Alcohol is foreign to the human system and is normally destroyed in the liver by oxidation yielding acetaldehyde which is in turn destroyed by aldehyde dehydrogenase. Ginseng saponins significantly increased the rate of oxidation of ethanol in alcohol-fed rats (Joo et al., 1982). The liver decontaminates the body, converting chemical waste products to both useful and harmlessly useless products. In response to stress hormones the liver accelerates the conversion of waste and the generation of new protein enzymes and ginseng is known to facilitate such functioning of the liver (Fulder, 1980). Studying the effects of red ginseng extract and vitamins on alcohol-intoxicated mice, Saito et al. (1984b) stated that tocopherol inhibited alcoholic excitation and red ginseng extract and pantethine prevented memory failure in intoxicated mice. Using healthy human volunteers, Lee et al. (1987) demonstrated that in 10 out of 14 cases ginseng extract (3g/65 g body weight) accelerated blood-alcohol clearance by 32-51 per cent.
Hepatic cell damage due to alcohol can be considerable, mitochondria being swollen and the rough endoplasmic reticulum dilated. With ginseng saponin treatment the hepatocytes were not so damaged (Joo, 1992). The acetaldehyde level in the liver and the serum of rats treated with ethanol was much higher than for non-treated animals but only slightly higher for the ethanol and ginseng group. Careful analysis of individual lipids e.g. phospholipids, cholesterol, fatty acid and triglycerides revealed a decrease in phospholipid biosynthesis and an increase in fatty acid and triglycerides as a result of ethanol feeding; these effects were significantly countered by co-feeding ginseng saponins. The saponins apparently stimulate the microsomal ethanol-oxidising system and the aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme action and therefore there is faster removal of acetaldehyde with rapid shunting of excess hydrogen into lipid biosynthesis (Kwak and Joo, 1988). In rats it has been shewn that plasma levels are about 20 per cent lower when ethanol is administered orally with aqueous red ginseng extract than when ethanol is given alone. However orally administered ginseng has no effect on the plasma levels produced by intraperitoneal injection of ethanol (Lee et al., 1993). These observations support the earlier recorded use of ginseng to promote faster disposal and elimination of alcohol from the blood after drinking (Fulder, 1980) and justify the potential value of the patents listed in Chapter 9 as treatments for alcohol-induced problems. Further work is needed concerning the value of standardised ginseng in the treatment and recovery of human subjects from alcoholism and its associated problems e.g. memory loss and nervous reactions.
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