Polysaccharides

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herbal medicine, plants containing these compounds are often classified as vital energy (qi) tonics; for example, Astragalus membranaceus contains high-molecular-weight polysaccharides and Panax ginseng contains saponins. Both are considered qi tonics. Actually, many herbs that stimulate the immune system include compounds from both chemical families. Eleutherococ-cus senticosus is an example. Ginseng also contains both saponins and polysaccharides, although the former are more prominent. In this chapter we focus on a few of the most common polysaccharide-rich herbs and extracts, and in Chapter 21 we discuss a few saponin-rich herbs. The reader is referred to herbal medicine guidebooks for information regarding additional herbs that act as immunostimulants.2-10

Polysaccharides have been studied both in crude form (the entire polysaccharide fraction of a plant) and semi-purified and purified forms (various levels of purification for specific polysaccharides). Purified polysaccharides that have received research attention include lentinan, from the edible mushroom Lentinus edodes (shiitake), schizophyllan, from the fungus Schizophyllum commune, and pachyman, from the fungus Poria cocos. Semipurified polysaccharides include PSK and PSP, from the mushroom Coriolus versicolor, and KS-2, from Lentinus edodes. All three—crude, semipurified, and purified polysaccharides—can produce antitumor effects in animals, and some beneficial effects have been reported in human patients.11,12

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