In Asia, ginseng has been revered for centuries as a total-body health enhancer. But the mounting excitement in the West is focused on a very specific benefit. "Many studies show that ginseng helps prevent and treat breast cancer," says Christine Horner, M.D., author of Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer (Basic Health Publications, 2005).
One clinical vote of confidence occurred last spring when researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville concluded that Panax ginseng increases both the length and quality of life for women with breast cancer. Among 1,455 women followed for six years after a breast cancer diagnosis, regular ginseng users had 30 percent less risk of dying from the disease and 29 percent less risk of dying from any other cause, compared with nonusers. The 2006 study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiol-ogy, noted that those women who consumed the most ginseng reported the greatest improve-ment in quality of life.
Scientists believe that ginseng counteracts the cancer-stimulating action of the body's own estrogen. The herb is actually a phytoestrogen that binds to estrogen receptors in the body, locking out its hormonal counterpart; by itself, ginseng is too weak an estrogen to spur breast cancer.