Ginseng Substances Fight Brain Disease In Rats

Certain active substances in the herbal supplement ginseng appear to combat degenerative brain disease in rats, a new study shows. The findings, according to the researchers, lay the groundwork for studying the effects of certain ginseng components on diseases marked by progressive degeneration of brain cells -- including Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease. Ginseng is a popular herbal supplement that has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. In the West, it is mainly touted as a way to boost energy and immune system defenses; the various commercial preparations are generally made from the roots of one of several plant species, including Panax ginseng -- also called Asian ginseng -- and Panax quinquefolius, better known as American ginseng. In the new study, reported in the Annals of Neurology, a whole-root preparation of American ginseng did not fight degeneration in the brains of rats. But a partially purified extract of some of the herb's active chemicals, known as ginsenosides, did. The study focused on brain damage that, in rats, mimics the degenerative process seen in Huntington's disease, an inherited disorder of the central nervous system that progressively impairs movement and mental function. But the findings suggest that certain ginseng components have potential for treating other degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's.

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