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Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Yours in Health

Panax ginseng and ED: Too early to tell

Q: I read your Sept. 30 column regarding the reputed benefits of Panax ginseng as an energy booster. I'm doing research on the viability...

Special to The Seattle Times

Q: I read your Sept. 30 column regarding the reputed benefits of Panax ginseng as an energy booster. I'm doing research on the viability of the root as a clinically acceptable treatment for erectile dysfunction.

Two South Korean studies seem to have successfully proven that taking between 1,800 and 2,700 mg of Panax daily for two to three months resulted in 45 out of 75 men reporting improved sexual function.

Your article states that Panax interacts with a lot of other medications. I would like to have more information on which medications and what the effects are.

A: There are actually several plants that go by the common name "ginseng." Panax ginseng is one. Historically, people have used the root as an "adaptogen." In herbal medicine, adaptogens are thought to increase resistance to stress and act as tonics to help support numerous systems in the body, such as the immune system, the cardiovascular system, etc.

You are correct that there have been two small studies published that found benefit using Panax ginseng for erectile dysfunction. However, I think more research needs to be done with bigger numbers of people and better quality design of the studies before we can say that Panax ginseng is successfully proven for erectile dysfunction.

Panax ginseng has historically been used as an energy booster, but so far studies looking at Panax ginseng to improve athletic performance have been negative.

As for interactions with medications, most of the details here are still being worked out. There has been concern, for instance, that Panax ginseng may inhibit blood clotting by affecting platelets. Lab and human studies have conflicted, though, so we don't know for sure. To play it safe, most holistic providers recommend that people avoid using ginseng before surgery because it may increase bleeding.

There is also a question about whether Panax ginseng may inhibit the activity of an enzyme system in the liver that helps clear many prescription drugs out of the system. If that is the case, then the levels of these drugs might get too high in people's bodies and cause them to have more side effects from these medications.

Dr. Astrid Pujari is a Seattle M.D. with an additional degree as a medical herbalist; she practices at the Pujari Center and teaches as part of the residency programs at Virginia Mason and Swedish/Cherry Hill hospitals. Send questions to apujari@seattletimes.com for possible use in future columns. All information is intended for education and not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your doctor before following any suggestions given here.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Yours in Health
Dr. Astrid Pujari is a Seattle M.D. with an additional degree as a medical herbalist; she practices at the Pujari Center and teaches as part of the residency programs at Virginia Mason and Swedish Providence hospitals.

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