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Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus [Latin]), also known as Siberian ginseng, devil’s shrub, ci wu ju, and touch-me-not, is native to in Siberia. It also grows in China, Japan, and Korea, where it has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Eleuthero is not from the same family as Panax, or Asian ginseng, although it has long been used as a cheaper substitute for ginseng. Like Panax ginseng, eleuthero is thought to be an adaptogen, or a substance that adapts itself to correct whatever is out of balance in the body. However, it’s important to keep in mind that all the research performed on Panax ginseng simply does not apply to eleuthero—these plants do not have the same chemical makeup.

Like Panax ginseng, eleuthero is used in Asia to promote physical and mental vitality. Modern research has shown that eleuthero may help boost the immune system, especially during intense training, when it may be compromised by severe physical or emotional stress. Athletes around the world use eleuthero to increase their stamina and endurance, and to help them recover from their workouts more quickly.

Some researchers believe that eleuthero may enhance the body’s ability to process interferon, a chemical that boosts immune system activity. It is also thought to help regulate cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced within the body to help cope with stress; unfortunately, it also destroys protein needed to build and maintain muscle while causing the body to store excess amounts of fat. Eleuthero may help stimulate the body to fight harder against other diseases linked to a depressed immune system, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, and Lyme disease, and may help prevent some types of cancer as well.

The stress-reducing properties of eleuthero also make it a possible treatment for a variety of mental disorders, including ADHD and depression. Some studies have shown that eleuthero improves memory and concentration while helping to balance levels of mood-determining chemicals in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It also helps prevent adrenal exhaustion by reducing the body’s stress response, thus regulating the production of corticosteroids and adrenaline in the body.

Recent studies indicate that eleuthero helps reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It may also have mild estrogenic effects, although it has also been used to treat low libido in men. More study is needed in this area, although these seemingly conflicting effects may be the result of eleuthero’s ability to adapt itself in order to correct imbalances in the body.

Eleuthero is available in commercial capsules, extracts, tablets, ginseng tonics, and teas. Follow the dosage instructions on the package. People with diabetes or hypoglycemia should not take this herb without first consulting their physician, as it can affect blood sugar levels. People with heart disease also should not take eleuthero without first consulting their physician, as it may raise blood pressure or cause irregular heartbeat. Long-term use (more than 2 months) of eleuthero has been associated with muscle spasms and nerve inflammation.

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