Ginseng is an herb (part of the Panax family of the Araliaceae) that has been used in Asian and Russian cultures for centuries for the flavour it adds to cooking but more importantly as an herbal medicine. The root of Asian Ginseng contains many active chemicals that give the herb its medicinal properties.
Panax ginseng contains many active substances. The substances thought to be most important are called ginsenosides or panaxosides. Ginsenosides have been extensively studied (Fazzati et al.] and found to have numerous complex actions (Christensen et al.), including the following: They stimulate bone marrow production, stimulate the immune system, inhibit tumor growth, balance blood sugar, stabilize blood pressure, and detoxify the liver, among many other tonic effects. The potential health effects of ginsenosides include anticarcinogenic, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antiatherosclerotic, antihypertensive, and antidiabetic effects as well as antistress activity and effects on the central nervous system. Ginsensoides can be metabolized in the stomach (acid hydrolysis) and in the gastrointestinal tract (bacterial hydrolysis) or transformed to other ginsenosides by drying and steaming of ginseng to more bioavailable and bioactive ginsenosides. The metabolization and transformation of intact ginsenosides, which seems to play an important role for their potential health effects.
There is increasing interest in developing ginseng products as cancer preventive or therapeutic agents. A study conducted in 2007 (Zhang et al.) have determined biological structure-activity relationships (SAR) for saponins present in Panax ginseng fruits. In this study, Zhang and team identified 11 compounds, that were identified as 20(R)-dammarane-3beta,12beta,20,25-tetrol (25-OH-PPD, 1); 20(R)-dammarane-3beta,6alpha,12beta,20,25-pentol (25-OH-PPT, 2); 20(S)-protopanaxadiol (PPD, 3); daucosterine 4, 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rh(2) (Rh(2), 5); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rg(3) (Rg(3,) 6); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rg(2) (Rg(2), 7); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rg(1) (Rg(1), 8); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rd (Rd, 9); 20(S)-ginsenoside-Re (Re, 10); and 20(S)-ginsenoside-Rb(1) (Rb(1), 11). Among the eleven compounds, 1, 3 and 5 were the most effective inhibitors of cell growth and proliferation and inducers of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. For 1, the IC(50) values for most cell lines were in the range of 10-60 microM, at least twofold lower than for any of the other compounds. Compounds 1 and 3 had significant, dose-dependent effects on apoptosis, proliferation, and cell cycle progression.
In 1999, scientists at CMAP Lucknow have been studied the qualitative and quantitative difference in the various ginsenoside constituents of the crude butanol-soluble saponin fractions in two indian species (namely P. sikkimensis and P. pseudoginseng) of Panax ginsend, then compared with that of American ginseng (Uniyal et al.). In another recent study, Zhang et al. evaluated ginsenosides as cancer therapeutic agents and support further pre-clinical and clinical development of these agents for the treatment of primary and metastatic tumors .
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4. Comparison of qualitative and quantitative in vitro ginsenoside production in callus cultures of three Panax species. Uniyal et al., Planta Med. 1999 Jun;65(5):484-6.
5. Ginsenosides as Anticancer Agents: In vitro and in vivo Activities, Structure–Activity Relationships, and Molecular Mechanisms of Action. Zhang et al., Front Pharmacol. 2012; 3: 25.