By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What is ginseng?

Ginseng is an herbal supplement used to boost energy and promote health and longevity. There are several varieties including Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). There is also an herb marketed as “Siberian Ginseng” but it is not actually ginseng, it is from the Eleutherococcus senticosus plant which is a different family of plant.

"Ginseng is believed to increase blood flow to the heart muscle, decrease resting blood sugar levels, and increase adrenal gland activity."

Ginseng is believed to increase blood flow to the heart muscle, decrease resting blood sugar levels, and increase adrenal gland activity. Therefore, it is used as an adjunctive therapy for heart and circulation problems, diabetes, hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease), and as an enhancer of memory, energy, and alertness. It has also been used for respiratory issues, decreased immune system, obesity (triglyceride blood levels), cancers, and for reproductive problems.

Dietary supplements are substances that can be used to supplement the diet, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics. While many supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects that should be managed by your veterinarian. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

There are differences in how countries regulate supplements. In the United States, these substances are not as vigorously regulated by the FDA as other medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label.

How effective is ginseng?

Limited studies in animals have been performed, but there is anecdotal evidence that ginseng works to improve general physical performance, immune function, cognitive function, blood sugar levels, and liver function.

How is ginseng given?

Ginseng is given by mouth in the form of a capsule, powder, or liquid extract. It may be given with or without food; however, if stomach upset occurs when dosed on an empty stomach, give future doses with food. Because this supplement may cause sleeplessness, give this supplement in the morning. Measure liquid forms carefully.

What if I miss giving my pet the supplement?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding side effects is also limited. However, ginseng is considered to have few, if any, side effects if used at the proper dose. At higher doses, side effects may include diarrhea, skin reactions, sleeplessness, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Are there any risk factors for this supplement?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding risk factors is also limited. However, based on the potential effects of this supplement, ginseng should be used cautiously in pets with high blood pressure, heart problems, bleeding disorders, hyperexcitability, fever, or infection. It should be used carefully and under veterinary supervision in diabetic pets. Ginseng should not be used in pets that are allergic to it. Use cautiously, if at all, in pregnant or nursing pets.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

The following medications should be used with caution when given with ginseng: anti-coagulant (anti-blood-clotting) medications, insulin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Vitamins, herbal therapies, and supplements have the potential to interact with each other, as well as with prescription and over the counter medications. It is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including all vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this supplement?

There is no specific monitoring that needs to be done while your pet is taking this medication. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working.

How do I store ginseng?

In general, store this supplement in a cool, dry place, protected from light. There are many formulations and manufacturers of ginseng, so always follow the specific storage instructions on the product label.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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