Special Report – TCM and COVID-19: in need of further research

Opinions are divided: there are those who defend the use of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to prevent and cure COVID-19 and those who warn of associated dangers.

MB July 2021 Special Report | A patient hospital

The Western vs. Traditional Chinese medicine debate has been reignited over treatments for COVID-19.

It all started with the publication, in May last year, of an article titled “Traditional Chinese medicine for COVID-19 treatment”, written by three professors at Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Harbin.

In the text, the three authors state that “the number of clinical practice results showed that Traditional Chinese medicine plays a significant role in the treatment of COVID-19, bringing new hope for the prevention and control of COVID-19”.

The authors recommend the use of the qingfei paidu decoction (QPD) in particular, which contains a large number of primary constituents. The quoted efficacy of this compound is a cure rate of “over 90 per cent”.

The authors went further: “TCM has its own characteristics, such as a holistic concept, the balance of Yin and Yang, syndrome differentiation and treatment, and strengthening of the body’s resistance for the elimination of pathogenic factors. TCM has thousands of years of experience in regulating the body and enhancing resistance to epidemic diseases, with unique insights and experience in prevention and control.”

Therefore, they state, “for mild cases and common patients, the early intervention of TCM can effectively prevent the disease from transforming into severe and critical disease. In the severe cases, TCM has won time for the patients’ rescue by improving symptoms.”

(Xinhua/Fan Peishen)

It is no wonder that in the findings of the article it is suggested that “in the next prevention and control work for COVID-19, full play should be given to the advantages of TCM in syndrome differentiation and whole therapeutic effect, reducing complications as well as death rate.”

Two Australian researchers read and disliked it. On the same website (National Center for Biotechnology Information, United Nations) they published an article titled “The use of Traditional Chinese Medicines to treat SARS-CoV-2 may cause more harm than good.”

The authors, from the University of New South Wales, advise: “We wish to highlight significant concerns regarding the association between traditional herbal medicines and severe, non-infective interstitial pneumonitis and other aggressive pulmonary syndromes, such as diffuse alveolar haemorrhage and ARDS which have emerged from Chinese and Japanese studies, particularly during the period 2017−2019.”

It follows that the two Australian doctors in fact warn that “the use of agents with little or no evidence of clinical efficacy and which have been significantly implicated in causing interstitial pneumonitis that could complicate SARS-CoV-2 infection, should be considered with extreme caution.”

They conclude: “The benefits of TCM in the treatment of COVID-19 remain unproven and may be potentially deleterious.” They recognise that there is currently insufficient evidence to prove the role of TCM in the causation of interstitial pneumonitis, “however the circumstantial data is powerful, and it would seem prudent to avoid these therapies in patients with known or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection until the evidence supports their use.”

Both articles have been cited in other research papers, contributing to reinforce the two theses on the table: TCM is good for fighting the pandemic or, on the contrary, it should be avoided.

“There is a need for further investigations into the pros and cons of Traditional medicines for COVID-19 patients, and for more attention paid to the study and monitoring of the potential adverse effects” – research

One article in particular deserves attention: “The pros and cons of Traditional Chinese medicines in the treatment of COVID-19”.

In it, the four authors (three from China and one from Singapore) begin by pointing out that “several traditional Chinese medicines have been recommended by the National Health Commission of China for the treatment of COVID-19” and conclude as follows: “There is a need for further investigations into the pros and cons of Traditional medicines for COVID-19 patients, and for more attention paid to the study and monitoring of the potential adverse effects.”

No comments in Macau

In Macau there is a Faculty of Chinese Medicine and a Stake Key Laboratory of Quality Research in Chinese Medicine (both at MUST); the University of Macau also has specialization courses; a WHO Traditional Medicine Cooperation Centre was created; and in Hengqin there is the Traditional Chinese Medicine Science and Technology Industrial Park of Co-operation between Guangdong and Macau.

In other words, it is possible to discuss the creation of a complete management system for TCM in Macau.

However, Macau-based experts seem to prefer shying away from this debate, as several specialists contacted by Macau Business either did not answer the questions posed or said they did not want to comment on the matter.

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