Eleuthero is the commonly used nickname for Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Other names include Siberian Ginseng and Ciwujia. Medicinal preparations are made from the roots of the plants.
Siberian “ginseng” (actually not a “true” ginseng because it is a member of a different plant family) was found by Soviet researchers to be an excellent tonic to enhance athletic performance as well as to strengthen the body during times of stress. Modern herbalists consider Siberian ginseng to be a “stimulating” adaptogen. Several other “ginsengs” are used as adaptogenic tonics throughout the world; among them are Panax quinquefolium (also known as American ginseng), Ashwagandha, sometimes called Indian ginseng (although also not a true ginseng), and Eurycoma longifolia (also called Malaysian ginseng). Like other adaptogenic herbs, eleuthero is used to combat the effect of physical and mental stress and to boost physical and mental energy levels.
Here are some facts about eleuthero supplements.
Over a period of several decades, German and Soviet researchers have studied the effects of various ginseng and eleuthero extracts on the performance of athletes. One study found that highly trained male athletes showed an increase in their maximum oxygen uptake (compared to the placebo group) as well as a statistically significant improvement in recovery time and lower serum lactate values.
Other studies in various groups of young athletes have shown similar extracts to provide statistically significant improvements in performance measures such as forced vital capacity (lung capacity) and maximum breathing capacity as compared to the placebo groups.
Unfortunately, there are also a number of “no effect” studies on ginseng and eleuthero extracts. For every study showing a positive benefit in terms of energy levels and/or physical or mental performance, there is another study showing no benefits. Part of the discrepancy in results from well-controlled studies may have to do with differences between the ginseng/eleuthero extracts used in various studies (non-standardized and low-potency extracts with unknown quantities of active components tend to show no effect, while standardized high-potency extracts containing known amounts of eleutherosides tend to have greater effects).
A study in the Chinese Journal of Physiology (2010) found Eleuthero extract (800mg/day for 8 weeks) to improve cycling performance, including a 3 percent improvement in both VO2 max and fat-burning capacity. Interestingly, subjects were able to maintain an increased workload (as measured by heart rate) at a lower perceived exertion during supplementation with Eleuthero — suggesting an improvement in your ability to “go hard” during prolonged exercise.
Plants in the ginseng/eleuthero families are generally considered quite safe (that’s part of the definition they must fulfill to be termed an adaptogen). There are no known drug interactions, contraindications, common allergic reactions or toxicity to Siberian ginseng. A word of caution is recommended, however, for individuals with hypertension, as the stimulatory nature of some ginseng preparations, including eleuthero, have been reported to increase blood pressure.
While the scientific evidence for the benefits of eleuthero and its mechanisms of action can be considered supported only for the standardized extracts, the general adaptogenic role of the entire family of “ginsengs” have proven beneficial for many thousands of years and may, therefore, prove valuable as normalizing substances during stressful conditions. Eleuthero is best supplemented as a standardized extract (100-300mg/day with 0.5-1.0 percent eleutherosides) to ensure that you are getting an effective product.
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About the Author:
Shawn Talbott is an avid endurance athlete (multiple-Ironman and ultramarathon finisher) and scientist (PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry and MS in Exercise Science) in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at www.ShawnTalbott.com