Ginseng Extract for Respiratory Symptoms (GEARS)

A systematic evaluation of the therapeutic benefits of Ginseng.

COPD and Ginseng

Shortness of breath and chronic cough are common respiratory symptoms related to a history of cigarette smoking. They are frequently caused by chronic bronchitis (a chronic inflammatory condition in the airway) and emphysema (the destruction of the lung tissue). Collectively, these conditions are known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

COPD is divided into various stages to reflect the severity of symptoms and the impact on the patients’ quality of life. There is no available cure and all treatments provide symptomatic relief only. In addition, many of these medications have been reported to be associated with unwanted side effects.

Ginseng, a perennial plant root is known as a “precious tonic”, with particular benefits for lung and digestive functions. It has been used over centuries for improving stamina and vitality. Early clinical observation indicated potential benefit for patients with COPD.

The NHMRC Funded Study

RMIT University, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and is being run by a multi-disciplinary collaborative research team to rigorously evaluate the therapeutic benefit/s and safety of Ginseng for patients with moderate COPD.

Given the increasing prevalence and social burden associated with COPD, particularly in the elderly, this research is timely to explore alternatives that may help patients to improve their lung function and/or quality of life.

It has been estimated by the Australian Lung Foundation that one in five Australians over 40 is affected by this debilitating condition.

The Research Team


Professor Charlie Xue, Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine at RMIT University says there has been increasing interest in complementary and alternative medicine for the management of COPD. In Chinese herbal medicine, Ginseng has been used for thousands of years to treat breathlessness, fatigue as well as debilitation and reduced mental and physical capacities due to chronic illness. Recent laboratory studies have indicated that ginseng possesses a broad range of pharmacological actions.

Professor Frank Thien, Director of Respiratory Medicine at Box Hill Hospital, said “It is critical to provide effective symptomatic relief and to improve quality of life for COPD sufferers.”

“Some current COPD medications cause side effects, therefore alternative and safer treatments need to be investigated,” Professor Thien said.

Dr Christopher Worsnop, Senior Respiratory Physician at the Austin Hospital also recognises the significance of this research.

“This is the first trial of its kind, it will provide critical clinical data for a standardised ginseng extract for moderate COPD patients in areas of quality of life and lung function,” Dr Worsnop said.

The National Institute of Complementary Medicine has also contributed to the funding support of this study. The trial is registered with the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (No: ACTRN12610000768099).

The study will recruit 168 patients with moderate COPD, participants will be randomly assigned to receive 24 weeks of treatment with either Ginseng or placebo (an inactive look-alike medication) capsules.

Participants can participate in the trial at the:

  • Northern Hospital
  • Box Hill Hospital
  • Frankston Hospital

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Ginseng research video

Research volunteers needed

Do you suffer from shortness of breath or chronic cough?

Who is eligible?

If you are aged over 40, an ex-smoker or current smoker and suffer from shortness of breath or chronic cough, you may be eligible to participate.

Why participate?

Your participation is important and may lead to the development of an effective therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Where is the study being conducted?

Participants can participate in the trial at the Department of Respiratory Medicine at the:

  • Northern Hospital
  • Box Hill Hospital
  • Frankston Hospital

This study has been approved by the Austin Health Human Research Ethics Committee.

Interested in participating or want to know more about the study?