The ginseng family, including Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng), Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng), and Panax notoginseng (notoginseng), is commonly used herbal medicine. White ginseng is prepared by air-drying after harvest, while red ginseng is prepared by a steaming or heating process. The anticancer activity of red ginseng is significantly increased, due to the production of active anticancer ginsenosides during the steaming treatment, compared with that of white ginseng. Thus far, anticancer studies have been mostly focused on Asian ginseng. In this article, we review the research progress made in the anticancer activities of red Asian ginseng, red American ginseng and red notoginseng. The major anticancer mechanisms of red ginseng compounds include cell cycle arrest, induction of apoptosis/paraptosis, and inhibition of angiogenesis. The structure-function relationship analysis has revealed that the protopanaxadiol group ginsenosides have more potent effects than the protopanaxatriol group. Sugar molecules in ginsenosides inversely impact the antiproliferative potential of these compounds. In addition, ginsenoside stereoselectivity and double bond position also influence the anticancer activity. Future studies should focus on characterizing active red ginseng derivatives as potential anticancer drugs.
Keywords: Cancer chemoprevention; Panax ginseng; Panax notoginseng; Panax quinquefolius; Red ginseng.
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