Background: Ginseng is a commonly used herbal medicine worldwide. However, there is limited information regarding its effects on the developing embryo.
Methods: The effect of ginsenoside on the developing embryo during the critical period of organogenesis was investigated using a whole rat embryo culture model. Embryos were exposed to various concentrations of ginsenoside Rb(1) and scored for growth and differentiation at the end of the culture period.
Results: Median total morphological scores in embryos exposed to 30 micro g/ml of ginsenoside Rb(1) was significantly lower (P < 0.05) than that in control embryos (35 versus 45). Morphological scores for flexion, forelimb and hindlimb were also significantly reduced. The median total morphological scores further decreased to 28 when the concentration of ginsenoside Rb(1) was increased to 50 micro g/ml. At this concentration, the embryonic crown-rump length and somite number were also significantly reduced compared with control embryos (2.8 versus 3.0 mm and 16.0 versus 21.0, respectively).
Conclusions: Our study has demonstrated that ginsenoside exerts direct teratogenic effects on rat embryos. Until more is known about the effects of ginsenoside in women of reproductive age, we suggest its use should be treated with caution.