(This article is for information purposes only. This information is not intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people.)
Studies on herbs and other natural options are always exciting for me. Why? Natural Medicine gets a lot of flack because many of the things we use aren’t proven through large scale studies. Often our push back on this, especially when it comes to herbs, is that we have utilized XYZ for hundreds if not thousands of years for ABC with empirical success through observations and experiences of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of practitioners through history around the entire globe. One of the tough things with natural options is that, from a natural health standpoint, large scale studies are flawed in our mindset as we customize the treatment based on the individual and issue, not just the issue – we take into account the whole person and whole remedy. Much of this research into plant-based options is being backed by larger pharmaceutical companies and this form of study is called ethnopharmacology in the pursuit to develop new drugs for today’s emerging problems. In some ways, I would view this as a starting point of Western and Natural Medicine starting to find a way to work together and does truly show the vital importance of natural forms of medicine.
One new study, recently released for peer review, is based on an active constituent from the herb Andrographis paniculata, also known as Kalmegh or the “King of Bitters” in Ayurvedic Medicine, for its antiviral effects with Ebola virus, Dengue Fever, and SARS-Coronavirus1. This compound has also been studied for its antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, immunomodulatory, and hepatoprotective effects2. In this new study, they found that andrographolide (the specific compound from Andrographis) was found to exhibit antiviral activity in vitro against these three. Previous studies have shown this also to have varying levels of antiviral activity for HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, Hep C, Hep B, Herpes, Influenza, Tumors, and several others, so it is not surprising that this compound would also have some degree of antiviral activity for these as well. You could literally spend days reading through all the research that has been done on this one component from Andrographis. A pharmaceutical company likely felt it was so beneficial for HIV and hence why they created the drug Restomune to help with managing HIV3. The next study that will be exciting to see is coming out of the University of Madras in India seeing how this deals with SARS-CoV-24.
While yes, in many ways, this is great to see, in other ways I feel that this can be very short-sighted. The reason why I feel this could be short-sighted is that there are many components in plants, not just one thing. To be fair, Western Medicine and “modern” sciences are still very much in their infancy on what the body needs and where we get things. One item I think about is Vitamin K which was only “discovered” in the last few decades. Next, while yes one specific aspect of a plant might be the “most” beneficial in many regards, we have to wonder – what do the other components contained within the original substance do, why are they there, is there some reason why the plant developed these other aspects together to help in a more potent or safer way? A product that comes to mind with this is Ephedra which was banned partially in the United States in 2004 due to the increased risks of heart problems and stroke5, likely in my opinion because they were using concentrated ephedrine alkaloids – just one component of the original, or was incorrect for the person as a whole.
Lastly, it is really awesome to know what each specific chemical compound does, there are many of them found in each plant or natural substance, though it will take generations of research to truly find out all the wonderful uses and how it all fits together. What we have learned through empirical observations and experiences over the millennia should not be discounted or written off as quackery, and is viable and helpful today.