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Eleuthero, also known as Siberian Ginseng, is a popular adaptogen in Russian and Chinese traditional medicines [R]. Folk wisdom claims that this substance can be used to maintain energy levels and increase resistance to mental stress or physical illness. Modern research offers evidence to support these claims. Find out more below.
What is Eleuthero?
Eleuthero is an herb that has been used in the traditional medical practices of China, Korea, and Russia [R]. These traditions all describe eleuthero as an adaptogen, or substance which normalizes bodily responses [R]. Adaptogens can be especially useful in periods of stress, which can result in negative hormone or mood changes.
In the West, Eleuthero has been frequently branded as ‘Siberian Ginseng,’ most likely as an attempt to benefit from the popularity of the well-known Asian ginsengs, and to encourage comparison with their adaptogenic benefits [R]. However, Eleuthero is not a member of the ginseng plant family, which includes the popular Asian and American ginsengs [R]. It also does not contain the compounds known as ginsenosides which provide many of the adaptogenic benefits associated with ginseng. However, Eleuthero contains its own set of unique compounds, called eleutherosides, which have distinct adaptogenic benefits [R]. Modern research has helped to support and explain some of these claims.
- Assists immune system by fighting against viruses
- Fights against cancer by reducing growth of cancer cells
- Protects the brain by reducing stress and improving memory
- Treats diabetes by reducing insulin resistance
- Improves heart function
- Increase blood pressure
- Interferes with some medicines
- Can cause headaches, diarrhea, etc.
Health Benefits of Eleuthero
1) Eleuthero Boosts the Immune System
Eleuthero boosts the immune system by increasing immune cell production. Supplementation of eleuthero root extract in animal studies resulted in increased level of the antibody molecules Immunoglobulins G and M, which help protect the body from microbes [R].
Eleuthero also boosts the immune system by promoting natural detoxification processes in the liver. Eleuthero extract has been proven to help the liver process harmful toxins including alcohol, sodium barbital, and tetanus toxin [R].
Eleuthero extract also has antioxidant benefits which can preserve cellular health. In periods of oxidative stress, cells can be damaged by reactive molecules known as oxygen radicals. Several compounds in eleuthero were found to bind to and neutralize oxygen radical molecules, preventing cellular damage [R].
2) Eleuthero Reduces Inflammation
The pain-relieving drug naproxen sodium (brand name Aleve) works by inhibiting COX-2, an enzyme involved in activating inflammatory pathways [R]. Eleuthero decreases the expression of COX-2, which can help to reduce and prevent inflammation [R],[R1].
Eleuthero reduces the excess inflammatory response associated with allergic rhinitis [R]. It also reduces the excess mast cell activity seen in allergic reactions, which reduces allergic inflammation [R].
3) Eleuthero Fights Cancer
Eleuthero shows promise in improving cancer outcomes by slowing the progression of cancer and boosting the immune system, which is severely taxed by fighting cancer.
In addition to helping fight cancerous cells which have already formed, eleuthero helps protect cells from mutation, which is the underlying cause of cancer [R]. Eleuthero was also shown to have a small protective benefit in mutations due to radiation exposure [R].
One study determined that eleuthero increased immune system strength in both patients with breast cancer and healthy subjects [R]. This indicates that the increased immune system action seen with eleuthero remains present during cancer treatment. Because the immune system is severely taxed during the body’s fight against cancer, the improvement of the immune system seen with eleuthero could be another factor making this substance a useful addition to conventional cancer treatment.
4) Eleuthero Kills Viruses
Eleuthero extract is considered “possibly effective” for treating herpes simplex 2 and relieving symptoms of the common cold following review of studies which used a standardized extract for this purpose [R].
A liquid extract of eleuthero stopped RNA viruses from reproducing [R]. Several RNA viruses, including human rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza A virus, are common causes of illness [R]. This direct anti-viral action of eleuthero shows promise in preventing and limiting the duration of some common viral illnesses, in addition to its other positive effects on the immune system.
5) Eleuthero Improves Athletic Performance
Eleuthero supplementation also improves blood flow [R]. This could also contribute to a faster recovery time from exercise.
6) Eleuthero May Reduce Stress
Studies of eleuthero supplementation demonstrate a lower negative response to stress and a faster recovery from stress.
Eleuthero decreases the time needed to recover from stress in animal studies [R].
Eleuthero also reduced stress-related changes in behavior in sleep-deprived animals [R].
7) Eleuthero Improves Symptoms of Diabetes
Usage of eleutheroside E in type 2 diabetic mice resulted in reduced blood glucose levels by reducing the resistance to insulin [R]. Eleutheroside E was found to promote the function of pancreatic β-cells, which make insulin [R].
The eleutheroside components eleutherans A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are each effective in normalizing blood sugar levels in a laboratory setting [R].
Eleuthero also shows promise in animal trials as a lipid-lowering agent, improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels [R]. In conjunction with carnitine supplementation, eleuthero was found to reducing the body weight increase and cholesterol levels from a high-cholesterol diet in animal studies as well [R].
7) Eleuthero Improves Memory
In animal studies, eleuthero modestly enhances the neuronal communication related to learning and memory [R].
High stress levels are detrimental to memory and mental performance [R]. The stress-reducing effects of eleuthero could also help restore memory deficits caused by excess stress.
8) Eleuthero May Help Treat Parkinson’s Disease
Multiple animal studies on the supplementation of eleuthero have shown a reduction in the degenerative effects of Parkinson’s disease [R, R]. More research is likely needed to assess if the same strength of effects is seen in human clinical usage.
Some plants referred to as “ginseng” are known to have interactions with levels of the female hormone estrogen [R]. This may be beneficial for those looking for mild and natural relief from hormonal issues, but can be considered a negative side effect in other cases. A study evaluating the effects of eleuthero supplementation on osteoporosis which measured many hormone levels found no changes in estrogen levels [R]. Another study found several of the eleutherosides to have a very slight anti-estrogen effect, and found most of them to have no significant effect on estrogen [R].
The leaves of eleuthero can be eaten or prepared in a tea [R]. However, most studies looking at the health benefits of eleuthero focus on the root, and it is possible that the leaves do not confer the same benefits.
Eleuthero root can also be prepared as a tea, although it is reported to taste pungent and slightly bitter, which many could find unpleasant [R].
Potential Eleuthero Interactions
Overall, eleuthero is generally regarded as safe, but supplementation can interact with a few medications and conditions.
Eleuthero may hinder the body from getting rid of lithium which will result in more lithium side effects such as nausea, thirst, or weight gain [R].
The improved blood flow from eleuthero supplementation can help boost recovery and performance in athletes, but may interact with other medications, such as anticoagulants, which increase blood flow [R].
It is unfortunately common for commercial ginseng supplements to be mislabelled as a different type of ginseng [R]. This can be a problem because the effects and interactions differ greatly for the different herbs which are called “ginseng” (such as Siberian ginseng, Indian ginseng, and Asian ginseng).
Purchasing eleuthero from a reliable source will minimize the risk of consuming a mislabelled product. The eleuthero root products below come from companies with some of the best track records regarding quality control and testing.