Ginseng product may lessen misery of cold season
A cold remedy derived from the popular herb ginseng could help make the cold season a bit shorter and sweeter, new research suggests.
In a study that pitted the ginseng product against a placebo, Canadian researchers found that adults who took the botanical everyday for 4 months developed fewer and less-severe colds than did those on the placebo.
Though people in both groups were equally likely to suffer at least one cold during the cold and flu season, those who took ginseng were less likely to fall ill multiple times. What’s more, their cold symptoms tended to be shorter-lasting and less severe, according to findings published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The dried root of the ginseng plant has a long history of use in Chinese medicine. In many countries, both the Asian and North American varieties of the herb have become popular as dietary supplements; these products purport to carry a number of health benefits, including increased energy and stronger immune function.
The product used in the current study, sold as Cold-fX, is composed of 10 percent North American ginseng and a large amount of complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides. According to study co-author Dr. Tapan Basu of the University of Alberta, the findings cannot be generalized to all ginseng formulations.
“Does this mean any ginseng will do? No,” Basu said in an interview.
The polysaccharides, according to the researcher, are key to enhancing the body’s immune defenses against cold viruses. A random ginseng product, he said, would have polysaccharides, but they would be “diluted.”
The product’s manufacturer, Edmonton, Canada-based CV Technologies Inc., funded the research. Basu has served as a consultant to the company.
The study included 323 adults who were randomly assigned to take either the ginseng capsules or placebo capsules filled with rice powder everyday for 4 months. During that time, participants kept daily logs of any cold symptoms—including runny nose, congestion, sore throat and headache.
In general, adults in both groups had a similar likelihood of developing one cold during the study period. But less than half as many in the ginseng group had a repeat cold—10 percent, versus almost 23 percent in the placebo group.
And based on participants’ reports, symptoms tended to be less severe and have less staying power in the ginseng group.
Since the study assessed participants’ symptoms, and the common cold and influenza share some symptoms, there is a chance that the ginseng product prevented some cases of the flu, Basu noted.
He said he “wouldn’t hesitate to recommend” the herbal remedy to healthy adults who tend to suffer from multiple colds during the winter. But the product’s safety and effectiveness for other groups—including children, pregnant women and people with immune system dysfunction—is unknown.
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Ronald B. Turner of the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville points to the difficulty of studying remedies for the common cold.
Numerous cold therapies, he writes, “both alternative and conventional,” have shown promise in preliminary research only to fizzle with further study. More research, Turner concludes, will be needed to confirm the current findings.
SOURCE: Canadian Medical Association Journal, October 25, 2005.
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