Siberian Ginseng: Russia’s Olympic Secret

HiRes Russia has always been a leader in Olympic performance. With 23 medals and counting so far this year,  Russian Olympic athletes have a reputation for endurance. Russia has also taken the spotlight, although often negative, as the host of this year’s Winter Olympics held in Sochi.  So given the Olympics and all of its news-both good and bad–we thought we would use this week to talk about a remedy native to Russia- eleuthero (eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as Siberian ginseng.  Trainers and athletes, particularly in the former Soviet Union, have long used it to complement and enhance training. So…could this be that secret to the whopping 1835 medals Russia and the Soviet Union combined have earned through 2012? Siberian ginseng has been studied for its healing effects for the common cold, for mental and physical performance, and even for certain viral infections such as herpes.

Eleutherococcus_senticosus_leavesPhoto Credit

By Stanislav Doronenko (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen, a substance that helps our body deal with the effects of stress. While we hear about ginseng quite a bit, it is important to note there are many different species of this plant, ranging from the Asian and American types to the Siberian type. They are each known for different benefits.  Although studies are limited, here are a few highlights of studies from Siberian Ginseng:

  • Siberian ginseng, when taken within 72 hours with another herb (andrographis) was found to shorten duration of symptoms of the common cold.  It has also been shown to improve flu symptoms. (However of note, there are no great medical treatments for the cold or flu anyway.)
  • SIberian ginseng taken daily for one month was found to improve the effects of chronic fatigue syndrome and elevate mood.
  • Siberian ginseng has been found to decrease the number of outbreaks in a very small study of individuals with herpes simplex type 2. Although not nearly effective as medicines such as Valtrex and Acyclovir in preventing outbreaks, it may play a role as a supplement.
  • Mixed results have been associated with Siberian ginseng and athletic endurance. While some studies have shown better heart rate recovery and improved fat burning effects, other studies have been less promising.

Siberian ginseng is available as a fresh root or powder and also as a tea, extract or as a capsule.  The recommended dose is 1-2 grams daily of the powder or 1-2 ml of the extract.  Although there are few side effects when the herb is taken in recommended doses, if taken daily, rest periods are recommended (for 3 months of use, it is recommended to have break periods of 2-4 weeks of no use). It should be used with caution in people with high blood pressure, who take blood thinners, steroids, diabetes medicines and certain medications used for mental health.

A few fun facts about the Olympics

  • The five rings of the Olympic flag symbolize  the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia.  Every flag in the world has at least one of the  5 colors of the rings (blue, black, green, yellow, and red).
  • The former Soviet Union is ranked third in total medal count, despite not participating in the Olympics since 1988.
  • In the 1900 Olympics in Paris, first place winners won paintings instead of medals.
  • The Olympic flame was a tradition from the original games in Athens. In the ancient games, the sun would light the flame and it stayed lit until the games ended. In modern history the flame first appeared in the 1928 games in Amsterdam.
  • The first Winter Olympics occurred in 1924 in France.

Photo Credit

iStock_000020154927Small   References

Eschbach, L., Webster, M. J., Boyd, J. C., McArthur, P. D., & Evetovich, T. K. (2000). The Effect of Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus Senticosus) on Substrate Utilization and Performance During Prolonged Cycling. International Journal Of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism10(4), 444.

Panossian AG. Adaptogens in mental and behavioral disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 36(1):49-64, 2013 Mar.
Bleakney TL.Deconstructing an adaptogen: Eleutherococcus senticosus. Holistic Nursing Practice. 22(4):220-4, 2008 Jul-Aug.

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