It is almost that time of year – flu season! Time to pull out the soup recipes, candles, blankets, and most of all, check your cabinet for Chinese herbs, which can be personalized to your cold or flu experience.
Randomized controlled studies over the years have provided support for traditional Chinese herbs to shorten fever and relieve the disruptive symptoms that accompany a cold or flu.
Patient with a cold
Chinese Herbal Medicine Compared to a Placebo
A meta-analysis in 2017 explored the effects of Chuan Zin Lián (Andrographis paniculata) for the symptomatic relief of acute respiratory tract infections. The analysis included 33 randomized controlled trials with 7,175 patients.
In comparison to the placebo alone, the patients who received the herb had a statistically significant improvement in their symptoms. The data showed the Chuan Zin Lián produced a decrease in the duration of cough, sore throat, and sick leave time.
While the study produced statistically significant results, the analysis had high heterogeneity. (Further analysis is necessary for clinical recommendations)
An older randomized controlled trial in 1999 assessed the efficacy of echinacea for upper respiratory and flu symptoms. Over 5 days, 95 subjects with early symptoms of cold or flu were randomly assigned to either receive Echinacea tea or a placebo.
The study asked participants about their symptoms 14 days after beginning the study. The group receiving the Echinacea had a statistically significant improvement in participant rating of efficacy and the number of days the symptoms lasted in comparison to the placebo group.
Therefore, this study supported the use of Echinacea for cold and flu symptom relief. A great reason to drink tea!
Patient with the flu
How About in Children?
A randomized controlled trial in 2010 focused on Chinese herbs for the prevention of influenza in children. I think we can all imagine how easy it is to get sick in kindergarten! The study randomly divided 239 kindergarteners from the same school into two groups.
One group received a Pihui Fanggan Sachet (PHFGS), a sachet of traditional Chinese herbs, while the other received a placebo. The observation period lasted 45 days. The study collected the incidence rate of influenza, the length of the disease, and the severity of the symptoms.
The incidence rate of influenza in the PHFGS treated group was significantly lower than in the control group and the length of the disease, in those who did get sick, was additionally shorter in the PHFGS treated group than in the control.
This study’s exciting results support the use of PHFGS for influenza prevention and reducing the severity of the illness.
Chinese Herbs in Comparison to Conventional Medications
A meta-analysis in 2016 compared the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine herbs to conventional medicine for the relief of H1N1 influenza. Participants in the conventional medicine group received Oseltamivir. Oseltamivir is a prescription antivirus medicine that might be more familiar under the name Tamiflu.
The analysis included 30 studies with 3,444 cases. The participants in the group receiving traditional Chinese herbs had a smaller duration of viral shedding. The decrease in viral shedding could indicate a shorter duration of illness and/or infection period.
However, further studies are necessary to assess the clinical impact of this decrease.
In 2011 a randomized controlled trial compared Oseltamivir to maxinshigan-yinqiaosan, a Chinese traditional herb for the relief of H1N1 influenza. 410 individuals spanning 15 to 69 years of age received the intervention or control therapy for five days.
The study found that both therapies alone and in combination reduced the length of the fever in patients. In comparison to a control group, the Oseltamivir group had a 34% reduction, the maxingshigan-yinqiaosan had a 37% reduction, and the Oseltamivir plus maxingshigan-yinqiaosan had a 47% reduction in duration of fever.
The maxingshigan-yinqiosan turned out to be a beneficial addition to the Oseltamivir therapy because the combination had a 19% greater reduction of fever duration than the Oseltamivir alone. An insignificant difference in the reduction of symptoms was produced between the groups.
Therefore, the study concluded that the maxinshigan-yinqiaoson may be an effective alternative therapy for H1N1 influenza.
A randomized controlled trial in 2012 compared a Japanese herbal medicine to conventional medicine as therapies for seasonal influenza. The conventional medication was two types of neuraminidase inhibitors, Oseltamivir and Zanamivir. These drugs block the function of the neuraminidase protein, which is responsible for allowing viruses to be released in an infected host cell.
The study assessed four herbs in a commercial herbal product called Maoto. The herbs include Ephedra Herb, Apricot Kernel, Cinnamon Bark, and Glycyrrhiza Root.
Twenty-eight patients within 48 hours of fever onset were randomly assigned to either receive Maoto, Oseltamivir, or Zanamivir. The study found that the administration of the Maoto produced equivalent clinical efficacious results to the neuraminidase inhibitors.
These outcomes included the duration of fever and the total symptom score rated by the patients. This study’s sample size is small but adds to the further support of herbal medicines for viral therapy.
What Exactly are These Herbs Doing?
Jiawei-Yupingfeng-Tang (JYT) is a Chinese herbal formula utilized to treat respiratory tract illnesses. A study in 2013 evaluated the herb’s efficacy as a therapy for influenza. In in vitro cell cultures, JYT inhibited influenza in a dose-dependent manner when given before, during, and after viral infection.
And in in-vivo mouse models that received lethal doses of influenza, the JYT prolonged the survival time of the mice. While these studies are not in humans, they support the exploration of the herb for clinical application against influenza.
A study in 2014 assessed the mechanism of traditional Chinese herbs on an influenza virus. The researchers assessed the activity of the mixture of herbs, Yiqi Qingwen Jiedu, in mice infected by an influenza virus.
The herbs calmed down inflammatory cytokines and reduced pulmonary pathological injury. They helped the body repair inflammatory injury and resist further damage by the virus. Animal studies can allow us to visualize how these herbs work targeting viruses to further explain their clinical efficacy.
Berberine, another plant extract, holds significant anti-viral potential. A study in 2018 assessed Berberine’s activity against influenza in vivo and in vitro. Berberine decreased viral replication in mice lungs, supporting the role of the herb as an anti-viral therapy tool.
Studies on traditional herbal medicines support their usage for flu symptoms. No need to be stuck in bed unwillingly this winter!
Instead of not following any therapy or conventional medicine, I would encourage you to discuss your symptoms with a Chinese medicine doctor and experience the benefits firsthand.