Bug Be Gone

Bug Be Gone

Nobody wants a cold. And nobody but nobody wants a cold that hangs on for days, making life miserable.

In the e-Alert “Baby it’s Cold Outside” (11/29/06), I told you about a way to help prevent the common cold (exercise), and a way to treat colds once you have them (zinc).

Today we’ll look at a botanical that may help prevent colds, while also reducing the severity and duration of symptoms if you do pick up a cold bug.

Canadian cold warriors

Ginseng root extracts “have been found to have the potential to modulate both natural and acquired immune responses.”

That quote appears in the opening of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Alberta. To test this potential against the common cold, researchers recruited nearly 280 subjects between the ages of 18 and 65.

To qualify for the study, subjects had to confirm that they’d experienced at least two colds in the year before the trial began. Subjects were divided into two groups: 130 received 200 mg of ginseng extract two times each day, and 148 received placebo.

At the conclusion of the four-month trial (which started at the beginning of flu and cold season), 10 percent of the ginseng group reported two or more colds. That percentage was more than doubled in the placebo group.

Two other key results:

  • Average number of days in which cold symptoms were reported was less than 11 in the ginseng group, but more than 16 in the placebo group
  • Using a four-point scale to score symptoms, those in the ginseng group had a significantly lower overall score compared to the placebo group

Rooting around

There are three types of ginseng: oriental ginseng (cultivated in China and Korea), Siberian ginseng and North American ginseng. A standardized extract of the latter ginseng type was used in the Canadian study. And in the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that the extract used was a supplement called Cold-fX, produced by CV Technologies, a company that’s associated with the University of Alberta.

But this isn’t the first trial to demonstrate ginseng’s benefits against seasonal viral infections.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, researchers enrolled nearly 200 elderly subjects to receive either 200 mg of North American ginseng extract or a placebo twice each day during flu season. At the end of the season, researchers found the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza to be considerably higher in the placebo group than among those treated with ginseng. They also noted that the treatment was well tolerated.

Native Americans commonly used North American ginseng to reduce fevers and boost immune function and energy. This ginseng variety may also be helpful in relieving hot flashes in menopausal women.

Talk to your doctor or an experienced herbalist before using ginseng on a regular basis. Ginseng may have an adverse effect on patients who use blood thinners. Infrequent side effects include headaches, insomnia, nervousness, rash, and heart palpitations. Women are advised to avoid ginseng use in the first trimester of pregnancy.