Often referred to as "Siberian ginseng," Eleutherococcus is commonly confused with other ginsengs (Asian, or Panax ginseng, and American, or Panax quinquefolius) by virtue of relatively similar adaptogenic properties.
From the point of view of the active constituents, this root of the Araliaceae family does not, however, have anything in common with the large family of ginsengs.
So what are the specificities of this medicinal plant coming to us from the cold?
A little history
Native to Siberia, eleutherococcus also grows in northern China, Korea and Japan.
Writings from the 1500s relate the use of the plant for various purposes in Chinese medicine: tonic of Qi, yang of the spleen and kidneys, general tonic of longevity, treatment of loss of appetite, lower back pain and pain in the kidneys and knees, and soothing sleep when disturbed by dreams.
It was in Russia in the 1950s that much research was done on the various plants of the Araliaceae family. Looking for a substitute for Panax ginseng, which had become too expensive, the Russians finally discovered eleutherococcus, and defined a term still used today: adaptogen.
A recognized adapatogenic plant
The World Health Organization recognizes the effectiveness of Siberian ginseng as "a tonic capable of increasing mental and physical capacities during fatigue and during convalescence."
By its "normalizing" action acting very broadly on all physiological processes, eleutherococcus brings all functions back to a happy medium. Thus, it soothes states of hyperfunction and stimulates states of weakness.
Several conclusive studies have been carried out, notably in Russia, demonstrating a superior human adaptation response to adverse conditions such as heat, noise, close movements and increased workload. It also measured an increase in mental acuity, quality of work under stressful conditions, as well as increased athletic performance and speed of recovery.
Well-identified mechanisms of action
The fleshy roots of Eleutherococcus are particularly rich in polysaccharides, phenolic compounds, saponosides and eleutherosides of various types. It is this particular chemistry that gives it the ability to restore what is "normal" in the body, earning it its recognition as an adaptogenic plant.
By acting on the pituitary gland, which is called the master gland, eleutherococcus regulates the body's entire hormonal system.
Consuming eleutherococcus also allows muscles to use oxygen more efficiently as well as energy stored in the form of glycogen in order to perform better.
The plant stimulates the synthesis of DNA and cellular repair enzymes. It is believed these actions give eleutherococcus the capacity of slowing aging.
Eleutherococcus purifies the blood, decreasing hepatic cholesterol synthesis and lowering blood cholesterol, and shows promise in regulating blood sugar in people with diabetes thanks to the syringin and the Eeutheroside E it contains.
Numerous studies have shown that Eleutherococcus is immunostimulant, increasing the amount of T cells and antibodies. Beyond this property, the plant slows down the reactions of the immune system when they are excessive. This is the case with allergies or certain autoimmune diseases.
Thus, eleutherococcus regulates and exerts an immunomodulatory effect.
"Slowly, but surely" is the adage that best describes how Eleutherococcus works. Although very effective, the results do not appear overnight. Cumulative, they appear generally two to three weeks after the start of the treatment. With prolonged use, the plant gives has predictable and effective results.
How about Asian ginseng, or Panax ginseng?
Some pseudo-experts claim that Asian ginseng, or Panax ginseng, is the most effective, the king of remedies. However, this is not entirely correct: Siberian "ginseng" and Asian ginseng simply do not have exactly the same properties for the same ailments to be treated. This is why it is best to turn to a specialist, who will be able to advise the root to be used according to the symptoms and the person's overall vitality.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Asian ginseng is more of a “hot” food, meaning it nourishes Yang energy, while eleutherococcus is more neutral in nature, with only a slight warm tendency. More balanced, the Siberian “ginseng” thus feeds the Yin AND Yang energies.
In the West, Asian ginseng is too often misused by people who already have a strong yang energy, due to lifestyle or food: diet rich in meats, sugars, physical and mental overwork. These habits are likely, in fact, to cause an excess of heat or yang energy, which can result in palpitations, anxiety and insomnia.
"If you used ginseng when you were young, what will you use when you are old?"
A tonic more suited to middle or golden years, Panax ginseng can be very stimulating in more sensitive people. As a result, young people who have trouble tolerating the effect of Asian ginseng will most often respond better to eleutherococcus.
It is said to be the mildest of the ginsengs, and best suited for women. Its adaptogenic effect will translate more into a deep energy restoration, rather than a stimulating "boost". It is energizing just like its Asian cousin, but also has a calming effect on the nervous system.
Try Miviton Plus and Sumaforme, at Holizen, which contain eleutherococcus.
Ahn, J., Um, M.Y., Lee, H. & al. (2013). Eleutheroside E, An Active Component of Eleutherococcus senticosus, Ameliorates Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetic db/db Mice. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med: 934183.
Gagnon, C., Lanctôt-Bédard, V. & al. (2009). Materia Medica de Flora Medicina, Vol. 1. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 397 pages.
Niu, H.S., Min Liu, I. &, Cheng, J.T. (2008). Hypoglycemic effect of syringin from Eleutherococcus senticosus in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Planta Med;74(2):109-13.
Steinmann, G.G., Esperester, A. & Joller, P. (2001). Immunopharmacological in vitro effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus extracts. Arzneimittelforschung; 51(1):76-83.