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Study finds ginseng can help prevent and treat the flu

There have been 16 flu-related deaths in Saskatchewan - already one more than the 15 people who died in 2009 when the influenza pandemic hit the province.
File / Global News

CALGARY- A pair of American studies have found ginseng may help treat and prevent influenza, as well as a  common respiratory virus known as RSV.

In a study published in the journal Nutrients, Dr. Sang-Moo Kang, a scientist with Georgia State University, examined whether red ginseng extract could prevent the influenza A virus infection.

In the study, mice infected with the virus that were given ginseng over a long period of time produced more antiviral protein and had less inflammation in the cells of their lungs. Ginseng also appeared to modify the mice’s immune response to the virus, suggesting that long term use could help prevent the flu.

“The study suggests that it would be better to take ginseng before flu seaon,” explains Dr. Kang.  “In mouse models it took several months to see the beneficial effects but not after or during flu infection.”

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In a separate study to be published in the upcoming edition of the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Kang investigated whether Korean red ginseng could treat RSV infections. Kang found ginseng protected human lung cells against the RSV infection while preventing the virus from replicating in the body. Mice who had been treated with ginseng and were later infected with RSV also showed lower viral levels, suggesting the herbal extract has antiviral capabilities.

Last year, influenza A including H1N1 accounted for most of the seasonal influenza illnesses in Canada. Across the country, over four thousand people were hospitalized and 226 people died.

RSV or respiratory syncytial virus is a common infection that impacts the lungs and airways, and is most common among children and infants. In very young children or elderly adults, RSV can sometimes lead to serious infections like pneumonia or brochiolitis and is the leading cause of viral death in infants and elderly adults.

There is no vaccine available for RSV.