Korean Red Ginseng for Those Who Desire Hard Times
Ancient herbal remedy can enhance erectile function and sexual satisfaction
By Dr. Edward R. Rosick
The root of the ginseng plant (Panax ginseng)
n 1998, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer introduced a new medication called Viagra®. Within a year, this small blue pill racked up sales of over 1 billion dollars, and its popularity is still going strong. It is estimated that over 4 million men in the United States take Viagra on a regular basis (many women do too). Because of its popularity—and, therefore, its ability to generate enormous profits for Pfizer—other drug companies are working around the clock to develop drugs similar to Viagra. TAP Pharmaceuticals plans to introduce Uprima®, to compete with Viagra, early in 2003.
The reason that Viagra is such a bonanza for Pfizer (besides an aggressive, ongoing, multimillion-dollar ad campaign) is that this prescription drug revolutionized the treatment of impotence (which is called erectile dysfunction by those who lack the courage to speak plainly). In the United States, it’s thought that at least 30 million men suffer from impotence.
Achieving Erections Is Hard Work
The physical and biochemical processes involved in achieving and maintaining an erection are complex, which is one of the reasons it took drug companies decades to come up with a product such as Viagra. In simplified terms, here is what happens. The first spark in the erection process occurs in the brain (the number one sex organ), which sends nerve impulses to the penis to get things going. The action begins with the production of nitric oxide (NO) from the amino acid arginine. NO, a vitally important neurotransmitter, penetrates the outer membranes of almost all cells in the human body, and it helps regulate many cellular functions.
In the smooth muscle cells of the penis, NO stimulates the production of a compound called cyclic GMP, which causes these cells to relax. This allows copious amounts of blood to enter and engorge the penis (in a specialized area called the corpus cavernosum), which obligingly stiffens as a result. Voilà—an erection. To ensure that the erection doesn’t last too long, however (believe it or not, that can be quite uncomfortable and even dangerous), the smooth muscle cells of the penis also contain phosphodiesterase (PDE), an enzyme that breaks down cyclic GMP. When this happens, the excess blood drains from the penis, and the erection wilts.
Knowing the mechanism just described, one can imagine several ways in which an erection could be induced and maintained for longer periods of time. The way Viagra exerts its biochemical magic is by inhibiting the action of PDE, thereby allowing cyclic GMP in the penis to remain at high levels. Because of this, the blood doesn’t drain out, and the erection lasts longer. Uprima, the first prescription drug to compete with Viagra, works earlier in the process by amplifying the brain’s erection signal to the penis.
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Viagra Is Not for Everyone
Although many men may view Viagra as second-best only to getting a drink from the fountain of youth, the fact is that this drug is not for all men—even those who are impotent. First of all, it is not 100% effective: some studies show a failure rate of 40–50%. Second, Viagra is expensive: most pharmacies charge between 9 and 10 dollars per pill! Viagra is also not without side effects, some quite serious. A significant percentage of men who use this drug experience headaches, facial flushing, and upset stomach—none of which goes particularly well with sex.
For men who don’t want to pay
$300 a month for Viagra, there is
a safe, natural alternative known
for at least 5000 years.
For men who have heart problems and are taking any kind of medicinal nitrates (such as nitroglycerin for chest pain), Viagra’s side effects can be much more serious, with death being a very real possibility. Uprima also has some significant side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and blackouts—and women just don’t take kindly to such things during intimate moments.
For millennia, people in China,
Korea, and other regions of the
Orient have used ginseng to
increase stamina, decrease
fatigue, and boost their libido.
With so many men suffering from impotence, prescription drugs such as Viagra will continue to make millions of dollars for their pharmaceutical creators, no matter how outrageously priced they are or how unpleasant the possible side effects. However, for men who don’t want to pay $300 a month for Viagra or who are on nitrates and don’t want to pay with their life for a night of fun, there is a safe, natural alternative that has been known for at least 5000 years.
Ginseng—A Natural Prosexual Herb
Ginseng, often called the “king of herbs,” has been used in the Far East since antiquity. Chinese inscriptions representing ginseng have been found on bones and tortoise shells that date back to about 3000 B.C., and the earliest record of its being prescribed for medicinal use dates from about 500 A.D. For at least that long, people in China, Korea, and other regions of the Orient have used this remarkable herb to increase stamina, decrease fatigue, and give a boost to their libido.* Now research on the biochemistry of ginseng and on its effect on human sexuality is showing that these ancient tales are well founded in scientific fact.
*Ginseng’s biological activity is found in extracts of the root of the plant. Owing to the root’s oddly characteristic two-legged shape, and the effects that the extract has on men, ginseng is often called “manroot.”
It should be noted that we are talking here about the type of ginseng commonly called Asian ginseng or, more specifically, Chinese or Korean ginseng. These are all the same plant, Panax ginseng, but different varieties of it are cultivated under different conditions and processed in different ways throughout Asia, so there are many variations on that botanical theme. As we will see, a high-quality variety called Korean red ginseng is of particular interest. (For more information, see the sidebar below.)
Get the Full Story! Click Here for the 2015 Red Ginseng Special Report, click here.
Is All Ginseng Created Equal?
Ginseng is the name given to at least three different plants that are used as “tonics”—substances to strengthen the body and regulate stress. The most widely used ginseng is Panax ginseng, variously known as Asian, Chinese, or Korean ginseng. American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, is also considered a true ginseng. Siberian ginseng, however, is not a true ginseng but a closely related plant, Eleutherococcus senticosus.
Even though all three ginsengs are used as tonics, herbalists and others familiar with herbal remedies tend to use them for different purposes. Korean ginseng is considered to be the most potent or stimulating type of ginseng. In traditional Chinese medicine, Korean ginseng is said to have more yang energy (yang and yin represent all the opposing properties in the universe, such as male and female, active and passive, hard and soft, hot and cold, stimulating and sedating, etc.). American ginseng, on the other hand, is said to be more yin in nature and is used for people who feel worn out because of a high-stress environment. Siberian ginseng, like Korean ginseng, is seen as having more of a yang nature and is often used to increase a person’s endurance and stamina.
Recent scientific studies have shed some light on the different natures of the two true ginsengs. Korean ginseng has been shown to contain more Rg1 ginsenosides, which have more stimulating effects, whereas American ginseng has a higher percentage of Rb1 ginsenosides, which have more sedating effects.
Korean Red Ginseng Works in Animals
A paper entitled “Ginseng, Sex Behavior, and Nitric Oxide,” published recently in the prestigious Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, examined the scientific evidence behind ginseng’s purported beneficial effects on sexual health.1 The authors stated that there is hard scientific evidence that certain active chemical ingredients in ginseng, called ginsenosides, have prosexual effects. In their own words, “There is good evidence that ginsenosides can facilitate penile erection by directly inducing the vasodilation and relaxation of penile corpus cavernosum. Moreover, the effects of ginseng on the corpus cavernosum appear to be mediated by the release and/or modification of release of nitric oxide from endothelial cells and perivascular nerves.”
The authors based many of their conclusions on laboratory studies done on rats and rabbits. One animal study specifically examined the effects of Korean red ginseng (KRG) on the penile erectile tissue of rabbits and the erectile response in rats.2 In both test-tube (in vitro) and live-animal (in vivo) experiments, KRG significantly enhanced penile erectile capabilities, with the authors concluding that “KRG potentiates the erectile response in normal animals.”
Korean Red Ginseng Works in Men Too
Of course, as good as a supplement (ginseng or any other) may look in the laboratory, no significant claims should be made about it until it is tested in humans. Fortunately for men who are interested in taking Korean red ginseng for impotence, such tests have recently been conducted, and the news is all good.
There is hard scientific evidence
that certain active ingredients in
ginseng, called ginsenosides,
have prosexual effects.
A recent study done in Korea examined the effects of KRG in 45 men (average age 54) who had documented impotence, defined by the authors as the “persistent inability to achieve and maintain an erection sufficient for normal sexual satisfaction.”3 All the men underwent a rigorous, week-long baseline medical evaluation, including testing of their erectile function (or lack of it). They were then randomly selected to take either 900 mg of KRG or placebo three times a day for the next 8 weeks (the study was double-blinded, so no one knew who was getting what). There followed a 2-week “washout” period during which none of the men received any pills. Then there was another 8-week testing period during which the men who had initially received the KRG were put on placebo, and vice versa. In this way, each man served as his own control—a technique called crossover.
Significant Improvement in 60% of Men
The results of this study showed that Korean red ginseng lives up to its reputation as a prosexual herb. A full 60% of the men taking KRG reported a significant improvement in achieving and maintaining an erection (this percentage is comparable to that of Viagra). Furthermore, the men who took KRG reported higher scores for sexual desire and satisfaction in intercourse.
Korean red ginseng lives up to
its reputation as a prosexual herb.
A full 60% of the men taking
KRG reported a significant
improvement in achieving and
maintaining an erection.
Interestingly enough, there was no difference between KRG and placebo when the men were asked about orgasmic function. The researchers, while admitting that the number of patients in the study was small and that further studies are needed, nonetheless concluded, “Considering that some patients with erectile dysfunction are reluctant to depend on a drug to achieve erection, Korean red ginseng could be used as an alternative remedy with its multiple beneficial effects on health.”
Ejaculation and Orgasm—Two Parts of One Whole?
Most men (and most women), if asked what the difference is between male orgasm and ejaculation, would probably say they’re the same thing. After all, for the vast majority of men, the one doesn’t occur without the other. Yet the surprising fact is that ejaculation and having an orgasm are two different things, and they do not necessarily go together.
Ejaculation—the release of semen—is a purely reflexive action. Men who have suffered severe spinal cord injuries that left them in wheelchairs can ejaculate without having an orgasm; in fact, they can ejaculate without having any sensations at all. Orgasm—that overwhelming sensation to which no words can do justice—is associated with rhythmic contractions of the pubococcygeal muscles, located in the pelvis, and represents the sudden release of accumulated sexual energy and tension.
In Western culture, an orgasm with ejaculation is generally seen as the culmination of sex. In many Far Eastern cultures, however, it has long been known (and taught) that orgasm and ejaculation are not one and the same thing. Men who learn to separate the two are able to have multiple orgasms throughout their lovemaking activities while maintaining a firm erection. While this might strike some as New Age nonsense, the noted sex researchers Alfred Kinsey, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson all came to realize that ejaculation and orgasm are indeed two separate parts of one pleasurable whole.
Korean Red Ginseng—An Ancient Herb for the Modern Man
Impotence is a common yet still too often ignored problem in men. Although drugs such as Viagra undeniably help many men with this affliction, the high cost, as well as the unpleasant side effects, are obstacles to many others, who are left with the feeling that they have lost a vital part of their life. For these men, and for others who desire the benefits of Korean red ginseng for whatever reason, this ancient herb may be just the boost they need to be able to rise up each day with a smile on their face.
Get the Full Story! Click Here for the 2015 Red Ginseng Special Report, click here.
- Murphy L, Jer-Fu Le T. Ginseng, sex behavior, and nitric oxide. Ann NY Acad Sci2002;962:372-7.
- Choi YD, Rha KH, Choi HK. In vitro and in vivo experimental effect of Korean red ginseng. J Urol 1999;162:1508-11.
- Hong B, Ji YH, Hong JH, et al. A double-blind crossover study evaluating the efficacy of Korean red ginseng in patients with erectile dysfunction: a preliminary report. J Urol 2002;168:2070-3.
Dr. Rosick is an attending physician and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in preventive and alternative medicine. He also holds a master’s degree in healthcare administration.