SEOUL, South Korea — Ginseng is an age-old natural remedy and a staple in Asian medicine. While this plant root has multiple uses as a dietary supplement, a new study finds that (with a few refinements) it can also stop the spread of cancer. South Korean researchers have discovered that red ginseng can inhibit lung cancer metastasis if treated with a special microwave process.
Ginseng comes in three main varieties, fresh, white and red. In the cases of red and white ginseng, these roots must grow for at least five years before use. Unlike unprocessed white ginseng root, Korean red ginseng is steamed and dried.
Researchers say the composition and benefits of consuming red ginseng vary depending on how the root is processed. In their study, Dr. Jungyeob Ham from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Dr. Hyeonseok Ko of Seoul Asan Medical Center discovered two key components of red ginseng which can keep cancer cells from causing tumors in other areas of the body.
The team says Rk1 and Rg5, active ingredients in red ginseng, inhibit a protein which can trigger lung cancer cells to spread. Dr. Ham created a new microwave technique for processing red ginseng. Study authors say it uses the same principals of the typical microwave oven in the average kitchen. In comparison to steaming and drying red ginseng, this new processing method increases the concentration of Rk1 and Rg5 by more than 20 times.
The researchers’ previous studies revealed red ginseng processed in this way (KMxG) is effective against prostate, cervical, and skin cancers. It also has protective powers against drug-related kidney damage.
How can red ginseng suppress lung cancer?
Researchers say normal cells dies when they are separated from their original tissues. Cancer cells, however, have the ability to move to other tissues in the body and grow. This is the process of metastasis which cancer treatments try to prevent or slow down.
The study finds TGF-β1, a cytokine protein, acts like a signaling beacon for cancer. It induces these cells to start moving and even promotes the development of stem cell-like functions in cancer cells. Treating lung cancer cells with Rk1 and Rg5, the main ingredients of KMxG red ginseng, effectively stopped these functions triggered by TGF-β1.
“Although components of red ginseng previously have been shown to kill cancer cells, this study proved that these components of red ginseng have other anti-cancer effects and can inhibit lung cancer metastasis. This provides scientific evidence that may lead to the future development of anti-cancer drugs derived from natural products,” Dr. Ham says in a media release.
“Because we can control the active ingredient contents of red ginseng by using microwave processing methods like the one that produced KMxG, it may be possible to develop customized functional materials for various diseases.”
The study appears in the Journal of Ginseng Research.