Saponin in plants benefit and side effects, glycosides and extraction by Ray Sahelian, M.D.
February 7 2014

Saponins are found in many plants and in the animal kingdom. Saponins have a soapy character due to their surfactant properties.

Biological activity of saponins
Saponins have hemolytic, expectorative, anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating activity. Beyond that, saponins demonstrate antimicrobial properties particularly against fungi and additionally against bacteria and protozoa.

Chemistry of saponins
Saponins are complex compounds that are composed of a saccharide attached to a steroid or triterpene. Biosynthesis of saponins.

Source of saponins
Saponins are found in a number of plants. In the animal kingdom saponins are found in most sea cucumbers and starfish.

Saponins are found in a number of foods and herbs including:
Alfalfa herb
Agave plant
Bacopa Monierri - Bacoside A, the putative bioactive component of the Indian medicinal plant Bacopa monnieri, was found to be a mixture of saponins with bacoside A3, bacopaside II, jujubogenin isomer of bacopasaponin C and bacopasaponin C as major constituents.
Diosgenin is a steroidal saponin extracted from the root of Wild Yam ( Dioscorea ).
Fenugreek herb
Ginseng - the ginsenoside compositions in Ginseng herbs of different origins are of considerable variability. Total saponin contents varied by 10-fold. Chikusetsu-ninjin derived from Panax japonicus (Japan) was found to have the highest content (192.80 - 296.18 mg/g) and Ginseng from Panax ginseng to be the lowest.
Onion, red variety -
Soy bean - soybean contains a wide variety of chemical compounds that have potent bioactivity. Among these compounds are isoflavones and saponins. Recent publications describing anticancer activity of crude and purified soybean saponins have sparked a renewed interest in these compounds.
Tribulus terrestris extract is usually sold in a saponin concentration of 40 percent.

J Pharmacol Sci. 2013. Phaseoloideside E, a novel natural triterpenoid saponin identified from Entada phaseoloides, induces apoptosis in Ec-109 esophageal cancer cells through reactive oxygen species generation.

Saponin Research studies
Antispasmodic saponins from bulbs of red onion, Allium cepa L. var. Tropea.
J Agric Food Chem. 2005.
A phytochemical analysis of the polar extract from the red bulbs of Allium cepa L. var. Tropea, typical of Calabria, a southern region of Italy, was performed extensively for the first time, leading to the isolation of four new furostanol saponins, named tropeoside A1/A2 (1a/1b) and tropeoside B1/B2 (3a/3b), along with the respective 22-O-methyl derivatives (2a/2b and 4a/4b), almost certainly extraction artifacts. High concentrations of ascalonicoside A1/A2 (5a/5b) and ascalonicoside B (6), previously isolated from Allium ascalonicum Hort., were also found. This is the first report of furostanol saponins in this A. cepa variety. High concentrations of quercetin, quercetin 4(I)-glucoside, taxifolin, taxifolin 7-glucoside, and phenylalanine were also isolated. The new saponins were found to possess antispasmodic activity in the guinea pig isolated ileum; such an effect might contribute to explaining the traditional use of onion in the treatment of disturbances of the gastrointestinal tract.

[Investigation on inhibitory and apoptosis-inducing effects of saponins from Tribulus terrestris on hepatoma cell line BEL-7402]
Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2004.
To investigate the inhibitory and apoptosis-inducing effects of saponins from Tribulus terrestris on liver cancer cell line BEL-7402. METHOD: MTT, SRB, Wright staining, acridine orange staining, flow cytometry, and Immunofluorescence microscopy were used to evaluate the effects of STT on BEL-7402 cell line. SMT had potent inhibitory effect on BEL-7402 cell line in a concentration-dependent manner. BEL-7402 cells exibited typical morphological alteration of apoptosis when sub-G1 peak could be seen. The expression of Bcl-2 was decreased in tribulus terrestris saponin treated cells as compared with untreated control cells. Tribulus terrestris exerts its cytotoxic effect on BEL-7402 cells by inducing apoptosis.

Additional cytotoxic sterols and saponins from the starfish certonardoa semiregularis.
J Nat Prod. 2004.
Twelve new (1-7, 9-13) polyhydroxysterols and two new saponins (14 and 15) were isolated from the starfish Certonardoa semiregularis by activity-guided fractionation. Compounds 1-7 are rare examples of 15-keto steroids from starfish. The side chain of compound 11 was also unprecedented in nature. The structures were determined by combined spectroscopic methods and chemical derivatization. These compounds were evaluated for cytotoxicity against a small panel of human solid tumor cell lines, and most of them exhibited considerable activity. One of the 15-keto sterols (6) displayed the highest potency, which is comparable to that of doxorubicin.

Saponins from edible legumes: chemistry, processing, and health benefits.
J Med Food. 2004.
Shi J, Arunasalam K, Yeung D, Kakuda Y, Mittal G, Jiang Y.
Guelph Food Research Center, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
Demand for bean products is growing because of the presence of several health-promoting components in edible bean products such as saponins. Saponins are naturally occurring compounds that are widely distributed in all cells of legume plants. Saponins, which derive their name from their ability to form stable, soaplike foams in aqueous solutions, constitute a complex and chemically diverse group of compounds. In chemical terms, saponins contain a carbohydrate moiety attached to a triterpenoid or steroids. Saponins are attracting considerable interest as a result of their diverse properties, both deleterious and beneficial. Clinical studies have suggested that these health-promoting components, saponins, affect the immune system in ways that help to protect the human body against cancers, and also lower cholesterol levels. Saponins decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risks, and lower blood glucose response. A high saponin diet can be used in the inhibition of dental caries and platelet aggregation, in the treatment of hypercalciuria in humans, and as an antidote against acute lead poisoning. In epidemiological studies, saponins have been shown to have an inverse relationship with the incidence of renal stones. Thermal processing such as canning is the typical method to process beans. This study reviews the effect of thermal processing on the characteristics and stability of saponins in canned bean products. Saponins are thermal sensitive. During soaking and blanching, portions of saponins are dissolved in water and lost in the soaking, washing, and blanching liquors. An optimum thermal process can increase the stability and maintain the saponins in canned bean products, which is useful for assisting the food industry to improve thermal processing technology and enhance bean product quality.

Isolation of a new saponin and cytotoxic effect of saponins from the root of Platycodon grandiflorum on human tumor cell lines.
Planta Med. 2005.
A novel triterpenoid saponin, deapioplatycoside E was isolated from the root extract of Platycodon grandiflorum, together with the seven known saponins, i. e., platycoside E, deapioplatycodin D3, platycodin D3 (4), polygalacin D2 (5), platycodin D2 (6), deapioplatycodin D (7) and platycodin D (8). The crude saponin fraction (ED50: ca. 10 - 15 microg/mL) and compounds 6 - 8 exhibited significant inhibition on the proliferation of five kinds of cultured human tumor cell lines, i. e., A549 (non-small cell lung), SK-OV-3 (ovary), SK-MEL-2 (melanoma), XF498 (central nerve system) and HCT-15 (colon), in vitro.

I like to know if it is true that saponins can help the pancreas to work normal again.
    There are many herbs that have various types of saponins in them and the pancreas has many types of diseases. Therefore this is too broad a question to be able to provide a specific answer.