New Therapies

Ginseng Derivatives May Protect Against Flu

Data from a pilot study suggest ginsenosides found in ginseng have “strong antiviral activity” to protect against infections, such as influenza.


Ginsenosides are pharmacologically active components of ginseng, which often is used to relieve coughs and colds. They also have been found to have antineoplastic, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties; other studies suggest neuroprotective properties as well. Ginsenosides may act against coxsackievirus B3, enterovirus 71, human rhinovirus 3, and hemagglutinating virus of Japan (HVJ) infection. But do they have an antiviral effect on influenza?

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Researchers from University Health Network & Shantou University Medical College and Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Immunopathology, both in China, and University of Toronto in Canada conducted a study in mice of the anti-influenza properties of ginseng and ginseng-derived compounds both in vitro and in vivo. They found that ginsenosides exerted “strong antiviral activity” to 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus. Ginsenoside protected the animals from infection and lowered viral titers in their lungs.

Sugars were the key to the effectiveness of the ginsenosides, which are composed of a steroid skeleton with various sugar groups attached. The researchers note that previous studies have shown that ginsenosides’ anticancer activity and antioxidant activity are related to the type and position of sugar moieties.

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The pilot experiment did not have negative or toxic effects on the animals or in cell proliferation in vitro, thus “defining the nontoxic nature and therapeutic value of these compounds,” the researchers say. They also point out that in phase 2 randomized clinical trials in children, oral consumption of ginseng extract as an alternative influenza treatment did not result in severe adverse effects. They suggest that their findings could spur other research into a novel antiviral drug for influenza.


Dong W, Farooqui A, Leon AJ, Kelvin DJ. PloS One . 2017;12(2):e0171936.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171936.

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