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More herbal ‘cures’ for COVID-19

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*Virgin coconut oil currently being tested as a possible treatment for novel coronavirus in the Philippines
*Madagascar launches Artemisia annua-based herbal drink to prevent, cure patients suffering from a virus
*No vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutrients or other natural medicines have been shown in human clinical trials to prevent or treat COVID-19, says Natural Medicine Journal, WHO, NCDC

Despite the insistence of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Natural Medicine Journal that no vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutrients or other natural medicines have been shown in human clinical trials to prevent or treat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), more cure claims are emerging from all over the world.

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From Ghana to Zimbabwe, Madagascar to China, Singapore and Philippines, the situation is the same: “We have a herbal cure for COVID-19.”

Top on the news is that Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is currently being tested as a possible treatment for COVID-19 in the Philippines. The clinical trial follows the earlier confirmation of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) that the anti-viral properties of the VCO were already being studied in Singapore.

Titled “Virgin Coconut Oil and Omega-3a Adjunctive Therapy for Hospitalised Patients with COVID-19,” the clinical study is being conducted by the DOST and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and in other hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Region IV-A CALABARZON.

According to Dr. Fabian Dayrit of the Ateneo De Manila University’s Department of Chemistry, VCO was recommended as a supplement and treatment for COVID-19 due to its antiviral properties. He compared VCO’s properties to a soap, which destroys membranes of viruses when used in washing hands.

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“The components of the coconut oil will act on the lipid membrane of the virus and destroy the membrane,” he explained. “The evidence for its antiviral properties is strong. And it’s based on evidence from different types of studies,” he added.

Dayrit has long been studying the efficacy of VCO in treating different types of diseases. In 1998, a pilot study conducted at the San Lazaro Hospital on the health benefits of VCO found that it could also help improve the health of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) patients.

According to Dayrit, when a patient ingests VCO, the enzymes in his body metabolise the coconut oil and release the active compounds, monolaurin and lauric acid. These active compounds are known to protect farm animals against bacteria and viruses.

Earlier this April, the DOST announced that it would fund clinical trials for VCO at the Philippine General Hospital and at various community quarantine facilities in the country. These tests involve mixing VCO with the food served to COVID-19 patients and persons on quarantine.

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Meanwhile, the WHO has reminded the public that the response to the pandemic should be guided both by science and evidence. “There is no robust scientific evidence that the virgin coconut oil has protected people from infection with COVID-19,” said the WHO. “Until there is sufficient evidence, WHO cautions against recommending or administering unproven treatments to patients with COVID-19 or people self-medicating with them.”

Also, the Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina has officially launched a medicine he believes can prevent and cure patients suffering from COVID-19.

Developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research and branded COVID Organics, President Rajaolina presented the so-called remedy to the press on Monday. It contains Artemisia annua, a plant cultivated on the Big Island to fight against malaria.

Artemisia annua, replete in Nigeria in commercial quantities, is the Chinese salad plant used in making Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT).

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“All trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in reducing the elimination of symptoms has been proven for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 in Madagascar,” the president said.

A presidential decree said COVID-organics is mandatory for children returning to school. President Rajaolina said Monday that it had cured two COVID-19 cases.

“The Covid-Organics will be distributed free of charge to our most vulnerable compatriots and sold at very low prices to others. All profits will be donated to IMRA to finance scientific research,” the president wrote on Twitter.

“I’m convinced that, in fact, history will prove us, but today there are already two cases that have been cured with the Covid-organics, but we’ll actually see what happens next.”

“Covid Organics will be used in prophylaxis, that is preventive, but clinical observations have shown a trend towards its effectiveness in curative, other clinical studies are currently underway,” he stressed at the launch.

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The president had previously made claims about herbal remedies despite the scientific opinion that there is currently no cure for COVID-19 and that any experimental formula should be rigorously tested to see if it is safe and effective.

Also, a Ghanaian nurse based in the United States of America (USA) and her family claim to have defeated COVID-19 using the traditional method of the use of herbs. A mixture of ginger, garlic and grain of semen saved a woman and her family from COVID-19.

Narrating her ordeal, the health worker, whose name was only given as Akua, recounted how she contracted the virus unknowingly after having contacts with some patients at her facility who later were diagnosed as COVID 19 patients.

According to the 38-year-old mother of two, she started showing symptoms of the disease and isolated herself from her husband and two children aged eight and four.

As an asthmatic patient, Akua indicated she sensed how dangerous it was to contract the virus and therefore made much effort to be free from it.

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Speaking in a telephone interview on Peace FM’s ‘Kokrokoo’ programme Friday, April 10, 2020, she revealed how she resorted to the use of concoction produced by herself.

“I soaked garlic, ginger and grains of selim in water for 24 hours and I started taking it. Apart from the taking of the concoction orally, I also used another traditional healing method where for 20 minutes each morning, I sat by a bucket full of hot water and covered myself with a blanket so as for the body to absorb all the heat from the hot water”, she told host, Kwame Sefa Kayi as monitored by Ghanaguardian.com.

According to the US-based nurse, her husband and their two children who also showed symptoms and later tested positive, equally relied on the same methods to get healed.

Also, an Editorial on “Redeploying plant defences” published in the journal Nature Plants noted: “The complicated secondary metabolism of plants has been the source of countless medicinal compounds and leads for drug discovery. It is little surprise then that plant products and their analogues have been employed as an early line of defence against COVID-19. On 17 February, the Chinese State Council announced that chloroquine phosphate — a structural analogue of quinine, originally extracted from the bark of cinchona trees — could be used for treating COVID-19 patients. This anti-malarial also has broad-spectrum antiviral activity and regulatory effects on the immune system.

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Clinical evaluation of chloroquine phosphate in more than ten hospitals across several provinces in China has shown that it alleviates the symptoms for most patients and expedites virus seroconversion.

“The epidemiologist Nanshan Zhong, who is credited with discovering the SARS coronavirus in 2003 and is advising on the management of the COVID-19 outbreak, has said that chloroquine phosphate is not a highly effective cure but its effects deserve attention, even though its pharmaceutical mechanism remains unclear. However, quinine and quinine derivatives have been used for two hundred years, and the bark from which it is extracted for far longer. Their safe usage and potential side effects are well established.”

According to the journal, another compound from herbal remedies recruited to control COVID-19 is diammonium glycyrrhizinate, an extract of liquorice roots. Liquorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, has long been employed against coughs and colds as well as to settle disturbed digestion, while diammonium glycyrrhizinate has anti-inflammatory activity and is used to treat liver damage caused by hepatitis B. Professor Hong Ding of Wuhan University has proposed a combination of diammonium glycyrrhizinate and vitamin C as a COVID-19 therapy. This approach became popular through social media and reporting in publications such as the Health Times (Jiankang Shibao). It has not been officially recommended, but clinical trials have recently been approved.

The rich tradition of herbal medicine in China is also being deployed against COVID-19. In the newest version of the diagnosis and treatment plan issued by the National Health of Commission of China, traditional Chinese medicine decoctions are explicitly recommended. Several patent herbal drugs, such as Huoxiang Zhengqi capsules, Lianhua Qingwen capsules and Radix isatidis granula, are being proposed as treatments, the latter two having also been used during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 1 (SARS-CoV) outbreak in 2003. Boli Zhang, a leading traditional Chinese medicine expert advising on COVID-19 management, claims that such herbal medicines have been very useful in improving symptoms such as coughing, weakness and digestive system disorders as well as alleviating anxiety.

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According to the Nature Plants, compared to chemical drugs, herbal medicines and plant natural products are less understood mechanistically, but several clinical investigations have been started to more precisely evaluate their effects. For example, a project led by Nanshan Zhong aims to investigate the effects of Lianhua Qingwen on COVID-19. As Zhong says, drug development in Chinese medicine is largely based on experiences from clinical practices, which is philosophically different from the routine drug development strategy, and so may have several advantages.

In routine drug development, researchers first discover a drug molecule with potential therapeutic activity against a certain target, then optimize its structure and validate its function using in vitro experiments followed by animal and clinical trials. By contrast, many herbal drugs have been used in clinics for hundreds or thousands of years, and thus their safety and effects have been repeatedly tested; chloroquine phosphate has been used to treat malaria for over 70 years. Timeliness is another advantage, particularly during emergencies. Once a herbal decoction or component is found to be effective, it can be immediately used for treating patients, its safety already established.

According to the journal, anti-viral herbal medicines have been used in many historic epidemics, for example, the previous two coronavirus outbreaks (SARS-CoV in 2013 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome/MERS-CoV in 2012), seasonal epidemics caused by influenza viruses and dengue virus. Extracts from Lycoris radiate, Artemisia annua and Lindera aggregate, and the natural products isolated from Isatis indigotica, Torreya nucifera and Houttuynia cordata, showed anti-SARS effects. The plant flavone baicalein can prevent dengue virus entry into the host and inhibit post-entry replication. Additionally, natural products from Pelargonium sidoides roots and dandelion have anti-influenza activities, as they inhibit virus entry and key viral enzyme activities.

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The journal noted that like chloroquine phosphate, these herbal medicines are generally not highly potent and thus cannot be regarded as a cure.

Nature Plants noted: “Nevertheless, as a complementary treatment they can elevate recovery rates when combined with other treatments. In an emergency like the current COVID-19 outbreak, drugs like remdesivir- an experimental drug developed against Ebola and recently held up by WHO Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward as the only “drug right now that we think may have real efficacy”- take time to pass clinical trials, but readily available herbal medicines and natural products with proven safety can buy time as the first line of defence.

“Plants are important not only for food but also for medicine. Understanding the taxonomy, ecology and conservation of herbs, as well as the pathways of secondary metabolite synthesis, is important for drug development. Investing in research into ethnobotany, phytochemistry, plant physiology and ecology will be vital in protecting the global population from current and future pandemics.”

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Also, the Natural Medicine Journal noted: “We would like to take a moment and urge all integrative healthcare professionals to take the lead in helping to dispel the myths and misinformation circulating about COVID-19 and natural medicine. Specifically, it should be clearly communicated to others—patients, colleagues, manufacturers—that there are no vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutrients or other natural medicines that have been shown in human clinical trials to prevent or treat COVID-19.

“While some natural medicines in the form of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other nutrients can help enhance immunity, such measures should not replace social distancing, quarantining when necessary, or any other recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 infection.

“Please remember that even if a patient’s immune system is strong, that patient may still carry and transmit the virus. While this pandemic is unfolding quickly, the prevalence of carriers in communities is currently not known…”.

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