.

All of the men completed an exercise protocol and the researchers measured the men’s immune response to the exercise routine.  Three months later, the subjects returned, and the supplement and placebo were switched—this type of crossover design ensured that all of the subjects were exposed to both conditions.

The results showed that the men who had taken the ginseng supplement increased production of a protein called interleukin 2, which helps your body activate infection-fighting white blood cells.  This raises the possibility

The researchers noted, however, that the overall effect was a moderate one, and other parts of the immune system remained unchanged by the ginseng supplementation routine.

Ginseng also appears to have an effect on your psychological perception of fatigue.  This may be why people find that ginseng supplements seem to give them more energy.

A 2011 study published by Ji Young Choi and other researchers at Uimyung Research Institute for Neuroscience in Seoul, South Korea examined the effect of Asian (Panax) ginseng on physical and psychological energy levels in mice (2).

This might sound like a silly experiment—how do you measure psychological fatigue in mice?—but Choi and his fellow researchers subjected the mice to both exercise (which induces physical fatigue) and stressful conditions, which induces psychological fatigue.

Choi et al. found that, while the ginseng supplementation regimen had no effect on biological markers related to exercise performance, like blood lactate levels, mice who were usually sapped of energy and unmotivated after being exposed to stressful conditions had more energy when taking a ginseng supplement.

The researchers measured their baseline movement and activity levels, along with the amount of time they could swim in cold water.  In both cases, the mice taking the ginseng had more energy, meaning they moved around more often and swam longer in the cold water.

Not all the evidence is as promising, however.  Some studies have found that ginseng does not have an impact on some of the most desirable qualities that could be affected by such a supplement.

A 1996 study by Hermann-J. Engles, Josephine M. Said, and John C. Wirth at Wayne State University in Michigan tested the effects of a 200 mg per day supplementation routine of Asian ginseng in adult females (3).  The test subjects performed a graded exercise test on a treadmill before and after the supplementation routine, which lasted for eight weeks.

The researchers found that there were no detectable effects on the exercise performance test—further, the women’s self-reported activity levels did not differ either.

This might call into question the ability of a ginseng supplementation routine, at least one with these design parameters, to boost your energy levels and give you more motivation to be active in your everyday life.  Clearly, more research on more people is needed to determine whether ginseng is all it’s cracked up to be.

Recommended dosage

Despite its long history of use as an herbal medication, there are few good guidelines on what the appropriate or optimal amount of ginseng intake per day should be.  Most scientific studies use doses of 200 to 1000 mg of ginseng root extract per day, using supplements that contain on the order of 5% ginsenosides by weight.  This is a good place to start.

You can begin at the low end of the range (perhaps 200 mg per day) and see if supplementing at that level gives you the desired effect.  If not, you can try increasing the dosage.  If you still don’t have the desired effect, ginseng may not be effective for you, and you may need to look for answers elsewhere.

Side effects of ginseng supplements

Even though the science behind ginseng is not bulletproof, the good news is that ginseng appears to be a pretty safe supplement.

Studies on its use as a supplement, such as a 1995 study on ginseng therapy in diabetic patients, find that there are no well-known negative side effects associated with taking a ginseng supplement at the usual dosages used in these studies (4).

There are a few case reports of serious medical issues associated with ginseng use.  One study describes a 56 year old woman who suffered a manic episode when she started a ginseng supplementation routine (5).  Notably, she had a known mood disorder before she started taking ginseng.

Another study described a possible drug interaction with the blood thinner warfarin (6).  A 47 year old man with heart disease had abnormal blood markers of clotting at one of his regular check-ups.  After reviewing his medication, the doctors determined the only major change had been an introduction of a ginseng supplement.  After discontinuing the ginseng supplement, the man’s blood clotting factors returned to normal.

Though neither of these are definitive cause and effect relationships, they are worth noting.

Until there are larger studies on the possible side effects of ginseng, people with a history of serious mood disorders and people taking blood thinners like warfarin should refrain from a ginseng supplementation routine.


If you need a little more psychological energy to get through the day, or if you want a little boost to your immune system, ginseng might be what you’re looking for.

The evidence behind its efficacy is not as robust as some other supplements, but it does appear to be safe for the vast majority of people, so it may be worth a try.

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