The famous immunological effects of ginseng have been confirmed and defined by a recent study. Ginseng is believed to have beneficial effects against human diseases, and its active components, ginsenosides, may play critical roles in its diverse physiological actions.
Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access Journal of Translational Medicine have shown that the herb, much used in traditional Chinese and other Asian medicine, does have anti-inflammatory effects.
What are the powers of ginseng? Ginseng roots contain multiple active constituents including ginsenosides, polysaccharides, peptides, polyacetylenic alcohols and fatty acids that have been shown to have different effects on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism as well as on the function of neuroendocrine, immune, cardiovascular and central nervous systems in humans.
Previous studies have shown that ginseng and its active components are potent immunomodulators. Their immunomodulatory effects are mostly due to its regulation of cytokine production and phagocytic activities of monocytes/macrophages and dendritic cells, as well as activation of T- and B- lymphocytes.
Ginsenosides, the steroid saponins, are major biologically active compounds of ginseng . Over 30 ginsenosides have been identified to date. Studies indicate that ginsenosides and their metabolites are responsible for many of the diverse physiological actions including the anti-inflammatory effects of ginseng .
Allan Lau led a team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong who identified seven ginseng constituents, ginsenosides, which showed immune-suppressive effects.
He said, “The anti-inflammatory role of ginseng may be due to the combined effects of these ginsenosides, targeting different levels of immunological activity, and so contributing to the diverse actions of ginseng in humans”.
The scientists treated human immune cells with different extracts of ginseng . They found that of the nine ginsenosides they identified, seven could selectively inhibit expression of the inflammatory gene CXCL-10.
Lau concludes, “Further studies will be needed to examine the potential beneficial effects of ginsenosides in the management of acute and chronic inflammatory diseases in humans”.
Uniquely, the researchers were able to holistically test the ginseng extract's immune effects by using sophisticated purification technologies to identify individual constituents and define their bioactivity using genomics and bioactivity assays. After that, they reconstituted them back into a whole extract with definable individual ginsenosides for re-confirmation of effects. This potentially opens up a vigorous methodology to study medicinal herbs with state-of-the-art technologies.
[ Journal of Translational Medicine 2009, 7:34