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ADME Properties of Herbal Medicines in Humans: Evidence, Challenges and Strategies

[ Vol. 17 , Issue. 4 ]


Shu-Ming He, Eli Chan and Shu-Feng Zhou   Pages 357 - 407 ( 51 )


Herbal medicines, an important group of multicomponent therapeutics, are widely and increasignly used worldwide. Despite the popularitiy of herbal medicines, the clinical evidence that support the use of most herbal medicines is weak. Pharmacokinetic and absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) studies have been integrated into modern drug development, but ADME studies are generally not needed for herbal remedy discovery and development. For the majority of herbal medicines, data on their ADME and pharmacokinetic properties in humans are lacking or scant. An extensive literature search indicates that there are limited data on ADME properties of herbal medicines in humans. Many herbal compounds undergo Phase I and/or Phase II metabolism in vivo, with cytochrome P450s (CYPs) and uridine diphosphate glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs) playing a major role. Some herbal ingredients are substrates of P-glycoprotein (P-gp/MDR1/ABCB1) which is highly expressed in the intestine, liver, brain and kidney. As such, the activities of these drug metabolizing enzymes and drug transporters are critical determining factors for the in vivo ADME processes of herbal remedies. There are increasing ADME studies of herbal remedies, but these studies are mainly focused on a small number of herbal medicines including St Johns wort, milk thistle, curcumin, echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo, and ginger. For an herbal medicine, the pharmacological activity is gained when the active agents or the active metabolites reach and sustain proper levels at their sites of action. Both the dose levels and ADME processes of active herbal components in the body govern their target-site concentrations and thus the therapeutic responses. In this regard, a safe and optimal use of herbal medicines requires a full understanding of their ADME profiles. To optimize the use of herbal remedies, further studies to explore their ADME properties in humans are certainly warranted.


Herbal medicine, ADME, metabolism, absorption, distribution, excretion, cytochrome P450, P-glycoprotein, St John's wort


Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of South Florida, 12901 Bruce B Downs Blvd., MDC 30, Tampa, Florida 33612.

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