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Are Chinese herbs the key to treating COVID-19?

April 19, 2020 by Kimberly Drake

As health officials, researchers and government agencies scramble at a record pace to develop vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, the American public, along with most of the world, await for a novel therapy to emerge that will put an end to this highly concerning pandemic. What’s most interesting, and surprisingly ignored by western medicine, is the research currently underway in China on the role Traditional Chinese Medicine may play in eradicating the disease. According to preliminary data, the country where this virus originated might also be the birthplace of a potential cure.

In a review recently published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, by researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese Medicine, and the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences, University of Macau, China, scientists report that in addition to conventional supportive care, “greater than 85% of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients in China are receiving Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment.”

According to the review, as of Feb. 5, 214 COVID-19 patients were treated with the traditional herbal preparation, Qing Fei Pai Du Tang, in four Chinese provinces with an overall effectiveness rate of around 90%. Symptoms in a majority of patients were markedly improved, while illness in the remaining patients was stabilized. After further analysis of the clinical efficacy of another herbal remedy, Lian Hua Qing Wen, in the treatment of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, “it was found that this herbal product could markedly relieve major symptoms such as fever and cough and could promote recovery.”

Backtracking to evidence gathered during the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, researchers report compelling evidence that supports the possibility that a wide variety of traditional medicine may have a beneficial effect in the treatment or prevention of SARS-like viruses. According to the review, the fatality rate in Beijing during the SARS outbreak was initially more than 52% until May of 2003, when it gradually decreased to 1-4%. Investigators believe the dramatic reduction in death rates was directly associated with the use of TCM as a supplement to conventional therapy.

The evidence that supports this is extensive, as the review also reports that during this 2002-03 outbreak, 1063 volunteers, including 926 hospital workers and 37 laboratory technicians working in high-risk viral laboratories, used the TCM herbal extracts, Sang Ju Yin and Yu Ping Feng San. In those that used the herbal preparation, none were infected, in comparison to a 0.4% infection rate in individuals who did not use the extracts.

The research is not only coming from Chinese scientists but other countries as well. In a 2003 study published in the Lancet, one of the oldest and most prestigious medical journals in the world, laboratory investigation revealed a compound in the most frequently used Chinese herb, licorice root, inhibited the replication of the SARS virus.

In the current COVID-19 outbreak, a total of 303 ongoing clinical trials investigating treatments for the virus are underway in China, with 50 looking into the use of TCM. Additionally, the (Chinese) National Health Commission (NHC) has issued guidelines for clinicians in 26 provinces that TCM should be used in combination with conventional medicine to treat those infected with this novel strain of coronavirus.

According to the latest edition of Guidelines of Diagnosis and Treatment for COVID-19 published by the NHC, the following Chinese herbal products are recommended for patients as a preventive measure, including Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Shui, Lian Hua Qing Wen and Shu Feng Jie Du Capsules and Jin Hua Qing Gan Granule. For the treatment of infection, the NHC recommends, Qing Fei Pai Du Tang, as well as injections of Xi Yan Ping, Xue Bi Jing, Re Du Ning, Tan Re Qing, and Xing Nao Jing. For patients in critical condition, recommendations include injections of Shen Fu, Sheng Mai, Shen Mai, along with Su He Xiang pills and An Gong Niu Huang.

The International Journal of Biological Sciences review also addresses the concern over the immune system reaction associated with a coronavirus infection called the cytokine storm, where a patient with a seemingly mild case suddenly progresses to severe disease. Investigators state, “there is compelling evidence that some TCM herbal products or its components have potent immunosuppressive effects, as shown by our own and other’s studies.”

Although the researchers say the “safety of TCM used in the treatment of emerging coronavirus infections should be carefully evaluated,” this body of research is exceptionally intriguing, to say the least. The irony that the origin of this modern-day epidemic may also be the source of a cure, a cure rooted in ancient tradition, is hard to ignore. Despite the resistance towards herbal treatments by Western medicine in general, the global science community, including the United States, should be jumping on this research bandwagon in a worldwide effort to find the treatments needed to fight COVID-19, no matter where they reside.

Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected]

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