FEB 12, 2020 1:39 PM PST

Does Traditional Chinese Medicine Work Against Coronavirus?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Over 45,000 cases of Wuhan Coronavirus have been reported globally, alongside over 1,100 deaths. Although over 4,700 people are said to have recovered from the virus, currently, it still has no cure. Among several Western antiviral drugs, the Chinese government is also encouraging medical practitioners to treat the virus with remedies from traditional chinese medicine (TCM). But are they really effective? 

In Western media, TCM practices are dubbed as  “pseudoscience” due to inconclusive clinical evidence on their efficacy. James Palmer, reporting in Foreign Policy said, “For poor Chinese unable to afford hospital treatment or afraid of being snatched up into quarantine, home remedies may be the only options available. But spurious herbs and imaginary theories can only harm the attempts to battle a virus that needs a scientific answer, not a politicalized pseudoscience.”

Despite this skepticism however, some support the inclusion of TCM practices in the battle against coronavirus. Dr Cheng Yung-chi for example, a professor of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine said, “I think it is the correct approach...The evidence is going to come and we have to give it the benefit of the doubt."

The push towards using TCM comes following a recommendation by the National Health Commission to use these alongside antiretroviral HIV drugs such as Lopinavir and Ritonavir. In particular, it is hoped that these remedies may be able to ease some symptoms, such as swelling in the lungs and other side effects. 

Although no formal study has proven the efficacy of TCM against the virus exists, research confirming this is currently underway by doctors conducting clinical trials in the epicentre of the viral outbreak, Wuhan. Until results from this research are found, whether TCM cures are effective or not will be largely speculative.

Despite this however, anecdotal evidence so far on its efficacy is promising. In recent weeks for example, Beijing’s health department reported the recovery of two patients treated by both TCM and other unspecified drugs. Meanwhile, health officials in Guangzhou have reported 50 patients recovering from fever, alongside 25 reporting alleviated cough symptoms, following the use of TCM and other drugs. 


Sources: Deutsche Welle, Straits Times and Foreign Policy

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
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