As reported by Newsday, October 25, 2005.

Not a Cure, But It’s Close

The common cold, as well as the flu, can be avoided or lessened by taking a form of ginseng, experts say

By Jamie Talan

An herbal cold formula created by Canadian scientists works better than chicken soup, and pharmacologist Jacqueline Shan has the studies to prove it.

Twelve years ago, Shan and colleagues at the University of Alberta began testing more than a dozen natural substances, including chicken soup, looking for molecules that boost the immune system. A molecule culled from the North American ginseng plant was the winner.

Ten clinical trials later, scientists have more evidence that the herbal preparation, now sold in Canada and over the Internet under the trade name Cold-fx, appears to significantly reduce colds and flu. In the latest study, reported in this month's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Basu Tapan of the University of Alberta and Dr. Gerald Predy of Capital Health of Alberta, a public health agency, followed 323 adults taking two capsules of Cold-fx or a placebo daily for four winter months.

Those in the study had had at least two colds the previous year, which is about average, but those taking the Cold-fx formula cut their number of colds by 25 percent, spent 35 percent less time sick and reported a 31 percent reduction in severity of symptoms when compared with those who took a placebo. The number of recurrent infections was reduced by half.

"The results look pretty good," said Norman Farnsworth, a research professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy who studies natural products. "The question is: Would you rather take this daily for two months or have a cold that lasts two weeks?"

There are half a dozen species of ginseng, each biochemically different. The scientists at Shan's Edmonton-based com.pany, CV Technologies, which makes Cold-fx, extracted one specific molecule from the North American ginseng plant. Shan said they took out all of the substances in the ginseng unrelated to healthy immune function. Many ginseng species affect the central nervous system, and health experts say no herbal supplement should be taken without first consulting a doctor.

In the latest study, Basu and his colleagues focused on cold and flu symptoms. Every time one of the 323 study participants, ranging in age from 18 to 65, became sick, scientists took a throat swab to culture the infectious bug and looked for immune markers in the blood.

"It works," said Basu, a co-author of the new study. "More importantly, the results are consistent from study to study."

Dr. Janet McElhaney, a geriatrician at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, led an FDA-approved trial using the preparation in elderly patients living in nursing homes and assisted living communities in Virginia, where she used to work. Her study was small, only 200 people who took two capsules daily for two months. She was looking for serious respiratory infection and found one case in a patient taking Cold fx and nine on the placebo.

"These current findings [in younger people] are exciting," McElhaney said.