By Helen Shih, PhD

Flow-of-Light Natural Health

Light up your body, mind, & soul

Herbs and supplements

Herbs and supplements for prevention and home care during the COVID-19 outbreak


Herbs have been used in every tradition to help boost body immunity, fight diseases, and even counteract on mental-emotional issues. Chinese medicine, for example, has a long tradition used for infectious diseases. It was also used in SARS and H1N1 outbreaks in the past, and because of its effectiveness, it is included in the official diagnostic and treatment guidelines in the COVID-19 outbreak this time in China. 


From the research and tests by Chinese medicine doctors for COVID-19, there are a few major types of regimens they used in the COVID-19 outbreak for: 1. Prevention; 2. Initial symptoms (including mild ones); 3. Severe symptoms; 4 Recuperation. There are many different herb formulas being tested and used, all depends on patient conditions and body energy types. Chinese medicine is about helping everyone become the best of their own, and boost up their individual energy and immunity. 

 

Though universal formulas are not given as the “cure for all”, doctors have noticed there are certain body energy types that make people prone to fall to COVID-19. Therefore, 2 general formulas were given to the general public for prevention and self-care during the COVID-19 outbreak: Prevention Formula 1 and Formula 2. They shared similar features, and are based on traditional regimens used to treat cold and flu in Chinese medicine, using the most commonly available herbs, and well known in almost every part of the country.

 

Both formulas are made to boost up the energy, strengthen the digestive system which provides the foundation for immunity, open up the channel of energy flow from head to toes and balance the energy field. Eliminating foreign insult and toxins (virus is considered to be one of such elements) and getting rid of the excessive heat, dampness or blockage of the system are also important considerations in both formulas. 

 

Formula 1 is made for people who have a weaker digestive system or sluggishness (called “dampness” in Chinese medicine), and Formula 2 is for those who have excess energy buildup by the top of the body such as lung and head, which results in imbalance and lack of energy to lower part of the system (lack of immunity in return). Formulas for people who have mild to severe symptoms go to a higher intensity addressing these problems, and on reducing fever, eliminating the virus, plus adjusting ingredients according to specific body types and disease progress/conditions.


An important note about cold and hot-flu: please bear in mind that Chinese medicine considers there are two types of cold and flu that need to be distinguished. First type is called “cold-flu or cold-cold”, 2nd type is called “hot-flu or hot-cold”. The causes are opposite, therefore, herbs used are different too. Using the herbs for the wrong reasons can worsen the problems. In cold-flu, which typically happens in winter and cold seasons, people catch a cold because of weakened immunity, and they exhibit symptoms typically of feeling cold, running nose with clear liquid, sneeze and cough with clear sputum. They desire to be kept warm and drink warm soup. Herbs used therefore are heat-generating and warm up their body and respiratory system. The opposite is the hot-flu, which is the opposite. People feel burning of the lung and head, sputum is thick and yellowish, and they desire to be kept cool and drink cold liquid. The herbs used therefore is to release the excessive heat caused by infection or inflammation, help expel toxin and bugs out of the body.

Chinese medicine doctors see symptoms of COVID-19 are related to the hot-flu just as SARS, from clinical observations, patient feelings, and imaging scans. Therefore, prevention and treatment formulas are made accordingly. But herbs are always adjusted according to individual body features and disease conditions. This is why two formulas are made for prevention purpose to consideration such differences. Please use herbs carefully without mixing the two opposite types of cold-flu and hot-flu, otherwise, the effects will be the opposite.

Herbal medicine is always about adapting to local people, area and climate conditions, using local herbs but with the same principles. Here are some considerations for North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. In addition to using herbs, we will be giving recommendation on types of food and dietary consideration. "Food as medicine" is an important element of Asian dietary tradition.

 

Essential Vitamins (apart from other multivitamins)

-Chewable Vc tablets (especially if you work and interact with lots of people). 

  If you don’t like these, replace it with fresh lemon or lime on a daily basis.

-Vitamin D (large daily dose preferred, or prescription dose), 

 

Essential Nutrition

-Fresh fruits and vegetables

They are the most important nutrition need to be added to the daily diet to build  immunity and nutrition needed, especially during the COVID time. Home grown and organic fresh fruits and vegetables are even better. Fruits and vegetables in season, and produced locally are also better, as they are offered by nature for the time and location of the being. Lemon and other citrus fruits are the key ingredients to build immunity. Use lemon water daily to refresh and rinse inside the body. Increase dose and amount of water if you are sick or have been exposed to the virus.  Avoid junk food, oil fried food, heavy meat, soft drink, sugar and fat, etc. 


-Protein supplement

This is needed especially if you are vegetarian, or if you are sick, because your body needs protein to make anti-body to ward off the virus. Best form of protein supplement is soup or broth (chicken soup for both the body and the soul). If you are vegetarian, take plant based protein or legume in soup form is also important. If you take powdered form of protein supplement as those sold in health food stores, make sure they are fresh and not rancid or about to expire. Taking fresh produced beans, soy beans, peas, tofu, and other vegetables with high protein content is always better than processed protein powder that has been sitting on shelf for a while.


-Food as medicine

In every culture and tradition, there are certain trusted recipes that can help us recover better and build the body strength. Grandma's cooking can be a source of love and healing, as food for medicine can be better than medication. Try different recipes especially if you are sick, for circumstances such as loss of apatite, digestive problems, fever or cough, etc. 


Essential herbs for prevention and self care: 

-Echinacea: a wide available North American herb used for cold and flu, and relief of respiratory symptoms.


-Citrus Bioflavonoid: a wide available herb made by dried citrus fruits. There are various forms used in Chinese medicine to tune up the digestive system and open up energy channels of the lung (for example for cough) and stomach.


-Triphala: a popular Indian herb in Indian/Ayurvedic medicine. It can be used to tuneup the digestive system, increase appetite, balance water in the body (remove dampness). Add this to improve digestive health, and see its effect on emotional health as well. This herb can be "heat-generating" and cause excessive energy buildup by the head.


-Ginseng (North American type is preferred): most widely studied herb to boost up body energy and immunity. Note: American ginseng is much milder for more body energy types, while Asian Ginseng (especially Korea ginseng with multiple years growth) can be very strong and heat-generating. Only use Asian Ginseng and test its dosage first, if the person’s energy is very low (very weak) and prefers a warm environment


Other supplements for COVID symptoms:

-Goldenseal (very bitter): a widely used herb for cold and flu, and often is combined with Echinacea. It is a very potent herb to reduce fever and combat bacteria and other infections in lung. 


-Olive leaf (bitter): a widely used herb in Europe for its antiviral and antioxidant effect, and supposed to bring peace and health to the disturbed (as what its symbol stands for). It opens up channels of the lung, chest and head to let the excessive energy escape. If fever and excessive heat of the lung happen, add this herb to cool the lung.


-Neem (very bitter): Neem is widely used for its antiviral and antibacterial effects in Indian/ayurvedic medicine. Unlike Goldenseal and Olive Leaf above, Neem is not cooling but neutral, and is especially beneficial for virus-induced digestive disorders such as diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, etc. If symptoms are chill induced by fever (the person feels very cold), weakness rather than excessive heat, use Neem instead rather than Olive Leaf above. 


-Dandelion (slightly bitter): Another cooling herb, widely available to fight fever and toxin, it is supposed to clear the liver and reduce fever. As COVID-19 can attack liver and other organ systems, add Dandelion for the purpose of detox, if a person runs into neurological problems, digestive disorder, and others. 


-Lavender and chamomile: touted for their calming effect for the mind, lavender tea is widely used together with chamomile to reduce anxiety. It also has an antibacterial effect and can be cooling for the lung and head as well. Another very common herb chamomile can be also added together if calming effect is needed. 


-Ginkgo Biloba: doctors have increasingly noted the cardiovascular effect of COVID as it can cause excessive blood clotting, abnormal vascular change, and impair the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen (this is a rapid developing area of research). Although the mechanism of these changes is unknown and still under investigation, one of the most common herbs that can help improve blood flow with effect of blood thinning is Ginkgo Biloba. Ginkgo also has added benefit of anti-inflammation and possibly anti-viral. If symptoms associated with blood clot is visible (such as vein clotting, skin rashes, etc), this may be one of herbs to try. But be sure to talk to your doctors first before trying anything and do not overdose (do not use raw leaves and seeds as they are toxic, buy processed Ginkgo from reputed brand instead).


Usage: Start with 500 mg of each herb (for example, or using 1 capsule), mixed in a cup of boiling water and cool to drink as a tea. Boiling the tea for more time if you want to disinfect it. Add honey to sweeten if needed. 3 times a day, between the meals. Take the tea alone with an empty stomach and separate the time with other food/drink/supplements/medication by 2 hour will be more effective, and will reduce the chance of interference or interaction with other drugs. 


Take capsules directly if you don’t like the flavor of the tea. You can always adjust the dose of each herb and use multiple herbs as a cocktail according to specific body conditions and needs. The key is to become aware of your own body condition and energy balance or imbalance. 

 

While you are using the herbs, be watchful of other herbs, supplements, and food you are taking. Everything has an energetic effect. If you take herb A and herb B which counteract on each other, essentially, you are only adding waste in your body that it has to get rid of (plus a waste of money).


As with any herbs, check their effect and drug interactions with other medications. Buy from reputed brands and always test their effects. Adjust which herbs to take and their dosage according to specific symptoms and body conditions. Be extra careful to children, elderly, and others with existing health problems, especially those who are taking other medications.

 

For the above herbs, you can buy capsule or tablet forms if you don't like the smell of the herb or can't take a bitter taste. Add 1 capsule (500 mg) of a herb to start with. For other non-bitter herbs such as chamomile, lavender, and Triphala, buy bulk powder or loose forms to make tea, for better price and effect. You can always make capsules at home with powder if you like.

 

Disclaimer and Precaution: it is needed here as taking any of the herbs above has not been proven clinically effective to prevent or treat COVID-19 caused problems. COVID present a very challenging situation for medicine as currently there is no known drug or herb that can treat the disease. In fact, most of the commonly used herbs don’t have enough clinical data to support or refute their use, nevertheless, they have been passed on by traditions primarily as part of the folk medicine. Taking herbs can also interfere with effects of other medication (drug interaction). Always ask your doctors before taking any herbs.


References:

Can Chinese Medicine Be Used for Prevention of Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)? A Review of Historical Classics, Research Evidence and Current Prevention Programs, Luo et al, Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, Feb 2020,

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11655-020-3192-6

 

Therapeutic effect of integrative traditional Chinese and western medicine on 51 SARS patients and its influence on their T lymphocyte subsets, Li et al, Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, Dec 2003, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02838611


Official Guidelines on Diagnostic and Treatment Procedures of Coronavirus, Version 7, National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, http://www.nhc.gov.cn/xcs/zhengcwj/202003/46c9294a7dfe4cef80dc7f5912eb1989.shtml


Clinical study on using thermal texture maps in SARS diagnosis,  Wang et al, Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2004;2004:5258-64 (Full text of Chinese article also available  http://www.cqvip.com/Main/Detail.aspx?id=8474739)

Elsevier Coronavirus Resource Center (with other sources from China):

https://www.elsevier.com/connect/coronavirus-information-center


National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH, a branch of National Institute of Health) https://nccih.nih.gov/