As discussed in the article Accuracy of COVID-19 Testing, during the Autumn of 2019 Chinese government authorites reported that a new strain of coronavirus was responsible for almost 200 Chinese citizens becoming mysteriously ill with severe respiratory symptoms that resembled a type of pneumonia. Since then, the coronavirus of 2019, or COVID-19, has been blamed for the deaths of over 4.5 million people worldwide.
Around the world, massive amounts of resources have been mobilized to combat the newly discovered illness. World government and health agencies have attempted to minimize the spread using mandated experimental testing and vaccination programs, self and hospital quarantine, and closure of businesses, factories and provinces. In China, they even constructed entire new hospitals within just weeks.
China has also leaned on its use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the fight against COVID-19. In February of 2020, Chinese health authorities reported that upwards to about 90 percent (90%) of COVID-19 patients in China had been given a combined treatment of TCM herbal formulas and pharmaceutical drugs. Chinese health authorities have gone on to highly recommend TCM therapies as an effective tool to ease COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and breathing difficulties.
TCM experts from Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine were even put in charge of Jiangxia Module Hospital, one of the medical facilities purposely built to treat COVID-19 with TCM. The team has reported that while there's no cure for the virus yet, TCM has proven to be effective in fighting infection by strengthening people’s immune system and stopping patients from developing symptoms when they are in the early stages of COVID-19 illness. The team announced in February 2020, "After analyzing case reports from different areas, we have reached a conclusion that TCM is able to prevent mild cases from getting worse.”
TCM: Ancient Wisdom For Modern Infections
For those familiar with TCM, this news comes as no surprise. For over 2,000 years, the Chinese have utilized TCM for every major infectious epidemic and pandemic that has affected its people.
In one of the surviving ancient foundational texts of TCM titled the Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon (Huangdi Neijing 黃帝內經), ancient Chinese physicians provide the protocol for using TCM against a plague of a transmittable illness with pneumonia-like respiratory symptoms that are remarkably similar to those being associated with COVID-19 cases.
Other texts that followed hundreds of years later, including On Cold Injury (Shanghan Lun 伤寒论) and Essential Prescriptions From the Golden Cabinet (Jingui Yaolue 金匮要略), recorded therapies and herbal medicine formulas that were effective at treating endemic infectious diseases involving chills, fevers, sweating, chest discomfort and congestion, coughing with sputum, nasal congestion, headaches, and constipation.
More recently, in 2003 Chinese health authorities encouraged the use of TCM when an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, was declared a public health emergency in mainland China. At the time, TCM was widely promoted in Chinese media as “one of the most powerful weapons” to ward off the deadly SARS disease, leading to increased popularity as a treatment in China, Hong Kong and Macao.
One specific TCM herbal remedy that was favored by Chinese health officials during the 2003 SARS epidemic was the dry root of the plant isatis (Ban lan gen 板蓝根). Within days of receiving public endorsement by Chinese health authorities, herbal medicine pharmacies across China sold out of their inventory of isatis root.
During COVID-19, Chinese health authorities endorsed Lonicera, Scute and Forsythia Formula (Shuang Huang Lian 双黄连), a classical TCM formula with a long history of use in treating respiratory tract infections. After the Chinese government's official press agency Xinhua News Agency published an article claiming the herbal remedy offers hope as a COVID-19 treatment, it also sold out everywhere where TCM herbal formulas were available.
MACH-19 in the United States
Utilizing TCM in this way over millennia, a massive experiential body of medical knowledge has become available that continues being leveraged in helping target new TCM protocols in the fight against modern infectious diseases like COVID-19. And this knowledge is not just being used in China and the South East Asian region, but it also is being incorporated in countries like the United States, where TCM has become an integral component of an emerging model of medicine called Integrative Medicine.
In July of 2021, top researchers at the Krupp Center for Integrative Research at the University of California, San Diego, collaborating with researchers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California, Irvine (UCI), and the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, initiated a groundbreaking FDA-approved clinical trial to study natural medicine in the fight against COVID-19. The Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19 (MACH-19) study, which runs through December 31, 2022, will examine a TCM immune balancing mycological formula with broad spectrum, anti-viral activity as well as a Chinese herbal formula that has been widely promoted in China as effective in minimizing symptoms of COVID-19.
Top 3 TCM Herbal Formulas for COVID-19
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and its ongoing treatment using TCM protocols, top Chinese health authorities have endorsed TCM herbal formulas primarily for prevention of serious illness and mitigation of mild to moderate symptoms. However very few TCM herbal formulas have been accepted as being widely beneficial. Nevertheless, here are the top 3 TCM herbal formulas that have been favored and endorsed by top Chinese TCM doctors and institutes experienced with treating COVID-19 and preventing its progression into serious illness in China:
- Jade Windscreen Formula (Yu Ping Feng San)— This is a very simple classic herbal medicine formula consisting of just 3 herbs- Radix astragali (Huang qi), Radix saposhnikoviae (Fang feng), and Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Bai zhu). This is probably the most famous prevention herbal medicine formula in TCM literature, traditionally indicated for the prevention of respiratory infections.
- Lonicera, Scute & Forsythia Pills (Shuang Huang Lian Wan)— This is another very simple herbal medicine formula, also consisting of only 3 herbs- Flos lonicerae (Shuang hua, often called Jin yin hua), Radix scutellariae (Huang qin), and Fructus forsythiae (Lian qiao). It utilizes the classical TCM combination of forsythia and lonicera that has been prescribed for centuries for treatment of infections. The addition of scutellariae during the 1960s represents a newer TCM development based on research involving its main active constituent, the flavonoid baicalin, that has been studied as a natural antibiotic alternative for viral infection relating to colds and flus. Since then it has been a popular herbal remedy commonly used to relieve some symptoms of infection such as fever, cough, and sore throat. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese health authorities have said this formula could be used to “inhibit” the severity of serious COVID-19 symptoms.
- Clear the Lungs and Relieve Toxicity Formula (Qing Fei Pai Du Tang)— Perhaps no other TCM herbal formula has become more popular in the treatment against severe COVID-19. This herbal formula has emerged as a top remedy from the massive integration of TCM protocols in China in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. Although it is currently unavailable in the US because of FDA restrictions against two of its substances, it is currently being investigated in the FDA-approved MACH-19 clinical trials currently underway in California. The formula consists of 21 herbs from 4 different classical TCM herbal formulas originally found in the ancient TCM treatise On Cold Injury mentioned above that have been used for thousands of years in the treatment of infections and have recently been supported through clinical experience. The four formulas are Hoelen Five Herb Formula (Wu Ling San), Belemcanda and Ephedra Decoction (She Gan Ma Huang Tang), Ephedra, Apricot Kernel, Gypsum, and Licorice Decoction (Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang), and Minor Bupleurum Decoction (Xiao Chai Hu Tang). The herbs in the formula include the following:
- Herba Ephedrae (Ma Huang)
- Radix Glycyrrhizae Uralensis Preparata (Zhi Gan Cao)
- Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Bai Zhu)
- Radix Dioscoreae (Shan Yao)
- Semen Pruni Armeniacae Amarum (Ku Xing Ren)
- Gypsum Fibrosum (Shi Gao)
- Ramulus Cinnamomi Cassiae (Gui Zhi)
- Rhizome Alismatis Orientalitis (Ze Xie)
- Sclerotium Polypori Unbellati (Zhu Ling)
- Sclerotium Poriae Cocoa (Fu Ling)
- Herba Agastaches Seu Pogostemi (Huo Xiang)
- Radix Bupleuri (Chai Hu)
- Radix Scutellariae Baicalensis (Huang Qin)
- Ginger Fried Rhizoma Pinelliae Ternatae (Jiang Ban Xia
- Radix Asteris Tatarici (Zi Wan)
- Rhizoma Zingiberis Officinalis Recens (Sheng Jiang)
- Flos Tussilaginis Farfarea (Kuan Dong Hua)
- Rhizoma Belamcondae Chinesis (She Gan)
- Herba Cum Radice Asari (Xi Xin)
- Fructus Immaturus Citrii Aurantii (Zhi Shi)
- Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae (Chen Pi)
- COVID RESEARCH, MACH-19: Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19. Krupp Center for Integrative Medicine, UC San Diego Center for Integrative Health. https://cih.ucsd.edu/research/covid.
- Xie, Echo. (2020). Coronavirus: 85 per cent of patients in China benefiting from traditional Chinese medicine, officials claim. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3052763/coronavirus-80-cent-patients-china-benefiting-traditional .