Published February 26, 2014
Both serious athletes and weekend warriors are always looking for new ways to improve performance. While glitzy high-tech hormones and specialized sci-fi workout compounds garner a lot of media attention, herbs are every bit as powerful and are generally much safer.
Eleuthero, formerly known as Siberian ginseng, is particularly effective for athletes and can boost energy, sharpen mental concentration and help improve strength and stamina.
China’s power plant
First discussed as a valuable medicine in a 2,000 year old Chinese herbal treatise, Eleutherococcus senticosus grows abundantly in the mountains of Northeast China, in the area formerly known as Manchuria. The root of the plant is used in various preparations. I have been to that area a couple times to harvest this root, and the plant thrives in harsh conditions. In the United States, Eleuthero is commonly sold as a dietary supplement in both Chinese herbal and health food stores. Used in traditional Chinese medicine to improve vitality and normalize overall body functions, Eleuthero is considered a highly valuable tonic with broad uses and benefits.
Chemical analysis reveals that among the active substances in Eleuthero are sterols, coumarins, flavonoids and polysaccharides. Some of the specific compounds in the plant that have been isolated for research include daucosterol, syringaresinol, isofraxidin, hyperine, sesamin, friedelin and syringin. Eleuthero is rich in natural compounds, and further analysis of these substances and their benefits will likely continue for decades.
Listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, Eleuthero is one of the best documented plants in herbal medicine. Extensive studies conducted in China and Russia, compiled at the Harbin Research Institute, show that consumption of the root and its preparations enhances immunity, increases strength, stimulates sexual function, improves sleep, helps the body during times of oxygen deprivation, enhances cardiovascular function, improves overall athletic performance, and sharpens mental alertness. Probably more than any other herb studied, Eleuthero demonstrates the capacity to improve all aspects of human performance.
Pharmacological evaluations conducted in both China and Russia have determined that the plant’s stimulation of sexual and adrenal functions is due to its various sterols; its sedative activity is attributable to coumarins; and its beneficial effects upon the cardiovascular system are due to antioxidant flavonoids.
Classified as an adaptogen, Eleuthero improves general resistance to a wide variety of adverse health influences – especially stress. This effect is believed to be due to its concentration of a unique family of compounds known as eleutherosides. Additionally, two polysaccharides in the plant display specific immune-enhancing power by promoting phagocytosis – when protective cells engulf harmful microorganisms, damaged cells and foreign particles. The polysaccharides also help with the promotion of protective B lymphocytes. Further studies show that Eleuthero helps to defend the body against some bacterial and chemical toxins. This makes it an ideal supplement for urban dwellers.
Studies of Eleuthero’s effects on human performance show that the plant increases human tolerance to a broad range of stress factors, including heat, noise and increased exercise. When taken regularly, the extract of the root increases work output, endurance, athletic performance and mental alertness. The plant also shows remarkable protective benefits under conditions of serious oxygen deprivation. Due to its stress-reducing and extraordinary performance-enhancing powers, Siberian ginseng is popular among factory workers, athletes, miners, soldiers, deep sea divers and other individuals who engage in physically and mentally demanding tasks and occupations.
Unlike many other invigorating plants, Eleuthero also shows value as a sleep aid. In clinical experiments, extracts of the plant have been proven to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, while increasing the depth and duration of sleep. This may be due to the plant’s ability to reduce stress hormones in the blood. As a result, Eleuthero extract is the primary ingredient in some of China’s most popular sleep aids.
Eleuthero imparts a palpable effect. Every body is different, and some individuals will require more or less of the extract, depending on their sensitivity and overall condition. Traditional Chinese doses vary from nine to 27 grams of the raw herb per day. But obtaining raw Eleuthero is both difficult and unnecessary.
The easiest way to benefit from Eleuthero is to use either a concentrated paste extract, or to take capsules. You will find these products in most Chinese groceries and health foods stores. If you are going to use an encapsulated product, look for Siberian ginseng that is standardized to at least .8% Eleutherosides, and try 500 - 1000 milligrams daily.