The Ginseng Series - Body Recovery from Illness and Injury
Body recovery is an important part of physical training, sports, illness, chemotherapy etc. However, unfortunately, it is often neglected by individuals as they do not fully understand the biological processes that are behind body recovery.1
What is Body Recovery?
Your body has a surprising ability to recover from injury and illness under right conditions. Your body works hard to help it recover even if little help is provided by you to help this process. Thousands of biological and chemical reactions occur twenty-four hours to help the body recovery process.
When you get an injury, neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cells, move to the site of injury to keep the infection at bay. Monocytes, which are another type of blood cells, transform into macrophages or scavengers to engulf and absorb dead tissue and cells and control inflammation. In case a bone is broken, osteoblasts or the bone cells get into action and seal the rough and broken edges of the bone back together.
Similarly, cellular damage resulting from illness or from harsh therapies such as chemotherapy to treat cancer or therapies to treat other diseases such as hepatitis etc. gets repaired by a similar group of microscopic workers in the body. So many different cells assist your body in the recovery process that it is difficult to keep a count of all of them.2
Apart from your bodies own automatic and involuntary processes of recovery, as a smart patient, there are multiple things you can do to strengthen and speed your body recovery.
What is Ginseng?
Ginseng is a plant that belongs to genus Panax of family Araliaceae. The Greek meaning of Panax is “all heal”. Ginseng refers to both Korean or Asian ginseng or ‘Panax ginseng’ and American ginseng or ‘Panax quinquefolius’. 3 Ginseng was found more than 5000 years ago in China. Originally, it was utilized as food; however, it gradually became famous for its rejuvenating and strength-giving powers.4
Ginseng contains multiple pharmacological compounds including ginsenosides, polyphenolic compounds, acidic polysaccharides and polyacetylenes. Ginseng has been used for centuries for its medicinal benefits. It boosts the body’s immune system, improves brain function and mood and reduces stress. It also helps in fighting inflammation due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It aids in weight loss by boosting the metabolism of the body. It helps in treating erectile dysfunction in males. It is also known to reduce blood glucose levels in patients suffering from diabetes type 2.3
How does Ginseng aid Recovery?
Ginseng has been found to help your body recover from various illnesses and diseases and improves physical and mental performance.5
According to a study published in the journal ‘Frontiers in cellular neuroscience’, it was found that pretreatment with Korean red ginseng in patients who are at risk of recurrent transient ischemic attack or stroke can protect against acute deficits of sensorimotor nature after ischemic stroke. It also helps in the improvement of functional recovery in the long-term post-ischemic stroke.6
Another study published in the journal ‘Cellular and molecular neurobiology’ demonstrated that ginsenoside Re (Re), which is the main compound present in the roots and berries of ginseng, has the capability to promote functional recovery of injured sciatic nerves in rats. Promoted regeneration of the sciatic nerve by facilitating the differentiation, migration and proliferation of Schwann cells in the crushed sciatic nerves.7
A 2014 study published in the journal ‘Biological and pharmaceutical bulletin’ states that injection of panax ginseng saponins is effective in promoting neurological functional recovery post stroke or cerebral infraction.8
A study published in the journal ‘Neuroscience’ suggests that ginsenoside extracted from panax ginseng inhibits local inflammation post cerebral ischemia; thereby, providing neuroprotective effect and helping in recovery.9
Another study published in the ‘International Journal of Molecular Sciences’ states that liver is connected to inflammation and is the body’s internal system that removes harmful stimuli. It also participates in the response of wound-healing. Sustained inflammation and wound-healing response may induce development of liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and finally liver cancer. Ginseng among other Chinese herbal medicines has hepatoprotective effects by its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.10
The effects of ginseng saponins on the process of skin wound healing were investigated in a 2011 study published in the ‘Journal of ginseng research’. The results indicated that ginseng saponins had beneficial effects when they were used to treat wounds of skin.11
How can Nutrition aid Healing and Recovery?
When your body is recovering from a disease or illness it is working overtime to rebuild and repair itself. Any kind of illness may result in reduced appetite leading to weight loss and depletion of nutrients. Hence, proper nutrition plays a vital role in helping your body recovery and healing post an illness or injury.
They provide energy to the body and are an essential part of a recovery diet. It is better to eat complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates as the later cause blood sugar spikes. These sugar spikes can result in inflammation and cause cellular damage; hence, you should not include them in your diet while recovering from an illness. Some examples of complex carbohydrates include nuts, legumes, whole grains and seeds.2
Proteins to Repair Cells
You need sufficient proteins in your diet for cellular repair after injury and illness. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, you should get a minimum of 45 to 55 g of proteins each day during the recovery period. Some good protein sources are lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, low-fat dairy and milk and nuts.12
Vegetables and Fruits
Both fresh and cooked vegetables are a rich source of dietary fibre, which is required for your bowel movements and digestion to return to their normal state post an illness. They are also a rich source of antioxidants, which help in removing toxins from your body more efficiently. It is recommended that you should get at least five servings of vegetables and fruits per day.12
Foods Containing Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a nutrient that helps in recovery of the immune system of your body after it has battled from an illness. Vitamin C stimulates the production of phagocytes and lymphocytes, which help in destroying pathogenic organisms. Due to its antioxidant properties, it helps in protecting your body cells from oxidative damage. It also helps in healing of wounds and strengthening the blood vessels. The daily allowance of vitamin C that is recommended for adults is 76 to 90 mg.12
If you have taken a course of antibiotics for a bacterial illness, you may suffer from digestive side effects including diarrhoea as antibiotics destroy the friendly gut bacteria that help in digestion and prevent overgrowth of bacteria that are harmful to the body. Probiotics are gut-friendly bacteria that are present in some foods like yoghurt. According to a study published in the ‘British Medical Journal’, it was found that routine consumption of probiotic drinks helps in reducing recovery time.12
Hydration to Reduce Fatigue
You should drink lots of fluids especially water during the recovery period as dehydration may result in fatigue, light-headedness, weakness and nausea. It is recommended that you should drink at least 2.8 to 3.8 litres of water per day.12
Role of Antioxidants in Body Recovery
Antioxidants are substances that help in slowing the progression of diseases or preventing diseases resulting from oxidation. They also help boost the immune system of the body, which has gone weak during an illness. You can get antioxidants from the following foods:
- Anthocyanins: They are antioxidants which are present in cranberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, red wine and bilberries.
- Catechins: They are present in green and black tea and red wine.
- Indoles: They are found in sprouts, broccoli, kale and cauliflower.
- Allium: It is present in garlic and onion.
- Flavonoids: They are found in green tea, blueberries, apples, tomato, and parsley and bell peppers.13
- Lycopene: They are powerful antioxidants that help in boosting the immune function and are found in apricots, tomatoes, watermelon, guava, grapefruit, and papayas.
Supplements to Take for Body Recovery
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed has antioxidant properties are more powerful in comparison to those of vitamin E and vitamin C. It improves the health of blood vessels and protects cells of the brain from oxidative damage. It also helps in reducing swelling after an injury.
CoQ10 helps in speeding up the metabolic processes; thereby, providing the cells with the energy they require for the healing of wounds, digesting foods and maintaining muscle health.14
As already mentioned vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps boost the immune system which has become weak after battling the illness. It also helps in healing of wounds.
Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant, which helps in boosting the immune system of the body and in preventing cellular damage by free radicals.
Zinc is a mineral that is crucial to wound healing; however, it has been found that taking an excess of it may inhibit body recovery and may result in copper deficiency. You should include foods rich in zinc such as peanuts, beef, and lentils in your diet.
Body recovery is a spontaneous and automatic process in which your body recover from an illness or injury on its own without the minimum help provided by you from outside. However, you can speed up this process by taking certain herbal medicines and maintaining proper nutrition. Ginseng is one such herbal medicine that has been found to be beneficial in speeding up the recovery of the body from an illness or injury.