Known as Qingfeijianpi therapy, it is used to cure 'damp-heat syndrome', which refers to internal dampness combined with heat in the body, and characterised by symptoms such as water retention, phlegm discharge, and nodular masses.
The Qingfeijianpi prescription consists of Ephedra (an evergreen shrub), gypsum (a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dehydrate), Scutellaria (a flowering plant), M. alba (white mulberry), Prunella (a herbaceous plant), Magnolia, fried Xanthium (a flowering plant), raw semen coicis (the dried mature seed of a perennial herbaceous plant), poria (a type of mushroom), and antelope horn powder.
TCM practitioners have used this method for at least a decade, but so far, no study has been conducted on its efficacy.
Herbs against hay fever
The researchers sought to test the effectiveness and safety of Qingfeijianpi therapy on persistent allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever.
They recruited 101 patients and randomly divided them into two groups. The participants in the treatment group were each given a Qingfeijianpi decoction, taking one dose a day for four weeks.
Each of the participants in the control group, on the other hand, was given one 10mg loratadine tablet a day for four weeks; loratadine is an antihistamine meant to treat symptoms related to hay fever, such a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing.
After the treatment period, there was a follow-up period of 16 weeks — of the 101 patients recruited, 96 completed the entire study.
The researchers used four nasal (nasal congestion or itching, sneezing, and runny nose) and two eye symptoms (itchiness and tearing) to determine if there were any improvements in the patients.
These symptoms were self-assessed and recorded daily according to the scoring standard on a four-point scale, 0 being 'none' and 3 being 'severe or insufferable'.
They also employed the TCM syndrome score, which calculated four main symptoms (nasal congestion or itching, sneezing, and runny nose) and six secondary symptoms (irritability, dry mouth, dry stool, red tongue, yellow greasy coating, and slippery pulse).
A similar four-point scale was used to assess most of the symptoms, except irritability, dry mouth and dry stool, which were assessed using a two-point scale (0 for 'none' and 1 for 'yes').
These scores were assessed at eight time points: every week for the first four weeks, then in the eighth , 12th and 16th weeks.
They then observed that after the four-week treatment period, the mean difference in symptom scores in the treatment group was similar to that of the control group.
However, during the follow-up, the decrease in symptom scores was better in the treatment group than in the control group
They added that these findings were consistent with the results of previous TCM studies on hay fever: the herbs used in Qingfeijianpi therapy to treat the illness had “exhibited a good immediate effect, as well as good long-term effects".
Furthermore, the treatment was well-tolerated by the participants, who experienced almost no adverse events.
The researchers also claimed that the symptoms of the patients in the control group "gradually returned to the initial state of the disease", saying that the TCM syndrome scores between the two groups showed the largest difference, which could be a crucial factor for preventing recurrence.
They were able to list the benefits of the individual ingredients in Qingfeijianpi: gypsum, Scutellaria, M. alba and antelope horn powder cleared lung-heat, while raw semen coicis and Poria had positive effects on the spleen, and Magnolia and fried Xanthium cleared the nasal passages.
But when it came to Western medicine, they conceded that the pharmacological mechanisms in this case were unclear.
Bias and contradiction
Indeed, it was not the first time a clinical trial had found a TCM formula to be able to remove 'heat' from or lower inflammation in the body.
The researchers behind the study concluded: "The Qingfeijianpi therapy may provide a safe and effective option for the treatment of persistent allergic rhinitis with damp-heat syndrome. However, there is possibility of potential bias or imprecision in this study.
"It is a non-blind study of Western medicine and Chinese medicine. The main evaluation index is the symptom score which has the possibility of the subjective deviation of the patient, (and) it may make the score difference of the treatment group more obvious.”
"Qingfeijianpi therapy for persistent allergic rhinitis: A randomized, positive-controlled clinical trial"
Authors: Jing Qu, et al.