If you walk down the health food isle of your local grocery store, you might observe that dozens of products include ginseng. From energy drinks and teas to non-Western medicine, this antioxidant “powerhouse” is said to have quasi-magical effects—from improved brain function to blood sugar regulation. Used for thousands of years across hundreds of nations and cultures, Ginseng is treasured for its healing properties and reported effect on sexual libido. However, ginseng is not the cure-all remedy we all hoped for.
Ginseng is a species of slow-growing perennial plants. Its roots are most often turned into a powder, which can be utilized in infusions and supplement capsules. Commercial ginseng is currently sold in over 35 countries, but China has, historically, been the plant’s largest consumer. These roots have an unusually long germination period—they usually do not yield anything until the second spring after it is planted. Ginseng must be subjected to a long period of storage in a moist environment with a warm/cold treatment.
Many users of ginseng claim that it can reduce stress, alleviate erectile dysfunction, stave off dementia, strengthen the immune system, prevent colds, reduce infections, improve digestion, and cure cancer. However, like most wonder drugs, there is little-to-no research to support any of these claims.
Ginseng’s antioxidants are to blame for these panacea claims. Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules—and they are currently very popular in the health food world. Oxidation can facilitate the growth of free radicals, leading to the idea that antioxidants can fight cancer. However, ginseng does not have nearly enough of the compound to boost a body’s immunity.
Like many herbs and spices, turmeric is having a moment. The golden-hued spice is touted as a panacea for ills by both medical and holistic practitioners, its effects impacting everything from hangovers to cancer. Your “golden milk” latte is said to have anti-inflammatory properties and provide a strong antioxidant, and ingesting the spice in larger quantities is said to prevent melanoma, prevent breast cancer, and detoxify the liver.
Unfortunately, turmeric may not be the spice we’ve been waiting for. The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry studied turmeric’s key compound—curcumin—and the effect it may have on the body. They found that it is not easily absorbed by the human body, making it unlikely that the herb’s benefits can be delivered on a cellular level. Moreover, the majority of scientific studies done on turmeric did not include double-blind placebo-controlled trials—the governing standard for pharmacological studies.
However, don’t throw away your turmeric just yet; it may offer localized benefits on the gut level. It is known to suppress excess production of stomach acid, and the spice’s astringent qualities can help seal the lining of the bowel and digestive tract. Though not effective on a cellular level, turmeric may be a natural replacement for acid reflux medications.
Moreover, most scientific studies conducted on turmeric concern just one of its key compounds—curcumin. The actual plant that yields turmeric produces tens of thousands of different compounds, and the synergy of these elements may provide some type of benefit beyond gut regulation. That said, the herb must, likely, be ingested in large quantities to yield any effects. No, your turmeric latte will not cure cancer, but taking a turmeric supplement might have lesser-known benefits.