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Red Ginseng Shows Mild Blood Pressure-Lowering Effect

The effects of Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer, Araliaceae) on blood pressure are controversial, and the few clinical studies conducted in this area have yielded conflicting results. To shed light on the issue, a group of Korean researchers designed a small placebo-controlled study to examine the effects of red ginseng in people with mild or moderate hypertension (Han et al., 2000). While earlier studies based evaluations on single blood pressure measurements taken in clinics, these investigators used 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) in an attempt to avoid potentially confounding effects related to clinic-based measurements. ABPM records 50 readings per 24-hour measurement period, and thus may be expected to allow more accurate assessment of actual blood pressure changes.

The 34 study participants were categorized as having either essential or "white coat" hypertension. Although not specifically defined by the authors of this study, the term "white coat hypertension" is typically used to describe a transient rise in blood pressure associated with clinical settings. In this study, these were people whose initial clinic-based diastolic blood pressure was above 90 mmHG and below 110 mmHG, but below 90 mmHG according to 24-hour mean ABPM.

Essential hypertension (also known as primary or idiopathic hypertension) is high blood pressure with no apparent cause. Mild or moderate essential hypertension in this study was defined as blood pressure over 140/90 mmHG, with diastolic blood pressure lower than 110 mmHG. The essential hypertension group was subdivided into three treatment subgroups, two of which received pharmaceutical blood pressure medications (beta blockers or calcium channel blockers) in addition to ginseng.

After an initial four weeks of treatment with placebo, the study participants took 1.5 g of red ginseng three times a day (a total daily dose of 4.5 g) for eight weeks. Blood pressure was measured via ABPM at baseline, after the four-week placebo period, and again after eight weeks of treatment with red ginseng. Each time, blood pressure was recorded at 30-minute intervals for 24 hours. In the 26 participants with essential hypertension, the researchers observed a significant drop in 24-hour mean systolic blood pressure, but only a tendency toward decline in diastolic blood pressure. The degree of decline in systolic blood pressure was calculated at about 5 percent. The investigators deemed the reduction a significant effect of ginseng treatment "regardless of other medications taking [sic] in addition to red ginseng." No changes were seen in the eight patients with white coat hypertension. They concluded, "Mild decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure was observed without serious side effects and discomfort due to red ginseng medication in idiopathic hypertensive patients."

"Red" ginseng is produced by steaming or otherwise processing fresh, unprocessed "white" ginseng root. The red ginseng used in the study was supplied by Korean Tobacco & Ginseng Corporation of Taejeon, Korea. Each unstandardized capsule was reported to contain 300 mg of ginseng.

- Evelyn Leigh, Herb Research Foundation [Han KH, Choe SC, Kim HS, Sohn DW, Nam KY, Oh HB, Lee MM, Park YB, Choi YS, Seo JD, Lee YW. Effect of red ginseng on blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension and white coat hypertension. American Journal of Chinese Medicine 1998; 26(2): 199-209.]

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