Korean Red Ginseng for Flu Defense

Woman blowing her nose.
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To strengthen your body's defense against the flu, an herb known as Korean red ginseng may be helpful. A form of Panax ginseng, it's thought to fight the flu in part by boosting the immune system. Some research shows that taking Korean red ginseng may help with flu prevention, while other studies suggest that the herb might aid in flu treatment.

Korean red ginseng should not be confused with other types of ginseng, such as American ginseng (an herb that may offer cold relief and help control diabetes).

Why Is Korean Red Ginseng Sometimes Used for Flu Defense?

Because flu vaccines have a number of limitations (including a lack of protection against certain strains of the influenza virus), scientists have begun exploring the potential benefits of alternative approaches to flu defense.

Long used in herbal medicine, Korean red ginseng has been found to fend off the flu in some preliminary studies. In an animal-based study published in the journal Nutrients in 2014, for instance, tests on mice demonstrated that Korean red ginseng may help neutralize the effects of the influenza A virus.

In an experiment involving a group of mice infected with influenza A virus, scientists determined that post-infection treatment with Korean red ginseng helped stimulate the production of antiviral proteins essential to the immune response. Korean red ginseng also appeared to reduce the number of inflammatory cells in the subject animals' bronchial walls.

The Science Behind Korean Red Ginseng and the Flu

To date, there's a lack of clinical trials testing the effectiveness of Korean red ginseng in prevention or treatment of the flu. However, one study published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science in 2012 indicates that the herb may help stave off acute respiratory illness (a class of conditions that includes the flu).

For the study, 100 healthy volunteers took either Korean red ginseng or a placebo every day for 12 weeks. At the study's end, researchers observed that fewer participants treated with Korean red ginseng reported came down with an acute respiratory illness (compared to those given the placebo).

Alternatives to Korean Red Ginseng for Flu Defense

Other alternative approaches to flu defense include taking herbs like elderberry and echinacea, as well as using medicinal mushrooms.

Although getting a flu vaccine is considered one of the most surefire ways to avoid the flu, many lifestyle practices can also shield you from infection. These practices include washing your hands frequently, as well as bolstering your immune system by getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, following a diet high in immune-enhancing foods, and working to keep your stress in check.


Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of Korean red ginseng. However, there's some concern that prolonged use of any type of Panax ginseng could have harmful effects, due to the herb's hormone-like properties.

Therefore, it's particularly important to talk to your doctor if you're thinking of using Korean red ginseng regularly or have a hormone-sensitive condition.

Korean red ginseng may also trigger a range of side effects, such as:

• changes in blood pressure
• increased heart rate
• loss of appetite
mood disturbance 

It should also be noted that letting the flu go untreated may lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Consult your physician for help in safely incorporating Korean red ginseng into your flu treatment plan.


Ha KC1, Kim MG, Oh MR, Choi EK, Back HI, Kim SY, Park EO, Kwon DY, Yang HJ, Kim MJ, Kang HJ, Lee JH, Choi KM, Chae SW, Lee CS. "A placebo-controlled trial of Korean red ginseng extract for preventing influenza-like illness in healthy adults." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 Feb 8;12:10.

Lee CS1, Lee JH, Oh M, Choi KM, Jeong MR, Park JD, Kwon DY, Ha KC, Park EO, Lee N, Kim SY, Choi EK, Kim MG, Chae SW. "Preventive effect of Korean red ginseng for acute respiratory illness: a randomized and double-blind clinical trial." J Korean Med Sci. 2012 Dec;27(12):1472-8.

Lee JS1, Hwang HS2, Ko EJ3, Lee YN4, Kwon YM5, Kim MC6, Kang SM7. "Immunomodulatory activity of red ginseng against influenza A virus infection." Nutrients. 2014 Jan 27;6(2):517-29.

Yoo DG1, Kim MC, Park MK, Song JM, Quan FS, Park KM, Cho YK, Kang SM. "Protective effect of Korean red ginseng extract on the infections by H1N1 and H3N2 influenza viruses in mice." J Med Food. 2012 Oct;15(10):855-62.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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