Integrative Medicine and Coronavirus

Caution: This posting is meant to share interesting science coming out related to COVID-19. It is not meant to suggest that you look to herbs or any other form of alternative medicine in lieu of recommended guidelines. Stay home and wash your hands!

I mean, really. How can you write about anything else this week? First, a few notes from the field and PSAs on the Western side of things. What’s most critical right now is testing those with high likelihood (there are 3 main symptoms- cough, fever, and shortness of breath), and treating those who develop severe symptoms (such as pneumonia). For most of us, preventative measures like hand washing and social distancing are the best way we can take care of not only ourselves, but others who are more vulnerable.

But I digress, this is an Integrative Medicine blog. For those of us in most of the world, we will have to function within the framework we have in place to get through the next month or so. But in China, they have long used Western medicine alongside Traditional Chinese Medicine, and have been doing research to see how these two theories of health and disease can complement each other. I’d like to highlight below some of those very early findings (with a note that of course, you should do everything stated above in addition to (not instead of) any of the suggestions which follow).

It is of course too soon to look at anything but anecdotal evidence for COVID-19 specifically. But we can look to history for related diseases of the recent past. For instance, a study from the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine noted better outcomes for patients with SARS and H1N1 flu who had a combined approach, noting, “the main principles of CM (Chinese Medicine) use were to tonify qi to protect from external pathogens, disperse wind and discharge heat, and resolve dampness. The most frequently used herbs included Radix astragali (Huangqi), Radix glycyrrhizae (Gancao), Radix saposhnikoviae (Fangfeng), Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Baizhu), Lonicerae Japonicae Flos (Jinyinhua), and Fructus forsythia (Lianqiao).” Of course, in practical terms, many of us don’t have access to these herbs here in the US (though there has been a spike in demand in Chinese herb shops in NYC). But perhaps as interest in Chinese Medicine grows, practitioners here can start to formulate and scale up production for similar epidemics to come. Perhaps the most accessible herb for many of us to consider using today is cinnamon.

On the ground now, China has deployed Traditional Chinese Medicine on over 80% or some 60,000 cases to help with both prevention and mitigation of symptoms, with reportedly over 91% of cases showing results. Early reports show that coronavirus sufferers have specific pulse patterns and tongue characteristics on examination. Specific herbs have been demonstrated to have anti-viral properties. They also indicate 3 specific acupuncture points that may help with symptoms.

The WHO is now actively following some 80 clinical trials (some incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine) going on in China to see what can be learned from the massive data being accumulated during this pandemic. While it’s too early to say much definitely, it is likely this crisis will lead to a flourishing of research on the best Integrative approaches in the days ahead for similar outbreaks. We will be sure to share them as the come!

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