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Do Ginseng Supplements Raise Blood Pressure?

If you plan to take ginseng supplements, be sure to learn what benefits you might expect and what possible side effects you might encounter.
Korean Ginseng capsules. Concept for a healthy dietary supplementation. Bright paper background. Close up.

Ever since the mid-1990s, Americans have been exploring the potential benefits of herbal medicines. Many have been experimenting with ginseng, perhaps because it holds an important place in traditional Chinese medicine. In China, as well as elsewhere in east Asia, healers have employed ginseng to treat “collapse of qi,” with symptoms such as weak pulse, shortness of breath, sweating and fatigue (Frontiers of Nutrition, Jan. 17, 2019). Understandably, the idea of an herb that could boost energy is appealing. However, one reader wonders whether ginseng supplements are safe.

How Do Ginseng Supplements Affect Blood Pressure?

Q. I read once that long-term use of ginseng supplements might lead to high blood pressure. That might have happened to me.

I am now on a “mild” blood pressure medicine called valsartan. Hypertension was never a problem for me until after I started taking ginseng.

Ginseng and Blood Pressure Effects Are Complex:

A. The effect of ginseng on blood pressure is controversial. A systematic review analyzed data from nine randomized controlled trials. Some studies actually showed that Korean red ginseng supplements might lower blood pressure (Current Vascular Pharmacology, Issue 6, 2017).  Other research did not support this effect, however. Some data even suggest that ginseng might contribute to hypertension (Acta Cardiologia, Jan. 1, 2018). 

We would encourage caution. If you are under the care of a person who has studied traditional Chinese medicine or herbal medicine, use that person’s guidance to take ginseng supplements wisely. Such an individual will be able to warn you that these herbs may intensify the effects of the anticoagulant clopidogrel (Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis, Oct. 2019). Otherwise, you will need to do some research on your own to determine the whether the potential good you can get will outweigh the possible harm.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Ogawa-Ochiai K & Kawasaki K, "Panax ginseng for frailty-related disorders: A review." Frontiers of Nutrition, Jan. 17, 2019. DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00140
  • Lee HW et al, "Ginseng for Treating Hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis of double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials." Current Vascular Pharmacology, Issue 6, 2017. DOI: 10.2174/1570161115666170713092701
  • Diaconu CC et al, "Drug-induced arterial hypertension - a frequently ignored cause of secondary hypertension: a review." Acta Cardiologia, Jan. 1, 2018. DOI: 10.1080/00015385.2017.1421445
  • Hu Y & Wang J, "Interactions between clopidogrel and traditional Chinese medicine." Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis, Oct. 2019. DOI: 10.1007/s11239-019-01945-3
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I have been a practitioner of Chinese medicine since 1980, and I have had long-term high blood pressure. I have had a serious complication, pulmonary embolisms, from sitting in cars, buses and airplanes too long on a trip from Europe to my home in Florida. I spent 3 days in the hospital, which cost $70,000 and was not able to work for a year. That is the backdrop.

My medical doctors prescribed Xarelto, an anti-clotting agent ($850.00 per month) and a common blood pressure medication Amlodipine 5 mg. This was a free medication. The Amlodipine made me dizzy and did not appear to lower my blood pressure, and the Xarelto made it difficult to stop bleeding. I stopped both meds after 12 months. The side effects would scare the most macho of us, and I found that exercise, meditation, and having less stuff to deal with is a tough but worthwhile substitute. I use ginseng in a formula, and one should monitor their blood pressure when using any meds or herbs. I would suggest exercise like yoga and walking and fasting a day or even two days a week as an alternative to trying to find the magic pill.

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