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Oct
19

Yahoo Malaysia news reported that doctors at Ditan Hospital in Beijing claimed that a combination of various Chinese herbs had a 75 percent cure rate in the 117 patients treated there for swine flu.

http://malaysia.news.yahoo.com/bnm/20090723/tts-flu-herbs-993ba14.html

The government had allocated 10 million yuan (about $1.5 milliom US) to research treatment of swine flu using traditional Chinese medicine, including one study comparing results with Tamiflu treatment.

Doctors at Ditan Hospital first stared treating all patients with the antiviral drug, Tamiflu plus the herbal combination, but discontinued the Tamiflu for the non-critical patients within a month after determining that the herbal medication was effective by itself.

In the article, hospital spokesman Dr. Wang Yuguang, deputy dean of the Centre of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine was quoted: “From our clinical tests and observation, the traditional method of treatment left no after effects and it is safe.” He added that the recovery period was shorter than in patients who received Tamiflu and the daily cost of the herbal remedy at about 12 yuan ($1.76 US) was lower as compared to Tamiflu treatment at 56 yuan ($8.20 US),

Wang would not reveal the actual herbs used, stating that the advantage of traditional Chinese medicine is that doctors can gear their herbal prescriptions to the specific patient’s condition. In his news briefing, he claimed that doctors at the hospital had recently used this approach with high-risk patients with good results. Given these findings, the Chinese government has apparently advised hospitals to use traditional treatment as a first line approach and resort to Western medicine only after Chinese medicine fails.

In the meantime, while 11 Chinese companies work on developing a swine flu vaccine to prevent the disease, Beijing Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital has introduced an A/H1N1 swine flu prevention herbal medicine pack which, according to Jin Wei, Deputy Director of the hospital, contains seven small packs of four types of herbs in combination and taken mixed with hot water as a tea or used as mouthwash. Jin Wei said the pack could even cure mild cases of swine flu, but that if patients did not recover after taking the herbs for seven days, they were advised to go to the hospital for further treatment.

According to the news article, the combination of the herbs is as follows:

Lonicera Japonica Thund (honeysuckle flower)-3 grams,
Isatis Indigodica- 3 gms,
Mentha Haplocalyx Brip (mint).-3 gms
Glycyrrhiza Glabra(licorice)-3 gms.

These herbs are available in Chinese herbal medicine shops. It should be noted that a search of the scientific literature, the web and discussions with infectious disease colleagues did not produce a primary source for these claims, so the herbs and their doses reported in the news article may or may not be accurate.

What are these herbs and what do they purport to do?

Lonicera
Laboratory investigations of lonicera have mainly focused on demonstrating anti-inflammatory actions. In vitro and animal studies indicate antibacterial and antiviral activity (mainly tested for seasonal influenza). In traditional Chinese medicine it is used almost exclusively for prevention and treatment of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections, sore throats and general flu-like symptoms

Isatis
Also known as Woad root, this herb is thought to have very broad anti-infection properties, which partly explains its repeated use in these formulas. It contains the dye indigo (a crude form is used as the Chinese medicinal substance qingdai), which has been used worldwide as an antimicrobial medicine.

Mentha
These are Chinese peppermints and were described by the Chinese as early as 470 AD in the Oriental Materia Medica as a treatment for fever, headaches, excessive tearing, sore throat, oral and skin lesions, rash, and toothache. The principal active constituents of mentha are the essential oils, which comprise about 1% of the herb. They dilate peripheral blood vessels, inducing perspiration and alleviating aching.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra (European licorice)
Therapeutic use of licorice dates back to the Roman Empire. Hippocrates (460BC) extolled its use as an expectorant and gas reliever. It is one of the most commonly used herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica and is traditionally said to “harmonize” a formula in Chinese medicine, acting as a guide drug to enhance the activity of other ingredients, reducing toxicity, as well as improving flavor. In Western medicine it is commonly found in cough medicines. Recognized side effects of prolonged use includes hypertension, water retention, sodium retention and loss of potassium.

The theory in traditional Chinese medicine is that rather than using a single herb or a single formulation to treat an infection like flu, a collection of herbs and formulas working together will produce a better response in the patient. Many of these formulations evaluated in large scale studies in China from the 1950s through the 1970s claimed to demonstrate preventive properties. These findings, which appeared in Chinese medical journals and books, were reviewed at the Institute for Traditional Medicine (ITM) in Oregon. In a 2006 report, Subhuti Dharmananda, PhD, Director of ITM, explained that “while there is insufficient proof from these studies that Chinese herbal therapies can cure or impede influenza because of problems in methodology and reporting, practitioners of Chinese medicine and their patients are convinced of the efficacy of this approach.”

Routine prescription of Chinese herbs for seasonal flu or other therapeutic applications continues to be limited primarily to those countries like China, Japan and Korea where traditional herbal medicine is officially recognized. In other countries, including the US, herbs are available mainly through the work of licensed acupuncturists, naturopaths, and other non-M.D. practitioners, as well as through direct marketing of products to consumers.

Although Chinese research has recently been tainted by allegations of widespread fraud,
there is clearly much to be learned from the potential use of herbs to treat various diseases including swine flu. As Americans turn more and more to alternative medicine, it will be critical to have good scientific data to document the safety and efficacy of herbal formulations. It is important to remember that herbs, though “natural” often have strong medicinal properties that may include dangerous side effects.
- Deborah Shlian Miami Health Care Examiner

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