Oral decoctions of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) serve for therapeutic and prophylactic management of diseases for centuries. Small molecules and polysaccharides are the dominant chemicals co-occurred in the TCM decoction. Small molecules are well-studied by multidisciplinary elaborations, whereas the role of polysaccharides remains largely elusive. Here we explore a gut microbiota-involved mechanism by which TCM polysaccharides restore the homeostasis of gut microbiota and consequently promote the systemic exposure of concomitant small molecules in the decoction. As a case study, ginseng polysaccharides and ginsenosides in Du-Shen-Tang, the decoction of ginseng, were investigated on an over-fatigue and acute cold stress model. The results indicated that ginseng polysaccharides improved intestinal metabolism and absorption of certain ginsenosides, meanwhile reinstated the perturbed holistic gut microbiota, and particularly enhanced the growth of Lactobacillus spp. and Bacteroides spp., two major metabolic bacteria of ginsenosides. By exploring the synergistic actions of polysaccharides with small molecules, these findings shed new light on scientization and rationalization of the classic TCM decoctions in human health care.
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