Ginseng is an herbal medicine used worldwide. It is reported to have a wide range of pharmacological activities because of a diversified group of steroidal saponins called ginsenosides. Compared to extensive pharmacological studies of ginseng, the pharmacokinetics, especially the metabolism of this herb, has received less attention. In this article we review the known pharmacokinetic data on ginseng. Understanding ginsengs pharmacokinetics may reduce the potential for interactions in patients who use both ginseng and prescription medications. In addition, bioavailability after taking ginseng orally is low, and the metabolites of ginsenosides produced by gut microbiota may be biologically active. One ginseng metabolite, Compound K, and its potential for cancer chemoprevention is also discussed. An active ginseng metabolite may differ in distribution and clearance from its parent compound, and the parent compound and its metabolite may be bioactive by similar or different mechanisms. Thus, further investigation of ginseng metabolites is needed for predicting the therapeutic outcome with ginseng.
Keywords: Asian ginseng, Panax ginseng, American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, ginsenosides, absorption, metabolism, metabolite, Compound K, herb-drug interaction
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