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Chinese Herbs in the Treatment of COVID-19: Part 1

This is the first in a series of three short articles to help people understand the effectiveness of Chinese herbs in the treatment of especially mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, the coronavirus otherwise known as SARS-CoV-2 that is currently bringing the world to its knees. My aim is also to provide people with an overview of how Chinese herbal formulas work in the treatment of viral illness; people can often do more damage than good attempting to self treat with OTC herbal remedies. As far as Western medicine goes, we are under the impression that we have little hope beyond some promising preliminary antimalarial and antiviral medications, and a distant future vaccine, that stand between us and a real “cure”. But, here are two facts with which you may be completely unfamiliar:

FACT 1: Did you know that as of late February 2020, Chinese herbal medicine has been utilized in most patients in China with COVID-19? In fact, more than 85 percent of patients in China who were diagnosed with COVID-19, or approximately 60,000 people, received Chinese herbal medicine along with Western medicine treatments. Chinese herbal medicine was used extensively both in local communities to successfully prevent the need for more intensive medical care, and in hospitals combined with Western medicine treatments.

During the time period from late November 2019 when the virus first surfaced until now, there has been a significant amount of data collected about the treatment of COVID-19 symptoms with Chinese herbal formulations--so much so that they prominently appear in not only the first but a second edition of a manual recently produced in the People’s Republic of China entitled “Guidance for Corona Virus Disease 2019: Prevention, Control, Diagnosis, and Management”. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we heard more about these types of investigative reports in the media?

FACT 2: There were at least 320 large-scale epidemics in China between the Eastern Han and Qing Dynasty, a period of time lasting roughly 2000 years. During this time precise and detailed systems of treating clusters of viral symptoms in progressive stages with targeted herbal formulas were created and recorded in such classics as the 1800 year old Chinese medical text on externally contracted diseases by Zhang Zhong Jing called the Shang Han Lun, and Treatise on Epidemic Febrile Diseases or Wen Re Lun, published by Ye Gui during the Qing Dynasty in 1746.

These Chinese herbal formulas and the methods that were designed to diagnose and treat waves of new viral epidemics that arose during this time, are quite effective, and are still in widespread use today both across Asia, and by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) all over the world. Part of the standard study in TCM schools includes an in depth study of what we term “Externally Contracted Disease”, or disease caused by pathogenic influence. I have always thought that one of the greatest gifts I received from an education in Chinese herbal medicine, was my introduction to, and subsequent use of, these potent antiviral formulas which have served both myself and my family very well over the years in the treatment of colds and flus.

The Chinese materia medica includes many herbs that are potently antiviral and antibacterial, but they are never used alone; they are combined with other herbs depending on symptom presentation. There are strong Heat-clearing herbs for fever and inflammation; herbs that clear Damp and Phlegm and different herbs that target nasal, sinus, bronchial, lung, and inner ear congestion; herbs that “descend Lung Qi” and specifically treat cough or asthma and difficulty breathing; herbs that “clear Toxins” or clear out by products produced from the body’s own immune system battling viruses or other pathogens; herbs that target the gastrointestinal system and treat nausea, loss of appetite and diarrhea caused by viral or bacterial attack; herbs that clear rash and pox caused by viral illnesses such as measles and chicken pox; and herbs that protect and strengthen the immune system so that the body can fight harder, called “Wei Qi” in Chinese medicine.

I was astonished when I first started learning Chinese herbal medicine, at both the breathtaking simplicity and the elegant yet complex combining of herbs: treating a patient is like putting all the pieces of the puzzle together that at once attempts to address any pre-existing constitutional issues that may impede recovery, and at the same time addresses any symptoms that are currently present. The formulas change as the symptoms change, no matter how quickly this may occur, and a good practitioner follows the patient like a hawk, supporting the body’s many attempts to relieve itself of its “invader”. Because after all, the “symptoms” of a virus are the patients’ own efforts to fight and expel the virus, and not the virus itself. When we try to suppress these symptoms with medications such as Ibuprofen and steroids, this often worsens the situation in the long run. (And of course I am not stating here that there is never a time for Ibuprofen or steroids.)

In the next two parts of this article I am going to share with you over this next week I will explain in simple terms how we diagnose and treat viral illness in TCM. Finally, I will talk about specific individual herbs that have been found to especially target both SARS and COVID-19 (the viruses share 96 percent in genome) and prevent entry into host cells. I will also address why individual “antiviral” or “anti-COVID-19” herbs should not be used on their own, and why attempting to self-treat with OTC herbal formulas or single herbs is not recommended, and can even be harmful if used incorrectly.

Here at DCA we are offering herbal consults, which you can book online through MindBody Monday through Thursday, or send us an email and we will get you set up with a consult. Herbal formulas will be placed outside our clinic in a lockbox for pick up, or alternatively can be ordered through online Chinese herbal pharmacies, and drop shipped directly to your home.

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