Single doses of the traditional herbal treatment Panax ginseng have recently been shown to lower blood glucose levels and elicit cognitive improvements in healthy, overnight-fasted volunteers. The specific mechanisms responsible for these effects are not known.
However, cognitive improvements may be related to the glycaemic properties of Panax ginseng. Using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, balanced-crossover design, 27 healthy young adults completed a 10 minute “cognitive demand” test battery at baseline. They then consumed capsules containing either ginseng (extract G115) or a placebo and 30 minutes later a drink containing glucose or placebo. A further 30 minutes later (i.e. 60 minutes post-baseline/capsules) they completed the “cognitive demand” battery six times in immediate succession. Depending on the condition to which the participant was allocated on that particular day, the combination of capsules/drink treatments corresponded to a dose of: 0mg G115/0 mg glucose (placebo); 200mg G115/0 mg glucose (ginseng); 0 mg G115/25 g glucose (glucose) or 200 mg G115/25 g glucose (ginseng/glucose combination). The 10 minute “cognitive demand” battery comprised a Serial Threes subtraction task (2 min); a Serial Sevens subtraction task (2 min); a Rapid Visual Information Processing task (5 min); and a “mental fatigue” visual analogue scale. Blood glucose levels were measured prior to the day’s treatment, and before and after the post-dose completions of the battery.
The results showed that both Panax ginseng and glucose enhanced performance of a mental arithmetic task and ameliorated the increase in subjective feelings of mental fatigue experienced by participants during the later stages of the sustained, cognitively demanding task performance. Accuracy of performing the Rapid Visual Information Processing task (RVIP) was also improved following the glucose load. There was no evidence of a synergistic relationship between Panax ginseng and exogenous glucose ingestion on any cognitive outcome measure. Panax ginseng caused a reduction in blood glucose levels 1 hour following consumption when ingested without glucose. These results confirm that Panax ginseng may possess glucoregulatory properties and can enhance cognitive performance.