Ginseng is a renowned variety of short, slow growing perennial plants with fleshy roots. It is light-colored, with forked-shaped root, a relatively long stalk and green leaves with oval shape. Ginseng is believed to restore and enhance normal well-being with its substances that actually bear anticancer properties. Traditionally, Ginseng has been treasured for countering a number of medical conditions. For over two centuries, it has been used as an anticancer, anti-inflammatory, vasorelaxant, as well as a kidney-protecting agent. Ginseng’s widely known chemical constituent called ginsenoside, a dammarane glycoside, is the most popular. More than 30 types of the chemical ginsenoside are contained in ginseng herb, but RK1 and RK2 are among the most valued constituents. Ginsenoside Rk2 has been proved to have anti-tumor activity in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. It works by inhibiting the activity of telomerase and induction of apoptosis. Ginsenoside Rk2 is a new dammarane glycosides extracted after processing the roots of Panax ginseng.
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According to a recent study by Vanderbilt-Ingram, a Cancer Center researcher, Ginseng has been proved to promote survival and the quality of life after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Ginsenoside Rk2 has anti-tumor effects in cell culture, suggesting specific benefits to cancer patients.
The Shanghai Breast Cancer Study assessed both the before and after effects of ginseng use in breast cancer survivors. All patients who used ginseng had received at least one type of conventional cancer therapy. The study found significant improvements in both survival and quality of life measures- physical, psychological, social and material well-being – in patients who used ginseng. When patients used ginseng prior to diagnosis, they tended to have higher survival, and improved quality of life when used after cancer diagnosis. Therefore ginseng may provide tangible benefits to breast cancer survivors.
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Ginseng has been progressively regarded for its treatment of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and central nervous diseases with its major active constituents, triterpenoid saponins called ginsenosides, also used as the quality control markers. Ginnsenosides are also popularly used for their eminent efforts on anticancer activities associated with cell proliferation, apoptosis, angiogenesis, oxidative stress, inflammation and metastasis of cancer. Besides naturally occurring substances, researches continue to identify some rare ginsenosides with less sugar moieties and hydroxyl groups. Various methods such as chemical treatment, heating, enzymatic and microbial treatment have been developed to generate ginsenoside Rk2.
Inclusive of the Ginsenoside Rk2, approximately 50 ginsenosides with different mechanisms of action have been identified. Their actions have been reported basing on their differences in chemical structures. Ginsenosides, especially when their stereospecificity is modulated by heat processing, has various beneficial health effects that include kidney protection.
Cisplatin nephrotoxicity has been recognized as a severe adverse effect for cancer patients. Signaling pathways are activated, including cell-death promoting mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPKs), p53, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) when kidney cells are experimentally exposed to cisplatin. Cisplatin also induces TNF-α production in tubular cells. This contributes to tubular cell injury and death due to the triggered inflammatory response.
Therefore, the prevention of nephrotoxicity is an important aspect of cisplatin chemotherapy. Studies have recently suggested that nephrotoxicity depends on DNA damage related to apoptosis. Dysregulation of MAPK signaling pathways has been shown in acute and chronic kidney disease induced by cisplatin. Natural compounds such as Artemisia asiatica, pomegranate, and Chrysanthemum indicum, evidently reduce the nephrotoxicity due to cisplatin.
The potent cisplatin is one of the most effective chemotherapeutic drugs used for the treatment of various solid tumors, with more than 90% cure rate in testicular cancers. Ginsenosides may reduce nephrotoxicity, without interfering with anticancer activity, by exerting moderate cytotoxic effects from concentration range of 5–80μM on human cancer HepG2 cells.