Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major global health burden and will become the third largest cause of death in the world by 2030. It is currently believed that an exaggerated inflammatory response to inhaled irritants, in particular cigarette smoke, cause progressive airflow limitation. This inflammation, where macrophages, neutrophils and lymphocytes are prominent, leads to oxidative stress, emphysema, airways fibrosis and mucus hypersecretion. COPD responds poorly to current anti-inflammatory treatments including corticosteroids, which produce little or no benefit. Panax ginseng has a long history of use in Chinese medicine for respiratory conditions, including asthma and COPD.
Objectives: In this perspective we consider the therapeutic potential of Panax ginseng for the treatment of COPD.
Results: Panax ginseng and its compounds, ginsenosides, have reported effects through multiple mechanisms but primarily have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects. Ginsenosides are functional ligands of glucocorticoid receptors and appear to inhibit kinase phosphorylation including MAPK and ERK1/2, NF-κB transcription factor induction/translocation, and DNA binding. They also inhibit pro-inflammatory mediators, TNF-α, IL-6, IL-8, ROS, and proteases such as MMP-9. Panax ginseng protects against oxidative stress by increasing anti-oxidative enzymes and reducing the production of oxidants.
Conclusion: Given that Panax ginseng and ginsenosides appear to inhibit processes related to COPD pathogenesis, they represent an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of COPD.