Supplement Savvy: More Questions, MOHR Answers - 10-10-04!

One particular herbal supplement that is common among individuals is ginseng. Learn all about ginseng here!

Ginseng & Athletics

Dietary supplements are popular among athletes - no surprise there. More specifically, sales of herbal supplements reached about $3 billion in recent years, meaning athletes are willing to give them a try. One particular herbal supplement that is common among individuals is ginseng.

The exact mechanism of how this herb functions in the body is not truly understood, but it is purported to enhance a person's adaptation to stressful situations by inducing an "anti" fatiguing effect. Because of this, it is apparent as to why it would be popular among athletes.

This particular study took a look at the effects of ginseng supplementation on supramaximal exercise performance and short-term recovery. Both are obviously crucial to athletes, so any "edge" they can get safely, could be intriguing.

Twenty-four active women were participants in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

As an aside, it's important to define each of those terms:

Randomized Subjects are put into groups by an unbiased method (for example, computer programs often "assign" subjects to groups, so group assignment is not influenced by the researchers).
Double-blind This is common with dietary supplements. Neither the investigators nor the subjects know which product they are taking; all they know is that it is either a placebo or the ingredient under investigation.
Placebo-controlled A placebo is a non "active" pill or potion. It ideally looks and tastes identical as the active ingredient, but does not contain any of the ingredient; it is usually a small amount of sugar.

Often subjects go through something called the "placebo-effect" which is when there is something happening, but it's not from any ingredient; it is because they think something should be happening because they are consuming something. Having a placebo group and a supplemental group minimizes the potential for this to occur.

The study was an 8-week trial in which subjects were provided either 400 mg of ginseng or a placebo. The subjects then completed a specific cycling test, known as a Wingate Test to determine anaerobic power (this is a sprint cycling trial). Recovery heart rate was also measured to determine if this was effected at all by the test.

The researchers learned that there were no significant differences in those taking the ginseng vs. placebo. Therefore, the present findings do not support the notion that ginseng is an effective ergogenic aid. Until this ingredient is under more scrutiny, it is premature to recommend this product as a means of enhancing athletic performance.

More recently there has even been concern over the doping issue with athletes. This is of course a concern with illegal steroids, but even "safe" dietary supplements have tested positive for substances banned or restricted by the International Olympic Committee. While many of you may shrug this off if you are not a professional athlete, remember that there are similar standards for most sports, meaning it's crucial to know you're your taking and the source of the ingredient(s).

There have been some particular concerns about ginseng products, namely Cold-FX. Several ginseng products have been identified as being contaminated with banned substances. Therefore, this next provided subjects with 2-200mg Cold-FX capsules daily for 28 days.

Subjects underwent urine tests at baseline and day 28. With this particular product, there were no banned substances found in the urine of the athletes. Considering the intention of this product is to minimize the symptoms of a cold or flu, it would be bothersome of athletes were testing positive for banned substances and forced not to compete.

All companies should participate in programs to certify their products are free from banned substances.

There are a number of products on the banned list, so if you are involved with any sports, particularly at the collegiate or professional level, it is wise to get familiar yourself of these ingredients.

For more information on banned substances, check out