TCM and COVID-19: China conducting trials to test efficacy and safety of traditional herbal interventions

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

TCM have shown to be fruitful in the fight against other infectious diseases like SARS and influenza, and help improve immunity and recovery ©GettyImages
TCM have shown to be fruitful in the fight against other infectious diseases like SARS and influenza, and help improve immunity and recovery ©GettyImages

Related tags China TCM COVID-19

China is conducting clinical trials to assess the effectiveness and safety of combining traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and conventional Western antiviral medicine in the treatment of patients with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Yu Yanhong, deputy head of China's National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine under the National Health Commission, said more than 50,000 infected patients who received TCM treatment had recovered and were discharged.

In a recent briefing​ focusing on these TCM treatments, Yu said there were six TCM medicines and formulas involved, namely the herbal products jinhua qinggan granule, lianhua qingwen capsule, huashi baidu formula, and xuanfei baidu formula, along with xuebijing injection, lung cleansing and detoxifying decoction,.

She explained that TCM has shown to be fruitful in the fight against other infectious diseases like SARS and influenza, and help improve immunity and recovery. With the current lack of vaccines and medicines to prevent or treat infected coronavirus patients, the use of TCM is one method that merit exploration, she added.

She further described how experts have even proposed a TCM plan for patients. For patients with light or mild symptoms, experts proposed using TCM first, with doctors seeing symptoms being relieved and not turning into severe cases.

In patients with severe symptoms or critically ill, they suggest a combination of Chinese and Western medicines. Yu said for these patients, doctors were exploring stem cell therapy to reduce the mortality rate.

They also suggested a recovery period which consist of TCM, acupuncture, and other methods to promote patient recovery.

Yu said: “We are willing to let more people understand the methods of Chinese medicine, and we are also willing to share the treatment experience of Chinese medicine with the international community​.”

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new virus and there are currently no drugs available for its treatment and prevention.

China trials

There are now a number of clinical trials underway in China involving TCM in the fight against COVID-19.

In one clinical trial​ documented on the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, researchers at the Affiliated Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Southwest Medical University are evaluating the effects of a traditional Chinese herbal  medicine (Qing Fei detoxification decoction mixture) for the prevention and treatment of pneumonia-causing COVID-19.

Qing Fei is a traditional Chinese remedy used for the treatment of chronic respiratory diseases.

In another clinical trial​ by scientists at the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health, First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University, they are conducting a randomised, controlled trial on the integration of Chinese and Western medicine for the treatment of COVID-19.

A total of 40 patients will be divided into two groups: Group A (TCM and standard therapy), Group B (standard therapy, control group).

Group A would be given arbidol hydrochloride tablets (arbidol is used for treating influenza in adults), and the Chinese herbal medicine, Liushen.

Another clinical trial​ is also assessing the efficacy and safety of combining TCM medicine (ma xing shi gang tang also known as maxing shigan powder) with conventional therapy to treat COVID-19.

Maxing shigan powder is a Chinese herbal decoction used for the treatment of the common cold, fever, and influenza virus infections.

In this double-blind trial, a total of 100 patients will be grouped into test and control. The test group will receive a treatment of TCM and Western medicine. The control group will receive a placebo (TCM) and Western medicine treatment.

The trial will be conducted at the Affiliated Hospital of Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, although the study has not been approved by the Ethics Committee.

Traditional medicines

According to Taiwan’s health food manufacturer Grape King Bio’s general manager, Chen Jinchu, demand for its herbal medicine such as Ganoderma, also called Lingzhi, has grown since the outbreak started.

Chen explained COVID-19 is caused by an RNA virus, hence countries worldwide have been treating it with other medications for influenza and AIDS.

For instance, current clinical trials have been testing Remdesivir​ which is a drug used to treat Ebola, and was also found to inhibit the SARS and MERS virus.

Chen told NutraIngredients-Asia,​ current scientific literature had identified compounds obtained from medicinal mushroom such as Hispidin and Hypholomine B, as potential agents against the RNA virus.

One expert, Dr. Dilip Ghosh, director at Nutriconnect in Australia said: “Traditional medicines may possess some advantages in preventing or treating strains resistant to drugs against single viral target.”

However, he said some experts have questioned the efficacy of these traditional Chinese medicine remedies.

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