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Herbal lockdown of COVID-19: Solution to pandemic?

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Odukoya

In a televised address on Monday, April 13, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari said, “it has become necessary to extend the current restriction of movement. It is a matter of life and death. The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.”

The recent outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in December 2019 raised global health concerns. The first case of the novel coronavirus was reported on December 30, 2019, in Wuhan city, Hubei province, Peoples Republic (P.R.) of China. The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) for the 2019-nCoV outbreaks on January 30, 2020, permanently named the 2019-nCoV pathogen as SARS-CoV-2 and the causing disease as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019) in February 2020 and formally recognized the COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020.

No doubt, COVID-19—previously known as novel coronavirus 2019 (nCoV-19)—has brought once-bustling cities to a standstill as governments and public health officials try to contain the epidemic.

Lock down is this the solution?
With the increasing number of cases and deaths worldwide, experts remain unsure if the worst is over or if it is yet to come. In Nigeria, Health experts have raised alarms over the impact of a major coronavirus outbreak, warning that the country’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed.

At the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 are healthcare workers, who risk their lives daily as they screen, diagnose and treat those infected. However, working hard behind the scenes are scientists racing to understand the virus, in hopes of finally ending the outbreak.

Pharmacognosy in particular plays a crucial role in the development of new molecules from nature (Medicinal plants and other natural products) to design or guide the search for novel antiviral drugs.

Understanding COVID-19
COVID-19 belongs to a subset of viruses known as coronaviruses—so called for the ‘crown’ of spike proteins that dot the viral surface. The coronavirus spike protein is a multifunctional molecular machine that mediates coronavirus entry into host cells. The spike protein exists in two structurally distinct conformations, prefusion and post-fusion. The transition from prefusion to post-fusion conformation of the spike protein must be triggered, leading to membrane fusion.

Underneath its royal exterior lies a lengthy strand of ribonucleic acid (RNA), which serves as the viruses’ genetic material. When COVID-19 infects a cell, it hijacks the existing molecular machinery to create long chains of proteins required by the virus to generate even more copies of itself.

These long viral proteins, however, only become functional when cut into smaller pieces by proteases. Thus, coronavirus proteases like that of COVID-19’s play an integral role in propagating the virus.

Similar to a lock and its key, the protease’s activity is triggered by the binding of molecules to specific points on the protease called active sites. The binding of a substrate effectively switches the protease on, allowing it to cut the long viral protein strands into smaller chains.

Molecules called inhibitors can also block the protease’s activity. When an inhibitor attaches to an active site, it prevents the binding of substrates—stopping the action of the protease altogether. Therefore, finding an inhibitor for COVID-19’s protease may be the first step to beating the epidemic.

Nature’s kindness to man
The resources at our backyards are nature’s first point of access to health and wellbeing to use as medicines. Checking on literature as to the characteristics of COVID-19 and some of green vegetables and spices that have been studied in the past, these ones could be sources of lead compounds to manage the pandemic.

Papaya
The proteinase activities for all coronaviruses include papain-like proteinase (PLP). Papain, also known as papaya proteinase I, is a cysteine protease enzyme present in Papaya (Carica papaya) is well known for its exceptional and medicinal properties throughout the world. Papaya has natural inhibitors complexed to papain as recorded by Monti et al., 2004. Can this block the proteinase activities of COVID-19’s protease and be the key to lockdown the activity of the virus naturally? Papaya plant including its leaves, seeds, ripe and unripe fruits and their juice is used as traditional medicine. Nowadays, Papaya is considered as a nutraceutical due to its multifaceted medicinal properties. The prominent medicinal properties of papaya include: diuretic, uretonic, anti-hypertensive, hypolipidemic, anti-helmintic, wound healing, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antitumor, immune-modulatory activity and free radical scavenging activities.

The enzyme papain has been found helpful in lowering inflammation and Papaya contributes to a healthy immune system by increasing resistance to coughs and colds because of its vitamin A and C contents. Carica papaya constituents exhibit alkaline combination, which will make the blood alkaline from acid created by the COVID-19 virus.

Garlic, ginger, capsicum and Xylopia
Findings from a new study released by Chinese researchers, Dr. Wenzhong Liu from Sichuan University and Dr. Hualan Li from Yibin University has revealed that the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus attacks hemoglobin in the red blood cells through a series of cellular actions that ultimately renders the red blood cells incapable of transporting oxygen. The research discovered that some of these Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus proteins hijack the red blood cells and remove the Iron ions from the heme groups (HBB) and replace themselves with it. This makes the hemoglobin unable to transport oxygen.

The attack will cause less and less hemoglobin that can carry oxygen and carbon dioxide. The lung cells have extremely intense poisoning and inflammation due to the inability to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen frequently, which eventually results in ground-glass-like lung images. As a result, the lungs are stressed out and inflamed while the rest of the organs are also being affected and subsequent organ failure could be attributed to this. Therefore, the belief that the damage of the virus to the human body is systemic not confined to the respiratory system. Thus, the need for antioxidants in the management of COVID-19 and justifies the use of ascorbic acid, Vitamin C as adjunct therapy in management of COVID-19.

Odukoya et al., 2005 and 2007 in the study of Nigerian leafy green vegetables and food spices found that spices containing high phenolics provide a source of dietary anti-oxidants and in addition to imparting flavor to the food, they possess potential health benefits by inhibiting lipid peroxidation and justifies their traditional use in pepper soup as a cure for all medicine for the sick and potential use as a value-added ingredient for stabilizing food matrixes against lipid peroxidation reactions.

Garlic, Ginger, Capsicum and Xylopia are used in Traditional Medicine because they are rich in polyphenols and have high antioxidant capacity. In addition, these spices have antimicrobial activity. Using these spices together potentiates activity synergistically. Rosella (Zobo) as well as Spondias (Spondias mombin) have high levels of Vitamin C and will render the COVID-19 spike proteins less active.

Garlic, Ginger, Capsicum and Xylopia complex is also used in the traditional management of cough and bronchitis as well as a carminative.

Professor Olukemi A. Odukoya at the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos has put combination of these vegetables and spices together as a tincture. The mixture is not yet evaluated nor listed by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control/NAFDAC for extemporaneous use to alleviate the sufferings from the pandemic. As we stay at home to prevent community transmission, lets give it a trial for both management and prevention!

The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions on deductions of the author based on logical reasons from published research results.

*Olukemi Odukoya is a professor of Pharmacognosy at the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos. Email olukemiodukoya@yahoo.com
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