Can Red Ginseng Zap the Flu Virus and Respiratory Syncytial Virus?
Results of new research indicate that the herbal remedy red ginseng can be effective against the flu virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Both of these serious respiratory diseases can be a challenge to treat and are associated with hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
Most people are familiar with the flu and the recommendation by the medical community to get a flu shot each year. Seasonal flu can affect people of any age, but infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are at greatest risk of serious problems and complications.
Infants, young children, and the elderly are the ones most at risk for RSV, which can cause inflammation of the small airways in the lung (a condition known as inflammatory bronchiolitis), pneumonia, and death. Thus far there is no vaccine for this respiratory disease.
Red ginseng and viruses
According to Sang-Moo Kang, a scientist in Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Korean red ginseng has what it takes to fight these viruses. In fact, Kang has been exploring the potential of red ginseng extract to zap these viruses for several years.
For example, in 2012, Kang and his colleagues investigated whether red ginseng could have antiviral effects on flu virus infection in mice. The mice given ginseng before they were infected with the H1N1 virus (remember the 2009 pandemic?) lived significantly longer than did mice not given the herb.
In addition, red ginseng extract inhibited the growth of the H1N1 and H3N2 flu viruses and caused an increase in the levels of several factors associated with protection against them. The scientists concluded that “intake of ginseng extract will have beneficial effects on preventing lethal infection with newly emerging influenza viruses.”
In his latest study in Nutrients, Kang used human lung epithelial cells that were infected with flu virus (influenza A virus) as well as a mouse model. Both attempts proved successful: the herb improved the survival of the infected human cells and blocked the inflammatory process while also enhancing the ability of the mice to fight the virus.
Additional research by Kang also showed that red ginseng has potential to fight RSV infection. Once again, the herb
- interfered with the replication of the virus
- suppressed factors associated with inflammation and cell damage
- improved the survival of human lung epithelial cells
- lowered the level of the virus in mice
The bottom line
Red ginseng is a highly regarded herbal remedy in Eastern medicine and one that is growing in acceptance in the West. In fact, there is an entire journal (Journal of Ginseng Research) dedicated to research into the medicinal values of this herb.
This latest work by Kang and his colleagues suggests red ginseng extract has potential in the fight against a common flu virus as well as a highly contagious virus that is a major cause of respiratory distress in infants and young children. Although no recommendations for dosing were provided in this new research, 200 mg daily of a standardized extract (4% to 7% ginsenosides, an active ingredient in the herb) is frequently suggested for improvement in mood and general well-being.
Lee JS et al. Immunomodulatory activity of red ginseng against influenza A virus infection. Nutrients 2014 Jan 27; 6(2): 517-29
NYU Langone Medical Center
Yoo DG et al. Protective effect of Korean red ginseng extract on the infections by H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses in mice. Journal of Medicinal Food 2012 Oct; 15(10): 855-62
Image: Flickr/Eugene Kim