Sharla K. Sutherland, PhD
It's that time of the year again'cold and flu season. While some families are preparing for the holidays, others are stuck at home with stockpiles of decongestants.
It's that time of the year again-cold and flu season. While some families are preparing for the holidays, others are stuck at home with stockpiles of decongestants. The age-old tradition of chicken soup may soothe a cold, but North American ginseng extract is the best cold and flu prevention.
A strong immune system is the best prevention, protecting us from viral infections such as colds and the flu. We boost our immune system and reduce our susceptibility by maintaining a healthy diet and regular sleep patterns, by getting sufficient rest and relaxation and moderate exercise, and by minimizing stress.
Cold and flu viruses come in an ever-changing array of strains. Their adaptive features have made it difficult to produce effective vaccines for influenza and nearly impossible for colds. Although several antiviral drugs have been developed for flu treatment, they have yet to be considered completely effective. For colds, no prescription drug treatments are available.
While ineffective in directly combating the virus, some over-the-counter medicines are effective in temporarily relieving symptoms such as muscle pain and fever. However, most are not effective in relieving symptoms such as lack of energy and coughing. A study published in Pediatrics in July 2004 revealed that two ingredients used in most over-the-counter medications were not superior to placebo in providing night-time relief for children with cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory infection.
Natural health products, including some extracts of North American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) with specific immune-enhancing phytochemicals such as oligo- and poly-saccharides, have been used to strengthen the immune system and effectively prevent the occurrence of infection altogether or reduce the extent of illness. A recent study published in January 2004 in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society showed an 89-percent relative risk reduction of acute respiratory illness in a senior population given a proprietary extract of North American ginseng (200 mg twice daily for eight to 12 weeks). The extract was shown to be safe and well tolerated in this trial.
North American ginseng extract has been shown to work by stimulating lymphocyte and natural killer cell proliferation, antibody production, and release of important cytokines from macrophages and lymphocytes.
When selecting a commercially available ginseng extract be careful to choose one that has scientifically and clinically verified its specific immune-enhancing claims. Not all ginseng extracts are equal in their immune-strengthening properties. Some are developed in a manner that selects only immune-enhancing components of the extract and leave behind other phytochemicals, which also have pharmacological effects. Further, North American ginseng should also not be confused with other ginseng species, such as Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), which have considerably different chemical and therapeutic profiles.
Recent scientific studies of extracts from North American ginseng are encouraging. These extracts have demonstrated immune-enhancing properties and have great potential as cold remedies during this cold and flu season. After all, no one wants to spend their holidays with a box of tissues and a pile of pills.