Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is a medicinal herb said to offer a wide range of health benefits. Although it is also referred to as "Siberian ginseng," eleuthero does not belong to the same family as "true" ginseng, which includes Korean or Asian ginseng and American ginseng. Eleuthero is available as a dietary supplement and sometimes used in skincare products.
Uses For Eleuthero
Eleuthero is thought to act as an adaptogen, a class of herbs that supposedly boost the body's resistance to stress. Proponents claim that eleuthero can also help with these health conditions:
- Alzheimer's disease
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- high blood pressure
- kidney disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
Benefits of Eleuthero
To date, research on the health effects of Siberian ginseng is fairly limited. However, some studies suggest that eleuthero shows promise in the treatment of certain conditions, including:
Eleuthero is possibly effective for cold relief when taken in combination with the herb andrographis, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Indeed, a 2004 study of 130 children (published in Phytotherapy Research) found that an herbal formula containing eleuthero and andrographis helped reduce cold duration and severity when treatment was started at the early stages of the cold. In general, it takes four to five days of treatment with the andrographis/Siberian ginseng combination in order to experience maximum cold relief, the NIH states.
Eleuthero may help improve mental performance in people with mild, stress-induced fatigue, according to a 2009 research review published in Current Clinical Pharmacology. Additionally, a 2004 study from Psychological Medicine found that eleuthero might benefit people with "moderate fatigue." However, the study also found that eleuthero was not effective for people with severe fatigue. The study involved 96 people with fatigue, each of whom received either eleuthero or a placebo for two months.
For a 2009 study published in The Korean Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, researchers assigned 57 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee to six weeks of daily treatment with either a placebo or an herbal formula containing eleuthero, Panax ginseng, and Chinese foxglove. By the study's end, those had received the herbal formula showed greater improvement in pain and physical functioning (compared to those who had taken the placebo). However, it's not known whether eleuthero on its own can help manage osteoarthritis.
Eleuthero may help cut cholesterol, according to a small study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications in 2008. For the study, 40 postmenopausal women were assigned to receive either calcium or calcium plus eleuthero for six months. Study results revealed that those who were given calcium plus eleuthero experienced significant decreases in LDL cholesterol and certain markers of oxidative stress (a destructive biological process linked to many major health problems, including heart disease and cancer).
The NIH warns that eleuthero products often contain "adulterants" (other ingredients that do not contribute to the benefit of the product). Silk vine is a common adulterant of eleuthero, according to the NIH. To avoid adulterants, read product labels carefully or ask your health-care provider to recommend an eleuthero product to you.
Although eleuthero is likely safe when used in the short term, it may trigger a number of side effects (including insomnia, headache, nervousness, drowsiness, and hypoglycemia). It's also important to take caution when using Siberian ginseng if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, diabetes, a hormone-sensitive condition (such as breast cancer or uterine fibroids), or a mental condition (such as mania or schizophrenia). In these cases, the NIH recommends avoiding the use of eleuthero or using eleuthero only under your doctor's supervision.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women and children should also avoid the use of eleuthero.
Should You Use Eleuthero for Health Purposes?
While taking eleuthero in combination with andrographis may help treat the common cold, it's too soon to recommend eleuthero for any other health problem. If you're considering the use of Siberian ginseng in treatment of a chronic condition, make sure to consult your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.
Hartz AJ, Bentler S, Noyes R, Hoehns J, Logemann C, Sinift S, Butani Y, Wang W, Brake K, Ernst M, Kautzman H. "Randomized controlled trial of Siberian ginseng for chronic fatigue." Psychol Med. 2004 Jan;34(1):51-61.
Lee YJ, Chung HY, Kwak HK, Yoon S. "The effects of A. senticosus supplementation on serum lipid profiles, biomarkers of oxidative stress, and lymphocyte DNA damage in postmenopausal women." Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008 Oct 10;375(1):44-8.
National Insitutes of Health. "Ginseng, Siberian: MedlinePlus Supplements". November 2010.
Panossian A, Wikman G. "Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity." Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219.
Park SH, Kim SK, Shin IH, Kim HG, Choe JY. "Effects of AIF on Knee Osteoarthritis Patients: Double-blind, Randomized Placebo-controlled Study." Korean J Physiol Pharmacol. 2009 Feb;13(1):33-7.
Spasov AA, Ostrovskij OV, Chernikov MV, Wikman G. "Comparative controlled study of Andrographis paniculata fixed combination, Kan Jang and an Echinacea preparation as adjuvant, in the treatment of uncomplicated respiratory disease in children." Phytother Res. 2004 Jan;18(1):47-53.