The Viral Effect

Chinese herbs

A Shift in Focus

Okay, so this is going to be one of those occasional, off-topic blog posts I mentioned in my previous post. You know, the one where I discuss something other than writing.

Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is making its way around the globe. In the wake of this pandemic (per the CDC), irrational fears about this virus are just as prevalent. So I wanted to take this opportunity to help ‘clear the air’ on some fears that have gone ‘viral’, especially regarding certain items coming from China – Chinese herbal medicines.

A Long History

Chinese herbs are the most studied herbs on the planet. There exists over 2500 years of empirical evidence (patient-centered treatments and responses) and Western evidence-based trials, though inherently flawed, are increasingly showing the efficacy of many herbs in our pharmacopoeia. Outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 were successfully treated with herbs in some Chinese/TCM hospitals. Chapter 2 of a popular medical text (that got me through four years of herb classes and clinics), Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen, 2001), is Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs. Subsections of this chapter contain many herbs that have either antiviral or antibacterial properties, or both. Several have been tested and show effects stronger than some pharmaceuticals (and without side effects).

There is an irrational fear that anything coming out of China, especially medicinal herbs, is contaminated with the virus. Let me clarify: 1) these herbs must pass muster at customs when arriving in the U.S.; 2) once they arrive at either a manufacturing facility or a large retail operation (in both cases, Kamwo Herbs, located in NYC’s Chinatown, and one of my finest herb sources), the herbs go through a rigorous testing process required by the FDA. These companies are in regular contact with either the CDC and WHO to continue providing safe, efficacious medicines.

Extra Precautions

According to several emails I’ve received from some of my professional accounts, herb companies are currently taking extra precautions when it comes to testing. They’re also reassuring customers that there are no health concerns at this time for the transmission of COVID-19 on packaged goods (traveling far, changes in temperature, etc.). Even the CDC advises that because of poor survivability on hard surfaces there’s a low risk of the virus spreading from packages shipped over days or weeks due to ambient temperatures. 

Seek Out a Professional

One of my concerns is people rushing to order herbs online to treat this virus without first consulting a TCM physician. Another is if you don’t know what you’re ordering or aren’t familiar with the company you’re ordering from, my recommendation is don’t do it. In school, we’re taught to look for specific certifications, such as GMP standards (Good Manufacturing Process) and other certifications. Certain companies (like MinShan) follow GMP standards, while some in China do not (and their formulas may contain questionable substances, including Western meds). It’s important to know the difference.

Also, if you’re not familiar with medicinal herbs, you may inadvertently buy herbs or a formula that is incorrect for your symptoms. This may lead to unnecessary side effects (i.e., loose bowels due to Cold nature of antiviral herbs), no effect (because they’re not the herbs you need), or an interaction (positive/potentiate or negative/inhibit) with other medicines you’re taking, whether plant-based or pharmaceutical.

If you’re interested in going the holistic/plant-based route, seek out a licensed, trained professional. Individual diagnosis is paramount to prescribing the correct herbs in the correct dosages, all in one formula. This will save you money and give you peace of mind, knowing that the herbs you’re taking are safe.

Be careful, and be well.