Although a number of animal experiments and clinical trials have investigated the effects of ginseng roots on diabetes, the relationship between their therapeutic effects on diabetes and the quality and the growth age of this herb have not yet been reported. This study systematically investigated the effects of 3- to 6-year-old ginseng roots on glycemic and plasma lipid control in a rat model of type 2 diabetes. Six groups of male Goto-Kakizaki (GK) rats received either metformin, 3- to 6-year-old ginseng roots, or no treatment. The treatments were administered twice daily for 9 weeks. A combined approach was used that involved applying liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry-based lipidomics, measuring biochemical parameters and profiling the components of ginseng roots of different ages. Compared to the untreated controls, treatment with 4- and 6-year-old ginseng roots significantly improved glucose disposal, and 5-year-old ginseng treatment significantly increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol. Treatment with 6-year-old ginseng significantly decreased total plasma triacylglyceride (TG) and very-low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and improved plasma glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). In addition, treatment with 4- to 6-year-old ginseng influenced plasma lipidomics in diabetic GK rats by reducing TG lipid species. Metformin significantly reduced fasting blood glucose by 41% and reduced HbA1c by 11%, but showed no effects on the plasma lipid parameters. The present study demonstrates that ginseng roots show growth age-dependent therapeutic effects on hyperlipidemia and hyperglycemia in diabetic GK rats. These age-dependent effects may be linked with the variation in both the ratios and concentrations of specific bioactive ginsenosides in ginseng roots of different growth ages. This study introduced novel systems biology-based approaches for linking biological activities with potential active components in herbal mixtures.
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