It has long been known that gastric ulcers are frequently a reaction to stress. As early as 1827 the American Indian doctor John Williams in the book "The American Indian Doctor: Dr. John Williams' Last Legacy, A Useful Family Herbal" praised ginseng roots as an excellent medicine to alleviate "inward hurts and ulcers" when used in combination with other herbal drugs such as comfrey, spikenard, elecampane, camomile, angelica and fir boughs in a dilute alcoholic vehicle (Harriman, 1973). Tang and Craze in their book "Chinese Herbal Medicine" (1995) also refer to the use of ginseng to treat peptic ulcer due to stagnating stomach qi (or ch'i), weakness of spleen or excess heat and advise avoidance of alcohol, coffee and tea.
Cheng et al. (1985) noted that ginseng pectin polysaccharide and dextrin could reduce the amount of gastric acid and the activity of the enzyme pepsin. Ginseng pectin inhibited histamine-induced secretion of gastric acid and was effective versus indomethacin-induced and pyloric ligation-induced ulcers. In the same year Zhang and Hu (1985) reported the effectiveness of ginseng flower saponins on gastric ulcers induced by ligation of the pylorus or aspirin or reserpine. Later work by Sun et al. (1992a, 1992b) involving P. ginseng root and leaf polysaccharides indicated that the weakly acid polysaccharide fraction GL-4 from the leaves inhibited gastric ulcers caused in rats by water immersion stress, indomethacin and pyloric ligation. The most effective polysaccharide, which was capable of preventing ulcerogenesis in a dose dependent manner in mice, had an average relative mass of 16,000 daltons and was a pectic polysaccharide based mainly on galactose and galacturonic acid with small amounts of rhamnose, arabinose, mannose, glucose and glucuronic acid. Kujohara et al. (1994) indicated that the polysaccharide GL-BIII from the leaves comprised terminal, 4-substituted and 3,4-disubstituted galacturonic acid units together with 4-substituted glucuronic acid units. Further analysis (methylation and gas chromatography—mass spectrometry) revealed a galacturonic acid-(1^4)-rhamnose unit in addition to longer acidic units consisting of 2-substituted rhamnose and 4-substituted galacturonic acid.
Further research should reveal more precise structures and differentiate saponin glycoside and polysaccharide actions on ulcerative conditions.
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