Siberian ginseng is a ginseng in its own class. Also known as Eleutherococcus senticosus or Eleuthero for short has been widely used in Russia and Europe for many centuries as an adaptogen that is thought to enhance immune system function to help cope with stress. Do not confuse this ginseng with American or Asian forms as they contain different molecular components. American and Asian ginseng (red and white) contains ginsenosides whereas Siberian ginseng contains eleutherosides. These molecules have different function in the body/brain. The root of the plant is used for medicinal purposes and is available as liquid and solid extracts, powders, capsules, tablets and tea.
Siberian ginseng goes far beyond being an adaptogen by supporting cardiovascular, brain, joint, adrenal gland and renal health, energy production, antiviral and anti-cancer activity.
The active components of Siberian ginseng are known as eleutherosides along with a number of complex polysaccharides that provide the observed health benefits. To date there are 7 primary eleutherosides that are known and have been somewhat studied however, most of the studies have been done in Russia. See the general molecular structure below and to your right.
As an adaptogen, Eleuthero is thought to deal with stress by supporting adrenal gland function. This allows the adrenal glands to function at peak performance when required to do so. Eleuthero has been found to be useful in animals and patients who have been exposed to drugs and cancer therapies because of its ability to process toxins. Research is demonstrating that long-term use of this herb has medicinal benefit for HIV-infected individuals, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Systemic Lupus Erythematosis.
Eleuthero has the ability to increase the number of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and in particular CD4 cells by 80 percent. Lymphocytes are a part of cellular immunity that have antiviral activity. CD4 cells are actually T-Helper cells responsible for sending out chemical phone calls to wake up the immune system to let other white blood cells know that an invader is present. CD4 cells don’t kill anything they just talk to the rest of the immune system to activate an immune response. When an individual is infected with HIV, CD4 cells (T-Helpers) eventually decrease in number such that they can’t activate the immune system anymore. Since Eleuthero has anti-viral function, it is also used to treat colds and flu with great success.
Clinical studies have demonstrated an increase in cytotoxic T-cells by over 50 percent and an increase in Natural Killer cells (NK) by 30 percent with intravenous injection of Eleuthero. Cytotoxic T-cells are lymphocytes that do chemical and physical warfare on antigens. In other words, these lymphocytes kill antigens.
Natural Killer cells are another type of white blood cell unrelated to T-cells. These cells have Fc receptors on their surfaces that bind the constant domain of antibodies. NK cells bind to virally infected cells, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, cancer cells and worms that already have antibodies on their surface. The antibodies are produced by B-cells. These antibodies mark an abnormal cell or pathogen for destruction. When the NK cell binds to an abnormal cell or pathogen it sends proteins across that form pores in the adjacent cell or pathogen and also sends enzymes (proteases) through the pores to destroy the entity. This is serious business. Essentially you have physical warfare punching holes in the membrane of the other entity and at the same time dumping enzymes through the pores that will break down molecules within the entity (chemical warfare).
Additionally, patients who took intravenous injections of Eleuthero had an increase in B lymphocytes by over 20 percent. B-cells are responsible for making antibodies that mark molecules or cell surfaces for destruction by T-cells. Interestingly, there have been no reports of side effects in these clinical studies.
Given that Siberian ginseng can strongly enhance immune function, it has been suggested by researchers that it should be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a drug. It is currently being used in cancer patients who going through chemotherapy in Germany. This ginseng is reported to reduce chemo side effects such as nausea, weakness and fatigue. It is also reported to decrease recovery times and maintain white blood cell counts.