The body's immune system is how we fight off infections from pathogens like bacteria, parasites and fungi. It is a collection of tissues which work together to fight off foreign cells which are likely to attack our native cells. Upon detection of a foreign cell, the immune system creates antibodies to fight off infection and sends phagocytes to ingest and destroy them.
Ginseng and your immune system
Ginseng is a well known immune modulator, its roots, stem and leaves have been used to maintain immune homeostasis and enhance the body’s resistance to illness and attack from foreign pathogens. The many cells that make up the immune system react differently to treatment by ginseng, leading to the different benefits across all stages of our body's immune response to foreign germs .
The innate immune system is the first barrier against infections and consists of our skin, mucous, phagocyte killer cells and blood proteins. The role of ginseng within this system is to enhance the activity of phagocytic cells meaning that they are more efficient at fighting infections. These killer cells are particularly good at targeting foreign cells without the presence of antibodies, resulting in a fast immune response as they can kill targeted cells long before the antibodies have arrived .
The next stage of the immune system is called acquired immunity. This is where the body releases white blood cells to target the pathogens with their specific antibodies. This system is very clever as it contains memory cells. Memory cells remember how a particular pathogen was defeated so that the antibodies can be replicated if the system ever re-encounters the pathogen, enhancing the response time in the future.
Ginseng's anti-inflammatory properties also help dull any inflammation that may be caused by invading pathogens or irritants. Ginseng's consumption has been shown to reduce the production of pro-inflammation within the tissue, helping to inhibit the progression of inflammation and inflammatory diseases from taking hold.
It also has the ability to generate inflammation mediators like nitric oxide, which aid phagocytes in destroying microbes that attack the body's immune system.
Many plants produce antimicrobial compounds as a defence against microbes which could harm them. These compounds have been reported to help prevent bacterial and viral infections. One of the best plants for this ability is ginseng, which has shown to have antimicrobial activity, having performed as an antibacterial or antiviral substance in clinical trials [1,3].
Everyone knows the term “I am feeling run down”, and it is pretty accurate when referring to our immune system. When the body is mentally or physically exhausted your immune system can be at a disadvantage when fighting off infections. The immune systems require more energy when it is working hard, which is why when you are ill you might feel increasingly tired and require more sleep.
Ginseng has links with energy for both physical and cognitive work, helping the body to recover from the stimulus that could leave you feeling exhausted and vulnerable to attacks on your immune system.
Ways to boost your immune system
As well as getting a helping hand from the many benefits of ginseng, there are other easy steps you can take to boost your immune system and keep out the cold this winter.
Diet - There is plenty of truth behind the saying “a apple a day keep the doctor away”, it may not be referring specifically to the apple, but consuming regular portions of vegetable and fruit will definitely help fuel your body with the micronutrients it needs to complete its everyday functions. Micronutrient deficiencies such as zinc, iron, vitamins A, B, C and E can alter our immune response, all available when consuming a range of vegetables. The traffic light system is a good way to make sure you are getting a balance of micronutrients, by consuming leafy greens, as well as orange and red fruits and root vegetable .
This can also apply to low calorie diets, which may not provide our body’s with the energy our it needs to stay healthy and fuel our body's many systems. Diets where you eat specific food groups or cut certain foods out of your diet can sometimes lead to deficiencies, depending on what is cut out.
Exercise - Numerous studies have shown that going for a brisk walk daily can cut sickness days in half over a 15 week period, compared with inactivity. Moderate exercise enhances immunosurveillance and protects the upper respiratory tract from infection, whereas chronic exercise can lead to athletes becoming more susceptible to illness and increased risk of infection. But the many health benefits to exercising regularly, such as improved cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and maintains body weight, are all going to improve your overall health .
Sleep - The process of sleeping has been strongly linked to the innate immune system, with sufficient sleep each night significantly aiding the body's immune system to fight infections. This is because the number and ratio of different types of white blood cells changes while asleep, with sleep deprivation having a negative effect on white blood cell numbers. Lack of sleep also has been shown to increase the simulation of stress hormonal release, a key contributor to a drop in our immune system .
Our immune system works very hard day to day to keep us protected and functioning as we should be. We all know how horrible it is to be feeling under the weather and coming down with a cold so why not give your body the fighting chance it needs to defeat the tough opponents your immune system occasionally comes up against by supplementing with ginseng while also making sure you are well rested and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.