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MIT team explains yin-yang of ginseng

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--In work that emphasizes the need for stronger regulations of herbal drugs, an international team of MIT scientists and colleagues has unraveled the yin and the yang of ginseng, or why the popular alternative medicine can have two entirely different, opposing effects on the body.

Conflicting scientific articles report that ginseng can both promote the growth of blood vessels (key to wound healing) and stymie that process. The latter is important because preventing the formation of blood vessels can be enlisted against cancer. Tumors are fed by blood vessels; cutting off their supply can kill them.

In the Sept. 7, 2004 issue of Circulation: the Journal of the American Heart Association, the researchers from the United States, England, the Netherlands and Hong Kong explain these dual effects for the first time.

Chemical fingerprints of four different varieties of ginseng--American, Chinese, Korean and Sanqi--show that each has different proportions of two key ingredients. Additional studies showed that a preponderance of one ingredient has positive effects on the growth of blood vessels; more of the other component tips the scale the other way.

"We found that this composition really matters for the ultimate outcome," said Shiladitya Sengupta, a postdoctoral associate in MIT's Biological Engineering Division.

Further, the team found that the way ginseng extracts are processed can also alter the compositional ratio. "This is a very clear-cut example of why we need regulations standardizing herbal therapies through compositional analysis," said Professor Ram Sasisekharan of MIT's Biological Engineering Division. With the new results, "we can now rationally isolate the components to focus on a specific effect, such as promoting blood-vessel formation."

In the United States, herbal medicines are currently regulated under the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, which does not require standar
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
30-Aug-2004


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