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It’s Too Soon to Treat COVID-19 With Herbs

Readers are anxious to find ways to treat COVID-19 with herbs, but investigators have not yet published the results of clinical trials.
It’s Too Soon to Treat COVID-19 With Herbs
Andrographis paniculata proposed as a way to treat COVID-19 with herbs

As the pandemic wears on, and cases rise ominously in many places, some readers wish for natural approaches to manage the disease. Vaccination is very good (though not perfect) for preventing infection. Vitamins have, sadly, fallen short in clinical trials. Can you treat COVID-19 with herbs or other natural products?

Is There a Way to Treat COVID-19 with Herbs?

Q. I’ve spent several hundred hours researching herbs for COVID-19. Most important of these is Andrographis paniculata, an herb used for hundreds of years in Ayurvedic medicine for a number of ailments. People in India use it for flu and colds. It is also being used in Thailand for COVID-19 treatment. What do you think?

A. The botanical medicine made from Andrographis paniculata has been used as cough medicine. Years ago, researchers did a pilot study of this herb to treat cold symptoms, with promising results (Phytomedicine, Feb. 1997).

According to the journal HerbalGram (Feb-April, 2021), the government of Thailand approved a pilot study of Andrographis in December 2020 to treat SARS-CoV-2. Patients take capsules of the herb within three days of symptom onset to treat mild COVID-19 infections. The researchers suggest that giving such symptomatic relief as early as possible increases the chance it will help. They have not yet finalized the study and published their results.

Could Other Herbs Help in This Pandemic?

Many scientists would like to use botanical medicines to ease the effects of this deadly pandemic. The potential is appealing, especially given the scarcity of conventional medicines for COVID-19.

Computer analyses suggest that certain herbs, such as Boswellia, Curcuma longa (turmeric), Echinacea, Glycyrrhiza (licorice) or Sambucus (elderberry), might improve the immune response (Phytotherapy Research, Dec. 29, 2020). So far, this is theoretical. However, others propose that compounds in Andrographis paniculata as well as Curcuma longa might bind to SARS-CoV-2 and inhibit its ability to infect cells (Future Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, online Oct. 16, 2020).

So far, however, we have not seen results from clinical trials demonstrating that such plant-derived medicines are effective. Until researchers report on the results of a randomized controlled trial, we would not recommend relying upon any herbal approach to treat this potentially deadly infection.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Melchior J et al, "Controlled clinical study of standardized Andrographis paniculata extract in common cold - a pilot trial." Phytomedicine, Feb. 1997. DOI: 10.1016/S0944-7113(97)80002-5
  • Yearsley C, "Thailand Approves Asian Herb Andrographis to Treat COVID-19." HerbalGram, Feb-April, 2021.
  • Brendler T et al, "Botanical drugs and supplements affecting the immune response in the time of COVID-19: Implications for research and clinical practice." Phytotherapy Research, Dec. 29, 2020. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.7008
  • Rajagopal K et al, "Activity of phytochemical constituents of Curcuma longa (turmeric) and Andrographis paniculata against coronavirus (COVID-19): an in silico approach." Future Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, online Oct. 16, 2020. DOI: 10.1186/s43094-020-00126-x
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