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Issue 106 Item 4 Possible New Break Through in Diabetes Treatment: The Ginseng B

Apr 22, 2002

Blood sugars normalized, wt loss of 10% and cholesterol levels reduced by 30%. >Wt loss and improvement in Blood Sugar Levels, makes it difficult to determine whether the improved insulin and blood sugar levels were due to the ginseng berry extract or simply a result of the weight loss.

Chinese medical experts have used root from ginseng plants for millennia to treat a variety of ills, including diabetes. Now, a new study shows that extracts of the berry from the ginseng plant can help reduce the effects of diabetes and take off pounds in diabetic, obese mice even better than the root, pointing towards potential new treatments for these conditions. The berry is very effective for treating diabetes, and it potentially could be used to develop a new class of anti-diabetic drugs," Chun-Su Yuan, assistant professor of anesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago and director of the study, told United Press International.

Ginseng berry extract is not sold in health food stores, states, lead author Dr. Chun-Su and further studies in humans are needed before doctors can recommend berry extract for diabetics if and when it becomes commercially available. The berry appears to be more effective than the root because it contains five to seven times the concentration of a compound called ginsenoside Re, Yuan said in describing his findings which appear in the June issue of the journal Diabetes.

"We feel it would work, but we need more data to prove that," he said.

Yuan and his colleagues tested injections of extract of berries from Panax ginseng, or Asian ginseng, in mice with a genetic defect that induces weight gain and diabetes. All mice had the type 2 (or adult-onset) form of the condition, which represents more than 90% of diabetics. This form of diabetes occurs when the body develops a resistance to insulin–the hormone that regulates the level of sugar in the blood.

During the study, mice received daily injections of 150 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of the herbal treatment.

After the 12th day of injections, Yuan and his team discovered that blood-sugar levels had completely normalized in diabetic mice. The mice had also reduced their body weight by more than 10%, and showed cholesterol levels that were 30% lower than those of untreated mice, the authors write in the June issue of Diabetes.

Yuan explained that the ginseng berry extract likely reduced body weight by suppressing appetite and increasing the expenditure of energy in the mice. Indeed, he and his colleagues note that treated mice ate 15% less than untreated mice, and were 35% more active. "Doing both is very good," Yuan said.

Yuan said he was particularly pleased to see that the berry extract helped treat diabetes better than ginseng root, which some diabetic patients currently take to treat their conditions.

"Yes, the root works, but the berry is much better," he noted. The root has some effects on controlling blood sugar but the berry extract "is much more effective," Yuan said. In addition, "the berry extract can reduce body weight very significantly. It reduces food intake, "but more importantly it can increase energy expenditure, so the animal actually … is more active."

This would make it "potentially appealing" to people "because humans love to eat" and it would "reduce appetite and increase energy level," Yuan said.

Ginsenosides are the purported active substances in ginseng, and the amount contained in ginseng berries is different from the root content. Specifically, the berry contains much higher concentrations of a particular ginsenoside RE.

Consequently, Yuan and his team tested ginsenoside Re alone in mice to see if it worked as well as the whole berry, and found that the compound achieved the same improvement in symptoms of diabetes, but was unable to reduce weight in the obese mice.

Yuan said he suspects it is the ginsenoside Re in ginseng berries that helps with diabetes, but another berry compound that treats the obesity.

The compound has not been tested in humans, however, and it is unclear whether findings in mice would hold true in people, said Vladimir Vuksan, a nutritionist at the University of Toronto, who has conducted several studies in people examining the effects of ginseng extracts on treating diabetes.

Yuan said he has applied for a patent for ginsenoside Re, which, at press time, had not yet been approved. SOURCE: Diabetes 2002;51.