Ginseng can help treat and prevent influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to new research.

In a recent issue of Nutrients and an upcoming publication of the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Georgia State University's Dr Sang-Moo Kang reports the beneficial effects of ginseng, a well-known herbal medicine, for human health.

Kang's research was focused on designing and developing new vaccines for viral diseases such as influenza virus and RSV. He partnered with a university and research institutes in South Korea to find out if ginseng can be used to improve health and protect against disease, as its various uses have been touted for centuries.

Ginseng has been variously reported to have anticancer properties as well as anti-inflammatory and immune modifying abilities.

Specifically, Kang investigated whether red ginseng extract has preventive effects on influenza A virus infection.

He found that red ginseng extract appears to improve the survival of human lung epithelial cells infected with influenza virus. Also, treatment with red ginseng extract reduced the expression of genes that cause inflammation.

After infection with influenza A virus, mice that were given ginseng over a long period showed multiple immune modifying effects. These included the stimulation of antiviral proteins production, which is important in immune response and fewer inflammatory cells in their bronchial walls.

The study indicates the beneficial effects of red ginseng extract on preventing influenza A virus infections could result from immune modifying capabilities of ginseng.

In his upcoming publication in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Kang investigated whether Korean red ginseng extract has antiviral effects, or the ability to treat RSV infection.

He found Korean red ginseng extract improved the survival of human lung epithelial cells against RSV infection and inhibited the virus from replicating within in the body.

In addition, treatment with Korean red ginseng extract suppressed the expression of RSV-induced inflammatory genes and the formation of chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen, which play a role in virus-induced epithelial damage in RSV.

Also, mice that were orally administered Korean red ginseng extract had lower viral levels after infection with RSV. The results suggest that Korean red ginseng extract has antiviral activity against RSV infection.