Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Eleuthero is the natural supplement you didn’t know you were missing—and won’t know how you ever lived without.
Life can be exhausting. If you feel that statement in your bones, you’ll definitely want to learn more about eleuthero. Experts say this unassuming root can boost your energy, support your immune system, help your heart, regulate your blood sugar levels, and so much more. While athletes often use eleuthero to improve their strength, stamina, and focus, this herb has gone mainstream since it can benefit anyone in need of a pick-me-up. Even better? Its effects last way longer than a cup of coffee—and don’t make you jittery. Here, we explore the science behind this natural supplement to see if it can work some magic for you.
What is Eleuthero?
Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng, comes from a plant that’s native to—you guessed it—Siberia, as well as Korea, Japan, and Northern China. While eleuthero bears blueberry-like clusters of fruit, it’s the root that’s generally harvested and used in supplements. And it was the first herb ever classified as an adaptogen, a term devised by Soviet pharmacologist Nikolai Lazarev way back in 1947.
What is an adaptogen, exactly? An herb that can help buffer the body’s stress response, prevent it from experiencing extreme exhaustion, and get it back to a normal (and healthy) state. “Think of adaptogens as special herbs that serve as a resiliency army for our adrenal glands, which help us regulate immunity, blood pressure, metabolism, and our response to stress,” explains Kylene Bogden, MS, RDN, CSSD, IFNCP, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ performance dietitian and the cofounder of FWDfuel.com. “When we are chronically stressed—even if it’s ‘good’ stress, like being a busy mom—our adrenals can be taxed. We look to adaptogens for support in this case.”
Eleuthero vs. Ginseng
One thing that Siberian ginseng is not? Actual ginseng. In 2002, a U.S. farm bill ruled that only herbs in the genus Panax were allowed to be called ginseng. Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus, subsequently became known as eleuthero, though the other term is still used colloquially.
While both ginseng and Siberian ginseng can diminish fatigue, the two substances are quite different. “Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen, while the other [types of ginseng] are not,” says Bogden. “American or Asian ginseng is known most for its antioxidant properties—think cellular repair—whereas Siberian ginseng is best for long-term stress support.”
The Health Benefits of Eleuthero
While traditional Chinese medicine has used eleuthero in herbal remedies for the past 2,000 years, the West is only now getting up to speed. Research is ongoing, but here’s a partial list of this adaptogen’s many purported powers, plus how an eleuthero supplement like HUM Nutrition’s Über Energy works in your body.
Boosts energy and mental focus
Bye-bye, exhaustion! Your brain and body will get a boost from eleuthero, and you won’t feel that spike and crash that you often do with a caffeine or sugar rush. “This adaptogen provides a gradual, calm, and steady release of energy,” says Bogden, noting that people usually notice this effect after taking eleuthero just once or twice. “This gradual energy boost is a result of improved circulation—[it causes] greater blood flow in the brain and muscles, providing a feeling of improved cognition or better workout performance.”
A handful of studies, including two published in the journals Current Clinical Pharmacology and Psychological Medicine, have found that people with mild to moderate fatigue experienced improved concentration and performance after taking eleuthero. On a physical level, other studies on humans and animals have linked taking eleuthero with increased levels of oxygen intake and lower levels of lactic-acid buildup.
Strengthens immune function
Eleuthero works in a few ways to bolster the immune system. The first is protective. “According to animal studies, the root of eleuthero in extract form was found to increase the levels of antibody molecules IgG and IgM (immunoglobulin G and M), which help protect our body against microbes,” says Bogden. “It also can fight many common viruses and ailments by fighting viral replication.”
That’s why she recommends taking it as a preventative measure for immune support, not just when you’re starting to feel under the weather. The goal is to build your immune response so that your body is adept at fighting germs, even if you do end up getting sick. Think of it this way, she says: “If you are already sitting in a boat when it floods, your time to safety will be shorter.”
Improves cardiovascular health
Remember how eleuthero boosts your energy and focus by improving circulation? That also can work wonders for your heart, especially if you have low blood pressure. (As you might have guessed, though, people with high blood pressure should avoid it.) Plus, one 2002 study published in the journal Stress and Health found that eleuthero “reduced the heart rate reactivity” in response to various stressors—meaning that it kept the heart functioning at an even keel, which can lower a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Eleuthero may also help your heart by combating inflammation. “Siberian ginseng reduces the expression of the COX-2 pathway, which is a key mediator in our body’s inflammatory response to tissue damage,” explains Bogden. “It thereby fights inflammation associated with diseases like heart disease and diabetes.” Don’t forget, she adds: “Chronic inflammation is the root of all disease.”
Helps regulate blood sugar levels
Keeping your sugar levels in check can keep serious health problems at bay, as well as help your body function more optimally. Eleuthero might help with this issue, as well. A German study published in the International Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013 found that 480 mg a day of this natural supplement steadily lowered glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes—and kept them low over a three-month period. While the mechanisms involved in this are complicated and still being researched, eleuthero seems to affect insulin receptors and metabolize carbohydrates and lipids faster. Beyond this, the researchers also found a positive effect on peripheral neuropathy, with the study’s participants reporting improved sensation despite diabetes-related nerve damage.
If you sniffle and sneeze your way through certain seasons, or cute, fluffy animals make your eyes water, histamines are to blame. Your white blood cells produce these chemicals in order to fight off allergens…and those delightful allergic reactions are the result. Studies have shown that eleuthero may be able to help by decreasing the body’s histamine response and therefore moderating your body’s extreme reaction, according to Bogden.
Who Should Try Eleuthero?
Anyone who could use the aforementioned health boosts, increased energy, and improved cognition could benefit from taking eleuthero. Busy moms, overworked employees, students who burn the midnight oil, and amateur athletes—we’re talking to you! We’re also talking to anyone who wants to stay healthy and bounce back quicker from an illness, no matter what germs come their way.
The Potential Side Effects of Eleuthero
The good news is that eleuthero has very few side effects. In some cases, it could cause sleeplessness or an upset stomach, but generally speaking, it is well tolerated by most people. However, you shouldn’t take eleuthero if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer or endometriosis, according to WebMD. Those with diabetes should also speak with their doctor before taking it. In general, it’s always best to consult with a medical professional before trying a new supplement, especially if you’re taking medication.
What to Know Before Taking Eleuthero
For maximum results, most experts recommend taking eleuthero for six weeks, then taking a break for two to three weeks before starting up again. “Staying on adaptogens for longer than six to eight weeks can decrease your body’s sensitivity, and therefore, you will experience less of a response,” says Bogden. The standard dose of eleuthero is 300 to 1,200 mg daily, taken on an empty stomach early in the day. “Not only is this best for absorption,” she explains, “but it is also least likely to alter your sleep cycle.”
You’ll likely see eleuthero combined with other natural supplements that complement its effects. For example, HUM Nutrition’s Über Energy, which contains 330 mg of eleuthero, also contains Asian ginseng, ashwagandha, ginger, and vitamins B5 and B6—a combination that further reduces the effects of stress, improves focus, and helps you maintain consistent energy levels. Bonus: It’s caffeine-free, gluten-free, and non-GMO.
The Western world is only just starting to discover the possibilities of eleuthero. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, researchers are studying how it may help with osteoporosis, menopause symptoms, and nerve damage. But in the meantime, we know that it can help you feel better, think better, and be all-around healthier, giving you that little edge that can make everyday life that much better.