We are all familiar with the main symptoms of COVID: fever, cough, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, diarrhoea, generalised aches, and pains etc. In serious cases, patients also report shortness of breath, loss of speech or mobility and confusion. Minor symptoms are usually treated with over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol to relieve pain and fever. Other anti-viral medications like remdesivir, molnupiravir, sotrovimab, are also utilized in patients with severe symptoms or unvaccinated patients. In the hubbub of Western medication for COVID, a traditional Chinese medication (TCM) called Lianhua Qingwen, has slowly caught the public’s attention, considering that it has been around since the early days of the outbreak. Available in capsules, its increasing popularity is no doubt turning heads even outside the Chinese population. Even more recently, a panel within the World Health Organisation also cited potential benefits of TCM in COVID-19 management.
What is Lianhua Qingwen?
Lianhua Qingwen was first developed in China in 2003 during the SARS outbreak. Since then, it has been widely used to prevent and treat infectious diseases with flu-like symptoms. It contains 11 main herb components, with the main ones being Radix Isatidis (Banlangen), Fructus Forsythiae (Lianqiao), Flos Lonicerae Japonicae (Jinyinhua), Rhizoma Dryopteridis In modern medicine terms, the main chemical involved are quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin, β-sitosterol, indigo, wogonin, tryptanthrin, quinolone, stigmasterol and naringenin.
Those names might not mean much to the most of us. To summarize, these natural remedies possess broad anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. The variety of ingredients included enable it to target multiple pathways simultaneously to relive the symptoms and cure the disease.
What are the benefits of taking Lianhua Qingwen for treatment of COVID-19?
Unlikely most pharmaceutical products of Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on a holistic approach to resolve single or complex conditions. From a scientific perspective, most of the COVID related symptoms are caused by a sudden rise of inflammatory markers within our circulation. Accordingly, the holistic approach targets those inflammatory markers and calms the body’s overactive immune system.
Similar to other TCM medications, it also focuses on the health of “qi ” – a concept similar to “immunity” in western medicine. Lianhua Qingwen is able to block several cell receptors heavily targeted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It also mobilises the virus killing cell in our body to eliminate the virus load without triggering a massive inflammatory reaction.
In the past two years of the pandemic, multiple studies have been conducted to investigate its clinical efficacy. Most studies have supported the routine treatment of Lianhua Qingwen in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
According to Dr Leong Hoe Nam, infectious disease specialist from Rophi Clinic during an online webinar organised by Medical Channel Asia on 9th March 2022, the studies have reported that “The symptoms are better compared to not taking the Lianhua (Qingwen) pills. But it does not make a difference between admission to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), or high dependency (units) requiring oxygen.”
What are the side effects?
Lianhua Qingwen contains the Ephedra Herb which, a source of ephedrine used in the treatment of low blood pressure. Hence, in some patients, it might cause minor elevation of blood pressure, heart palpitations and dizziness. Symptoms associated with stomach discomfort such as nausea and vomiting when taking this medication, has been shown to be reduced when taken with food.
Certain patient populations which include children, those who are pregnant and/or lactating, with chronic liver and kidney conditions, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and are advised not to take Lianhua Qingwen.
As a general rule of thumb, for anyone with existing health conditions, it is highly recommended to consult your health professional prior to consuming any herbal remedies.
Where can I find Lianhua Qingwen?
In Asia, the Chinese government approved and promoted the use for mild to moderate COVID symptoms since January 2020. Other countries in the region followed closely with registering the product, but with different restrictions respectively.
The Philippines approved Lianhua Qingwen in August the same year. However, it is only available upon prescription by a doctor and labelled as a traditional herbal product with benefits related to its specific ingredients.
In Thailand, the capsules are only to be sold in registered pharmacies, and also have to be brought in by a sole supplier.
In Singapore, it is available off the shelves in pharmacies across the island, but the health advisory body has clearly indicated that it is listed as a Chinese proprietary medicine for the relief of cold and flu symptoms. There are no claims of it being able to treat or alleviate symptoms of COVID-19.
In general, vaccinated COVID patients without other comorbidities recover spontaneously without treatment in two weeks. Unvaccinated patients are usually put on anti-viral medications and could recover. As a complementary medicine, Lianhua Qingwen has been proven to provide clinical benefits as a symptom reliever in multiple studies. As patients, you are strongly encouraged to discuss with your local physician or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners prior to taking this medication.