Ginseng And The Central Nervous System

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There are many contradictory accounts of the effects of ginseng, its extracts and its individual isolated ginsenosides on the central nervous system (CNS). Early work recorded that the stimulant effect of ginseng diminished the depressant action of hypnotic drugs such as chloral hydrate and barbiturates. Unlike amphetamine and related anorexies, ginseng can in small doses produce the CNS stimulant effect with no interference with normal sleep. Larger doses decreased motor activity yielding a general sedative effect.

Such puzzling results stimulated Professor Takaji's Japanese group to carefully study the actions of the individual glycosides as well as ginseng extracts and saponin fractions. One fraction, containing the diol glycosides ginsenosides Rb1 and Rc, yielded sedative, tranquillising, analgesic and muscle-relaxing properties; a second fraction, containing the triol glycosides ginsenosides Rg1, Rg2 and Rg3, shewed both stimulant and depressant activities in addition to muscarinic and histaminic actions. The last named two fractions possessed a depressant action characterised by decreased spontaneous movement, lowered body temperature, diminished alertness and relaxed muscle tone. From the accumulated results it can be concluded that S-protopanaxatriol series ginsenosides of the Rg group are principally stimulants, whilst the compounds of the S-protopanaxadiol series are sedatives, and the main saponin glycosides of P. ginseng roots are the triol ginsenoside Rg and the diol ginsenoside Rb groups. All the glycosides investigated (ginsenosides Rb1, Rb2, Rc, Rd, Re, Rf, Rg1, Rg2, Rg3) demonstrated antifatigue activity and increasing walking activity but were moderate depressants of the electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern and of the activity of cats; ginsenosides Rb2, Re and Rg1 were the most potent. It was suggested that the stimulant-depressant combination exercised a regulatory function on the CNS and should have potential value in the treatment of emotional disorders (Hou, 1978).

The conclusions drawn were supported by the subsequent studies of Yoshimura et al. (1988a) which revealed that resident mice given ginseng saponins (25, 50 and 100 mg/kg by intraperitoneal injection) demonstrated dose-dependent suppression of aggression as assessed by offensive sideways posture and biting behaviour although the combative behaviour was not changed when the intruding mice were treated with crude saponins. Ginsenoside Rb1 (2.5, 5 or 10 mg/kg by intraperitoneal injection) also suppressed the combative actions of the resident mice although ginsenoside Rg1 given similarly had no effect. When ginsenosides Rb1 and Rg1 were administered separately to intruder mice, the agonistic behaviour of the resident mice did not change. Although in locomotor activity tests ginseng usually does not depress motility (Banerjee and Iquierdo, 1982), it was noted that the highest dose of ginseng crude saponins did reduce locomotion frequency. In further work (Yoshimura et al., 1988b) ginseng crude saponins (50 mg/kg) and the diol ginsenoside Rb1 (2.5 mg/kg) administered chronically or acutely by intraperitoneal injection (50 mg/kg ginseng crude saponins or 2.5 mg/kg ginsenoside Rb1) suppressed maternal aggression in isolated post-partum mice in a dose-dependent manner without causing impairment of motor function. The triol ginsenoside Rg1, however, also at a dose of 2.5 mg/kg tended to increase maternal aggression. It was concluded that both the crude ginseng saponins and ginsenoside Rb1 apparently possessed a psychotropic action on combative behaviour.

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