Would ginseng of any sort have an effect on blood pressure?
Your question is interesting, and the answer depends on what type of ginseng you are inquiring about. Ginseng can be tricky because three different types are usually found in supplements:
- American ginseng
- Asian ginseng
- Siberian ginseng
Each type appears to have different effects and side effects. While you did not mention a specific type of ginseng, I suspect it is Siberian ginseng because this is the form that typically is found in supplements like energy drinks (because its cheaper). Here is a rundown on each type of ginseng, along with its effects and side effects.
Some people use American ginseng because of a belief that it can raise nitric oxide (NO) levels, which expand blood vessels and can lower blood pressure. A small amount of research does show that this may be possible and is a reason they may be popular among bodybuilders. The issue is that there are no studies I am aware of showing that American ginseng raises NO levels in healthy bodybuilders, and the research that does exist is controversial. With respect to side effects, research suggests that pregnant women should avoid American ginseng given that animal research links it to possible birth defects. This form of ginseng also appears to have an anti-blood clotting effect. As such, people using “blood thinner” medications or who have bleeding disorders should avoid American ginseng. It also may lower blood sugar, which may be problematic for diabetics. Some preliminary evidence (i.e., test tube and lab animal) suggests that this type of ginseng may promote some forms of cancer. This may be due to ginsengs purported estrogen-like effects. Regardless, those with a history of cancer (breast cancer, etc.) should not use American ginseng (or any type) until more is known.
Asian ginseng is sometimes found in supplements marketed to strength trainers, despite studies showing it does not make people stronger. Likewise, it does not seem to raise testosterone or growth hormone or improve one’s overall energy levels. As for side effects, like its American counterpart, Asian ginseng may lower blood sugar levels. It may also lower blood pressure, according to laboratory animal research. In theory, it may also interact with blood thinner medications and, because of its possible estrogen-like properties, may be inappropriate for those with some forms of cancer (e.g., breast cancer).
Siberian ginseng is what usually shows up in supplements, even though some experts don’t really consider it “true” ginseng. Other names it goes by are eleuthero ginseng (“eleuthero”) or “ciwujia.” Siberian ginseng is often touted to improve exercise performance, VO2max, etc. despite research finding that it does not work. Interestingly, there is some research that finds Siberian ginseng, at levels of four grams a day (which is a lot), may actually raise cortisol levels. Whether or not this might impede exercise performance is unknown. As for side effects, Siberian ginseng (like all forms) appears to be relatively safe in healthy adults, although it’s interesting that the German E Commission (which is similar to the FDA in America) suggests people should not use it for more than three months at a time. Siberian ginseng seems to lower blood sugar and have a blood thinning effect.
When it comes to ginseng (as well as may supplements), sorting fact from fiction can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. As a supplement researcher, I recommend you save your money on ginseng supplements. The fact is that there is far more evidence that exercise (especially cardio) does everything that ginseng is supposed to do, without any of the unwanted side effects or unknowns.