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Can Complementary & Alternative Medicine Help Fight Covid-19?

by Rajgopal Nidamboor(more info)

listed in infections, originally published in issue 266 - November 2020

 

First published in Madras Courier madrascourier.com

https://madrascourier.com/opinion/can-complementary-alternative-medicine-help-fight-covid-19/

 

It goes without saying that new, stunningly virulent and resurgent illnesses have been escalating around the globe, with alarming intensity, and advancing more rapidly than ever before. This epidemic of epidemics, and now the pandemic of pandemics in the coronavirus (COVID-19) phraseology, not only signal a crisis in human history, but also the tizzy dance of mutual adaptation that we ‘share’ with our microbial fellow travellers. We have got only to blame ourselves for such a horrid reality and also complexity. We have brought the pathogen ‘wolf’ through the door by rendering and disturbing the natural fabric of our environment, while changing our behaviours and, paradoxically, by our ingenuity to increasing the length and quality of our lives without nurturing the nature of our soul.

Herbs Curcumin, Cinnamon and FiveSpice

So, how – and, most importantly, why – have we gone wrong?

In the words of Arno Karlen PhD a psychoanalyst, researcher, and author, “for each new disease known to the general public, there are a dozen others; because, the wheels of biological change keep turning faster. The common progression of humans and microbes has accelerated to a frenzied pace. For example, much has been written about AIDS, but far less about other new diseases.” He adds, “our scientific and historical research is fragmented, like pieces of mosaic rarely assembled in more bits and patches. We have been slow to understand that we live in a new bio-cultural era. For decades, we cherished the myth that infectious diseases were fading forever. This was a posture born of inherited optimism.”

Karlen’s words speak of one inescapable truth: about new emerging viruses, such as the novel COVID-19, and its disastrous, cascading magnitude that has brought the world to its feet, aside from increased microbial resistance to drugs. You get the point. Without seeing our larger evolutionary picture, we cannot respond intelligently to challenges facing our health and survival. For thousands of years, since the first hunter gatherers settled in villages, infections killed more people than war and famine. New diseases, as is obvious, do not fall from the sky, or leap from some mysterious black punnet. To paraphrase Karlen, “parasitism and disease are a natural, in fact necessary, part of life. They are fundamental to the existence of everything – from the earliest, simplest organisms to human beings.” Add to this, international travel and technology, our changing diet patterns, clothing, other fads, warped relationships and work-life (im)balance, and you are witness to a hysterical wave of new-fangled epidemics. This has also led to the (re)emergence of a chaotic, also amplified, panorama in the chronicle of natural history of disease retold.

Savage Test

This is a savage test: where do new diseases come from, why have old spectres, such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria returned with a vengeance, and why now? This is not all. Think of the terrifying impact of measles and smallpox that trembled the ancient empires of Rome and China, not to speak of intertwined stories of leprosy and the assault of European microbes that overwhelmed the natives of America, including the flu pandemic that killed millions, over a century ago – or, the diabolical emergence of new illnesses, with weird names, such as the ‘old-new’ dengue, chikungunya, SARS-Coronavirus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), H1N1 influenza, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-Cov), among others.

It is vital for us to understand the complex and dynamic relationship that exists between man and microbes, in the emergence of new difficulties postured and challenges flung by new diseases, especially viral illnesses. “Every age of new plenty,” as Karlen outlines, “demanded a price of biological re-adaptation. Diseases occurred in increased numbers when our ancestors left the trees for the ground; when nomads became hunters and spread around the world; when village life began, and with the growth of cities; with the start of global travel, and then with the Industrial Revolution; and, with the social and technological results of prosperity.”

Mayan Saga Revisited

When we analyse history, it provides us with a gloomy case of the ordeals of the Mayan culture, to highlight a famed exemplar. The Mayan empire covered 200,000 square km and lasted 1,500 years, what with its fabulous stone cities. Yet, a thousand years ago, the empire collapsed; the jungle reclaimed its ruins, and people returned to village life. Studies of Mayan bones and of the Mayans’ living descendants showed that they were clued-up for catastrophe by their ‘use’ of the environment and their parasites.” Is this not a gloomy, yet dispassionate, example for everyone to learn from – in terms of history and reality?

It is apparent that for a thousand years before their empire fell, the Mayans’ overreliance on maize and beans compacted their size and strength. “The skulls of ancient Mayan children showed pitting of the orbital bones and spongy degeneration of the cranium – a classical sign of acute iron-deficiency anaemia. The soil the Mayans farmed was also poor in iron. As a result, so were their crops and mother’s milk. Their diet was low in vitamin C – which the body needs to absorb and use iron – and, protein, which is prerequisite for haemoglobin synthesis.”

“The custom of soaking maize in water,” as Karlen puts it, “destroyed most of the folic acid and vitamin B12 (cobalamin) needed for developing red blood cells. Maize contains iron, but it also has phytic acid, which inhibits iron absorption in the intestine. The Mayan practice of stone-grinding maize altered it chemically, so iron absorption was further inhibited. Heavy sweating, unavoidable in the Mesoamerican tropics, caused more iron loss, as did intestinal bleeding caused by hookworm, tapeworm, and other parasites common in Mayan farmers. In addition, the Mayan diet lacked zinc and other substances (nutrients) needed for growth and resistance to infections.”

The situation today is no less gloomy; it is also challenging, but not impossible. There is hope, notwithstanding the continuing misuse of our ecosystem, flawed food habits, the overstressed hygiene factor, which cares less for our natural immunity, or immunology, and more for promoting hand wash, soap, and sanitisers, aside from the dramatic changes that has emerged in the biosphere. The irony is stunning. Our forebears had to cope with new diseases, and so did our Stone Age forebears. So did the first farmers and the first city dwellers. However, in spite of all the struggles and crises, they were able to survive the challenges. Obviously, we all will too with modern medicine’s much-vaunted, also spectacular diagnostic and remedial armamentarium – which has, ironically, been found appallingly wanting in the COVID-19 pandemic, so far – and, other traditional systems of healing, aside from our buoyant, if lopsided, immune response, and imagination, including our amazing ability to adapt and flourish.

It goes without saying that we are caught in a flagrant web – the repetitive episodes of health crises through which we are accelerating the escalation and extension of new pathogens. They, like us, are trying to acclimatise and survive. The best thing to do is – we ought to, no matter what, conquer a majority of the illnesses, or diseases, and make a prudent armistice with some we just can’t defeat, despite our high-tech medical and therapeutic progress.

Let Nature Be

The lockdown has ushered in a skewed sense of time. For some, time just flies, as for others time stands still. Literally. So much so, an event that happened early this year feels like something that occurred 30 years ago. More than that an eerie sense of trepidation also seems to crawl at the back of everyone’s mind – there is an element of foreboding that pervades the horizon too.

This is a time when modern medicine is groping in the dark, trying to search for safe, and effective, drug interventions and vaccines. The twist also is the focus, as a result, has ‘shifted’ to natural treatments, viz., complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), as also integrative medicine, among others. The premise for such a change, however, is not for thrusting the all-too-clichéd magic potion, as some proponents of CAM are animatedly indulging in, but to ‘up’ one’s immunity in the best manner possible. CAM and other protocols have had a long tradition in providing that natural fillip to our immune defences. This holds the key to fight Covid-19 from the inside out and to the best extent possible.

 

Nidamboor 266 Vitamins and Minerals

 

Natural Supplements 

Curcumin has been extensively used as a healing agent – right from ancient times. The active principle in turmeric, which also gives the herb its yellow hue, is curcumin. Curcumin is nature’s antiseptic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant. It is evidenced to have ‘aspirin-like’ anti-inflammatory effects, yet it is relatively safe, when used prudently, than conventional or synthetic aspirin. This primeval element has been confirmed and replicated through clinical studies.

That curcumin has received a renewed ‘look-in’ as a natural candidate to ‘jazz up’ our immunity, ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, is no surprise. Some open-minded physicians have been advocating the use of curcumin for reducing inflammation in the lung caused by coronavirus and also as a possible ‘preventative.’ Others maintain that curcumin has the ability to augment our immunity and possibly help to curtail certain COVID-19 symptoms.

It’d be interesting to note that most conventional treatment choices help, at best, to reduce just a few pro-inflammatory cytokines – a large group of proteins, peptides, or glycoproteins, which are secreted by specific cells of our immune system. Curcumin, on the other hand, has the potential to suppress more than just a handful of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Curcumin delivers other benefits too – it helps to cleanse, or ‘detox,’ the respiratory tract and combat infections that trigger cold and flu. It is a first-rate immunity booster for individuals that suffer perennially from allergies, sinusitis and bronchitis. It helps to ease inflammation in the upper as well as the lower respiratory tract – this alleviates nasal congestion, bronchial asthma and other related conditions. Most important – the antiviral factor in curcumin reduces the replication of viruses.

The use of curcumin has amplified in the wake of the COVID-19 storm – be it Asia, the Middle East, Europe, or elsewhere. Most of us, especially in the East, have been consuming turmeric powder, as a tradition, in warm milk. However, the fact is – the quantity of curcumin in turmeric powder is just not adequate, or optimal. It is, therefore, imperative that consuming high-quality curcumin supplements is the need of the hour – primarily because the dose of curcumin in quality supplements is optimal, also therapeutically appropriate.

Thanks to best practices and new strategies aimed to resolve the ‘poor’ bioavailability and low aqueous solubility of ‘regular’ curcumin, you’ve a select range of high-quality curcumin supplements to pick from. In simple terms, they correspond to scientifically accurate and sufficient dosages of curcumin ‘earmarked’ to provide optimal relief, from viral and other symptoms, and with real-time safety.

A clinical trial of ArtemiC (artemisinin and curcumin), a food supplement, for the treatment of patients suffering from COVID-19 infection is now underway in Israel. The study is designed to help address viral infections with inflammatory complications. Open scientific data on artemisinin and curcumin support the testing of ArtemiC in COVID-19 patients. The double-blind, placebo-controlled trial will investigate the safety and efficacy of ArtemiC, a natural formulation intended for immune-modulation. The purpose of the project is to effectively treat certain pathophysiological complications of COVID-19.

In this context, it’d only be appropriate, also imperative, to highlight the recommendations of the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), US, and its approach to the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Adherence to all health recommendations from official sources to decrease viral transmission;
  • Optimizing modifiable lifestyle factors in order to improve overall immune function;
  • Reduce progression from colonisation to illness.

Personalised consideration of therapeutic agents that may –

  • Favourably modulate cellular defence and repair mechanisms;
  • Favourably modulate viral-induced pathological cellular processes;
  • Promote viral eradication, or inactivation;
  • Mitigate collateral damage from other therapeutic agents;
  • Promote resolution of collateral damage and restoration of function.

Treatment of confirmed COVID-19 illness (as per conventional standards and practice)

  • May reduce the severity and duration of acute symptoms and complications;
  • May support recovery and reduce long-term morbidity and sequelae.

A coronavirus, such as COVID-19, as the IFM underlines, can be lethal because of its capability to ‘fuel’ a part of the inherent immune response called the inflammasome (immune system receptor and sensor), which can cause unrestrained discharge of pro-inflammatory cytokines, leading to ‘cytokine storm’ and severe, sometimes irreparable, damage to respiratory epithelium. The COVID-19 virus has been shown to trigger inflammasome. It is evidenced that certain natural compounds, or phytonutrients, such as curcumin (turmeric), resveratrol, found in grapes, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), found in green tea, and quercetin, found in onion, are potent inhibitors of the inflammasome. Besides, such phytonutrients regulate inflammation. This is useful to counteract the COVID-19 ’hyper-inflammation.’ It is also suggested that such bioactive compounds may have the ability to inhibit the COVID-19 main protease, which is required for viral copying. Though supplementary research is necessary to prove their usefulness, the existing credo provides biologic plausibleness and systematic support for COVID-19 protease inhibition to support their use.

In an article published in Journal of Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, H A Mousa et al articulate, that, “in recent years viral respiratory tract infections, especially influenza viruses, have had a major impact on communities worldwide as a result of unavailability of effective treatment or vaccine.[1] The frequent alterations in the antigenic structures of respiratory viruses, particularly for RNA viruses (Note: COVID-19 is one such virus), pose difficulties in the production of effective vaccines. The unavailability of optimal medication and shortage of effective vaccines suggests the requirement for alternative natural therapies. Several herbal remedies were used for prevention and treatment of viral respiratory illnesses. Among those that were found effective included maoto, liquorice roots, antiwei, North American ginseng, berries, Echinacea, plants extracted carnosic acid, pomegranate, guava tea, and Bai Shao. There is scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of several complementary therapies for colds. Oral zinc may reduce the length and severity of a cold. Taking vitamin C supplements on a regular basis only slightly reduces the length and severity of colds. Probiotics were found better than placebo in reducing the number of episodes of acute upper respiratory tract infections, the rate of episodes of acute upper respiratory tract infection and reduced antibiotic use. Alkaline diets or drinks might have antiviral properties as in vitro studies demonstrated inactivation effect of alkaline medium on respiratory virus.”

Astragalus has traditionally been used to fortify the immune system and to treat colds, among other viral disorders. Some studies suggest that certain compounds found in the herb ‘upturn’ the production of white blood cells, particularly T-cells, macrophages and other cells imperative for immune system function. Astragalus has anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects; this includes a certain activity against a specific type of coronavirus that frequently infects poultry. In China, Astragalus, alone and in combination with other herbs, has been advocated to possibly help prevent COVID-19 infections. The fact, however, is there is no full-scale clinical evidence that it can, like other popular herbs, prevent, or treat, coronavirus infection.

Green tea modulates the inflammasome while potentially targeting the COVID-19 main protease – in so doing, it reduces viral replication. Green tea has also been found to be useful in preventing flu in healthcare professionals.

Melatonin may have an inhibitory effect on the inflammasome. This has led to the idea of using melatonin as a healing agent in COVID-19-like infections.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has been shown to be protecting in influenza. Says Richard Firshein, DO, a pioneer in integrative medicine, “Modern science offers (very) few drugs to combat viruses, but NAC may offer hope in this area. A study in Anti-Viral Research reports that NAC inhibited replication of the hepatitis B virus, reducing viral DNA fifty-fold. Exciting new research also indicates that NAC may protect the body against HIV.”

Quercetin reportedly has antiviral effects against RNA (e.g., influenza and coronavirus) and DNA viruses (e.g., herpes virus). Quercetin is an antioxidant. It has anti-inflammatory properties; it modulates signalling alleyways related to post-viral remedial outcomes.

Resveratrol is evidenced to ease the inflammasome. It has also been shown to have useful antiviral activity.

Vitamin C promotes immune defence by enhancing a host of cellular functions of the immune system. Vitamin C augments microbial annihilation. Supplementation with vitamin C appears to prevent and also treat respiratory and systemic infections. Vitamin C has been used in hospital practice to manage and treat COVID-19 infections.

Vitamin D supplementation may prevent upper respiratory infections. It may also ease, or alleviate, illness from COVID-19 infection.

Zinc props immune defence. Studies suggest that it suppresses viral attachment and replication. Zinc deficiency is common with most people at risk of severe COVID-19 infections. It is reported that zinc supplements prevent viral infections; they also reduce their severity and duration. It has also been evidenced that zinc reduces the risk of lower respiratory infections. This obviously holds significance in COVID-19.

Other Options

Ayurveda is the science of life. It promulgates the bounty of nature in the maintenance of optimal health and well-being – and, not merely the absence of disease, or illness. Ayurveda’s extensive knowledge base on preventative care accrues from two models based on dinacharya – daily regime – and ritucharya – seasonal regime – to sustain a healthy, balanced life. Ayurveda is a plant-based science. Candace Pert PhD, the co-discoverer of peptides, our ‘molecules of emotions,’ referred to Ayurveda as the completest of medical sciences. The amplification of consciousness about oneself and the synchronisation of each individual, as Ayurveda also emphasises, can be achieved by elevating and preserving our immunity in accordance with the medical system’s pristine and classical scriptures. That the genius of Charaka (300 BCE), the first physician to present the foundational premise of digestion, metabolism and immunity, could so articulately describe the contextuality and also the ‘contour’ of a virus, such as COVID-19, is testimony to its great legacy.

It’d be heartening to note that the government of India has approved of a randomised controlled clinical trial to assess the efficacy of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) as a potential preventative intervention among healthcare professionals and high-risk coronavirus population vis-à-vis hydroxychloroquine. The joint initiative of the ministries of Ayush, health, science and technology, through the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), with technical support from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), will encompass formulated and designed clinical research protocols for prophylactic studies and add-on interventions in COVID-19 positive cases through review and consultative process of experts of high repute from different organisations across the country. The purpose is to analyse and study different interventions – viz., ashwagandha, yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra), guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), pippali (Long pepper) and a poly-herbal formulation (Ayush-64).

This isn’t all. The Ayurvedic formula Fifatrol is reported to act as an immune booster. The natural formula is a multi-drug combination of Ayurvedic classical medicines and herbs. Research suggests that Fifatrol acts as a natural antibiotic and fights infection, flu and ache. It is evidenced that Fifatrol provides quick relief from nasal congestion, sore throat, body ache and headache. The formula also has micro-nutrients, along with a balanced combination of vital phytoconstituents, immune-modulators and antioxidants – this, according to clinicians, apparently justifies its beneficial effects in the treatment of upper respiratory tract (viral) infections.

Homeopathy is ‘bespoke,’ or personalized, medicine. Homeopathy treats the individual; it does not limit treatment to the diagnosis of illness alone. When you are ill, your illness has its own unique pattern of symptoms. You tend to get illnesses that result from the particular pattern of imbalance with your immune and other systems – one that is distinctive to your unique disposition and/or susceptibility.

Homeopathy is based on the principle that one can treat ‘likes with likes’ – that is, a substance which causes certain symptoms, when taken in large doses, can also be used in small (‘less is more’) amounts to treat the ‘same,’ or ‘similar,’ symptoms of the illness, or health issue. Homeopathy is unlike conventional medicine, where individuals are diagnosed on the foundation of just the illness, or disease – and, the same medicine is prescribed for each illness. Homeopathy prescribes a different remedy for a given illness, depending on a multitude of factors, such as the personality, or constitution, of the individual, their state of mind and lifestyle. In other words, the illness may be the same by name, but the presentation in no two individuals is always the same – so, they are given different homeopathic remedies that match their unique personality, or ‘individuality.’

Homeopathy has a long history in preventative medicine. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), MD, the Founder of homeopathy, was the first to achieve significant outcomes in the prevention and also treatment of the scarlet fever epidemic, a vicious form of ‘strep’ throat, which swept Germany in 1802. He was also the first experimental physician to lay emphasis on the importance of preventative medicine. This wasn’t all. He was also the first medical pioneer to think of ‘immunization,’ when Louis Pasteur, the founder of vaccination, was eight years old.

To highlight a case in point. The flu pandemic of 1918 is reminisced for its devastating death toll. It was the worst epidemic in US history, with 600,000 people dead. Besides, the deadly flu took away the lives of hundreds of thousands of people elsewhere. The Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy (1921) reported, that in Dayton, Ohio, the overall mortality rate of flu patients was 28 per cent, and in 26,000 cases of flu treated homeopathically the mortality rate was 1 per cent.

The homeopathic Arsenicum album 30c is advocated to be a useful ‘immune booster.’ Ayush ‘recommends’ its use in India. Camphora 1m – with its classical pathophysiology that corresponds to COVID-19 – has emerged as the genus epidemicus – a remedy identified for preventing communicable illnesses in certain quarters. There are reports that it has been used with ‘good’ effect in Iran, also Europe, and elsewhere.

It’d be interesting to note that with Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) ‘making’ news headlines – albeit the credo of its ‘utility value’ to ‘easing’ the COVID-19 effect in certain countries, including India, is being debated – one could also, perhaps, think of a homeopathic corollary in the context. Bacillinum (made from maceration of the typical tuberculous lung) may, perhaps, be used as an ‘intercurrent,’ immune-boosting ‘prophylactic’ remedy, as also Tuberculinum (a nucleo-protein; a ‘nosode’ made from tubercular abscess).

The whole idea is, of course, ‘nascent,’ a probability premise. It led this writer into a conversation with Lionel Milgrom PhD, the English chemist and homeopath, who graciously delved into its ‘nitty-gritty’ and formulated a possibility construct. Milgrom’s ‘take’ is simple, also reflective – if one were to ‘buy’ the so-called conspiracy theory approach and work on the basis that COVID-19 is a laboratory-based organism, then in order to grow and manipulate such a thing would require a substrate. There was this recently published article which suggested that the substrate for growing such a virus is bovine serum. So, there it is. Using something like Bacillinum and Tuberculinum – from a totally different perspective and/or the homeopathic miasmatic (constitutional susceptibility, or predisposition) point-of-view – would, perforce, make some sense, although its full essence and purpose may only be found, or established, by experiment.

The Society of Homeopaths, UK, states, that, “Homeopathic medicines have been used extensively for flu-like symptoms and in epidemics around the world. If you decide to take a homeopathic medicine, this should be in addition to the various measures recommended and should not be your only approach. Selection of the most appropriate homeopathic medicine is based on an individual’s unique symptoms.” The European Committee for Homeopathy says, “(That) homeopathic health professionals should inform patients of the standard hygiene practices to contain and mitigate the spread of the epidemic. They may inform their patients of potential non-specific measures to increase their immunity. Homeopathic symptomatic treatments offer a safe and cost-effective possibility to support the self-healing processes of patients and are to be considered (within the therapeutic tool kit).”

Other adjuvant measures that would be useful are meditation, yoga, biofeedback, and counselling – especially to combating depression, anxiety, and stress, aside from the undulating effects of home-bound, ‘shelter’ living, or isolation, and social and physical distancing.

References

1. Haider Abdul-Lateef Mousa.  Prevention and Treatment of Influenza, Influenza-Like Illness, and Common Cold by Herbal, Complementary, and Natural Therapies.  J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med ;22(1):166-174. Epub 2016 Apr 6. Jan 2017. DOI: 10.1177/2156587216641831  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27055821/#affiliation-1

Citation Acknowledgement

This article was first published in Madras Courier (madrascourier.com)

madrascourier.com

https://madrascourier.com/opinion/can-complementary-alternative-medicine-help-fight-covid-19/

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About Rajgopal Nidamboor

Rajgopal Nidamboor PhD FCCP M-CAM is a Board-Certified wellness physician, Fellow of the College of Chest Physicians (FCCP), Member of the Center of Applied Medicine (M-CAM), writer-editor, commentator, critic, columnist, author, and publisher. His special interests include natural health and wellness, mind-body/integrative medicine, nutritional medicine, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality. His focus areas also encompass contemporary research and dissemination of dependable information for people concerned about their health. He feels that it is increasingly gratifying to see most individuals, including physicians, thinking outside the box – especially in areas such as natural health, where the body knows best to heal itself from the inside out. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, Web articles, four books on natural health, two coffee-table books, a handful of E-books, a primer on therapeutics, and, most recently, Cricket Odyssey. Rajgopal Nidamboor lives in Navi Mumbai, India. He may be contacted via raj@rajnidamboor.com 

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