A number of studies have shown that ginsenosides from ginseng can inhibit inflammatory mechanisms in the brain. They are especially protective against beta amyloid, the inflammatory microscopic substance that accumulates in specific areas of brains affected by Alzheimer’s.
Ginseng extracts also inhibit immunoexcitotoxic activation of microglia, an important factor in preventing the destructive process of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, components in American ginseng, Korean red ginseng, and Panax ginseng all inhibit inflammation caused by microglial activation.
Regulation of microglial activity is critically important in brain protection because these specialized immune cells can either be beneficial or quite harmful, depending on what state they are in.
The protective activation mode stimulates the microglia to act as cells that clean up dangerous debris collected in the brain, such as dead or dying brain cell components and especially beta amyloid, the substance seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Korean red ginseng contains a gensinoside that stimulates the microglia to assume this beneficial type of immune function — that is, it stimulates phagocytosis.
Think of phagocytosis like the video game Pacman, which scurries around gobbling up dangerous brain debris.
One study showed that Korean red ginseng stimulated the microglia to gobble up beta amyloid. In fact, within 36 hours beta amyloid had been completely removed from brains under study. No known drug can accomplish that.
If that’s not enough, it has also been found that a compound in Panax ginseng inhibits the enzyme that generates beta amyloid plaques (BASE-1).
Korean red ginseng appears to be especially potent in reducing excitotoxicity, protecting brain cells from apoptosis (programmed death), stimulating brain repair, reducing brain inflammation, and reducing brain amyloid plaque and hyperphosphorylated tau, two products that accumulate in brains affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Panax gensing is a close second in protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s damage.
American ginseng inhibits tau hyperphosphorylation, which is critical to protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s damage.
American ginseng has also shown great promise in preventing many of the processes that lead to Alzheimer’s dementia. For example, it has been shown to stimulate the growth of neurites, which are connections that allow brain cells to communicate.
These are lost early in Alzheimer’s disease. A metabolic product generated by bacteria in the colon from a component in American ginseng, called M1, has been shown to stimulate growth of axons, which also connect neurons, even after extensive damage to these neurites.
Compounds found in both American and Panax ginseng increase the levels of antioxidant enzymes in the brain, repair damage to synapses and dendrites, stimulate brain connection growth, reduce the pathological changes found in Alzheimer’s disease (formation of beta amyloid plaque and abnormal tau), reduce brain inflammation, and lower dangerous levels of nitric oxide in the brain.
American ginseng not only reduces cognitive impairment while a person is taking the supplement, but studies have shown that the benefits last up to two weeks after it is discontinued.
There is some evidence that taking ginseng for prolonged periods allows the brain to reorganize its connections in a way that makes brain function more efficient.
This means that the brain becomes much more resistant to neurodegenerative diseases, strokes, and brain trauma. It also increases a person’s ability to think, remember, and focus attention.
Posts by Russell Blaylock, M.D.
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