Compound K, a byproduct of American ginseng, was seen to reduce bowel inflammation and abdominal pain in a recent study with mice.
Ginseng root has been used as a food additive and herbal medicine in Asian countries for centuries. Some clinical studies have shown that ginseng can have beneficial effects by reducing inflammation, suppressing colon inflammation (colitis), and helping to relieve abdominal pain.
Ginseng is taken orally and is decomposed into secondary compounds as it is exposed to gut microflora in the intestinal tract.
In the study “American ginseng microbial metabolites attenuate DSS-induced colitis and abdominal pain,” researchers evaluated the effects of American ginseng-derived compounds in colitis and abdominal pain. The study was published in the journal International Immunopharmacology.
The researchers began by analyzing the different compounds that result from American ginseng extract being exposed for 24 hours to human gut microflora collected from healthy volunteers. They found that one of ginseng’s main compounds, the ginsenoside Rb1, was significantly reduced and transformed into compound K, among other metabolites.
Next, the team tested the therapeutic potential of American ginseng extract in mice with induced colitis.
The animals showed increased levels of lactate, linoleic acid, and malic acid, which were indicative of active bowel inflammation. After a few days of ginseng treatment, the amount of these three compounds was significantly reduced. The mice recovered some weight and their sensitivity to abdominal pain was reduced.
Analysis of colon tissue samples showed that ginseng treatment significantly reduced the signs of inflammation and prevented the infiltration of immune cells into the tissues compared to placebo-treated animals.
Further testing in laboratory cells revealed that compound K was the active element that regulated the beneficial effects. Compound K was seen to effectively prevent the production of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules, such as IL-8, IL-1, and others, whereas ginsenoside Rb1 had only a minor effect on IL-8 secretion.
This finding suggests that the intestinal “microbiome-derived compound K plays a critical anti-inflammatory effect after oral ginseng ingestion,” the researchers stated.
“Successful IBD management not only controls enteric inflammation, but also reduces abdominal discomfort,” they said. “Data from this study demonstrated that enteric microbiome-derived ginseng metabolites can significantly attenuate abdominal pain” and potentially support wound healing, they added.