In Asia, ginseng has been used for centuries as whole-body toner to strengthen the immune system and help the body fight off the aging effects of stress and fatigue. More recently, however, Western medicine has focused in on ginseng for a very different reason: its ability to help both prevent and treat breast cancer.
New Study Reveals Ginseng’s Anti-Cancer Properties
In a study from Vanderbilt University, 1,455 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer were followed for six years after the onset of the diagnosis. It was found that women who had supplemented their diets with ginseng not only had a 33% less chance of dying of breast cancer than the control group, they had a 29% less risk of dying of any other cause as well. Researchers concluded that the ginseng supplementation not only extends the life expectancy of women with this diagnosis, it improves the quality of life as well.
Ginseng and Estrogen
One reason why scientists believe that ginseng may be effective as a treatment for breast cancer is that is contains phytoestrogens, plant-based chemicals that mimic the estrogen in the woman’s body. These phytoestrogens bind to the estrogen receptors in the body, essentially blocking the natural estrogen which can stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. The estrogen in the ginseng itself is not strong enough to cause this stimulation.
Ginseng and Immunity
Another reason why ginseng is believed to be good for the treatment of cancer in general is because of the support it gives the immune system. The Chinese for centuries have recognized it as a potent overall tonic and its Latin name Panax is derived from the Greek word “panacea”, or heal-all. Both Eastern and Western medicine are continuing to explore its therapeutic possibilities. Scientists from Seoul’s Korea Cancer Center, for instance, tracked 4,634 patients for 5 years, and those who received ginseng supplements were 60% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
This positive effect on the body’s immunity may not just help decrease the risk of development cancer: it is also highly useful in treating the flu. One experiment published in Pharmacy Research in 1996 found that those treated regularly with ginseng for several months got sick roughly half as many times as those who did not receive ginseng supplementation. It has also been found to in recent studies to help treat the common cold, and researchers hypothesize that this could be in part due to the fact that ginseng promotes the production of interferon, a natural anti-viral compound.
Ginseng in Other Studies
In other studies around the world, ginseng has been found to bring with it a whole array of other health benefits. Studies have linked it with enhanced memory and attention span, increased physical stamina, decreased menopause-related depression, lower blood sugar levels in diabetics and enhanced sexual function.
With its immunity-boosting and cancer-fighting properties, it is easy to see why Western medicine is now starting to pick up on what Chinese practitioners long have known: that ginseng is powerful weapon in the war on cancer.