Many different types of ginseng are commercially available. Among them, the most common and also the most studied type is Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng). Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also called eleuthero, is another relatively common form. Ginseng is an adaptogen, a compound claimed to increase both energy levels and resistance to stress.
The biological actions of Asian ginseng are not entirely understood. It is possible the ginsenosides are the active compounds in Asian ginseng. Ginsenosides are chemically similar to steroids, which are often used in the conventional treatment of MS attacks. But while steroids act to suppress immune activity, ginsenosides appear to stimulate immune system cells. Due to its immune-stimulating properties, Asian ginseng poses a theoretical risk to people with MS. The effects of Asian ginseng on fatigue and stress are not clear at this time.
Siberian ginseng is a completely different herb, but in studies it has produced similar results to Asian ginseng. It also appears to stimulate the immune system, and its effects on fatigue and stress are unclear.
Both of these types of ginseng have been associated with adverse effects and drug interactions. The sedating effects sometimes associated with these herbs may exacerbate MS-associated fatigue or amplify the sedating effects of certain medications. It is also possible for Asian ginseng to interact with steroids. People who have bleeding disorders, people who are undergoing surgery, and people who are taking aspirin or blood-thinning medications should avoid both of these herbs due to their ability to increase bleeding tendency.
Neither Asian ginseng nor Siberian ginseng have any proven clinical benefits and may activate the immune system. It may be reasonable for people with MS to avoid consuming these herbs on a regular basis or in large doses.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Bowling AC, Stewart TS. Dietary Supplements and Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Professional’s Guide. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
Jellin JM, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009.
Ulbricht CE, Basch EM, eds. Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews. St. Louis: Elsevier-Mosby, 2005.