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Chinese Herbs and COVID: FDA approves clinical trials

At our clinic we have been harnessing a little-known secret since the beginning of this pandemic – that Chinese herbs have been to treat epidemics, including other coronaviruses, with excellent effect for centuries.

We’re very excited to see that the FDA has caught wind of this safe and inexpensive treatment option that has been used in China (and in Chinese medicine practices here in the US) to minimize symptoms, shorten the duration of illness, and reduce the likelihood of cytokine storm and fatality due to COVID-19 infection.

The FDA has approved 4 clinical trials assessing the efficacy of Chinese herbs and medicinal mushrooms for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. They are the among first of their kind: double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials directly comparing the safety, feasibility, and efficacy of Chinese medicinal substances for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 illness.

The trials, together known as MACH-19 or Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19, will be administered by the Universities of California at Los Angeles and San Diego. As a Chinese Medical clinic with a strong treatment focus on herbs, we’re eager to see the results.

One of the four trials specifically focuses on the use of the Chinese herbal formula Modified Qing Fei Pai Du (QFPD), or Lung Cleansing and Detoxifying Formula, (or, as we call it, Clear Toxin & Restore Harmony) for mild to moderately ill self-quarantining COVID patients. This formula is also one we distribute to COVID patients both at our clinic in Kingston, NY and through our online shop, with excellent results.

Qing Fei Pai Du Tang, which is suitable for mild to severe COVID infection, was chosen primarily because it showed clinical efficacy in the treatment of COVID-19 illness in China in the early days of the pandemic. One field hospital in China, staffed mainly by Chinese medical providers, saw all 560+ patients given this formula recover without progressing to severe illness. Another field hospital with a similar setup and 500+ patients primarily sick with the recent SARS-COV-2 Delta variant have seen a 90% full recovery rate with the use of QFPD, and zero fatalities so far.

Why are clinical trials on herbal formulas so rare? One reason for this is that herbs are often not as profitable as new pharmaceuticals, and it’s difficult to justify the expense of such studies. Another is that clinical trials usually seek one-size-fits-all solutions that can be given uniformly to randomly-assigned participants, which is at odds with the individualized strategies Chinese medical providers use to treat patients.

Researchers navigated this difference of approach by choosing a formula which would be applicable for most COVID patients. Qing Fei Pai Du addresses both the cause – viral infection – and the symptoms of COVID-19 illness. In Chinese medical terms, the formula “clears lung heat, ventilates the lungs, eliminates toxin and phlegm, and harmonizes the patient.” Its 21 ingredients include some names familiar to many of us – cinnamon twig, ginger, tangerine peel – as well as herbs like bupleurum root, scutellaria root, poria fungus, and others in daily use in our clinic and other Chinese herbal pharmacies around the world. The full list of ingredients can be found at the end of this post.

FDA investigation does not mean the herbal formula is “FDA approved” for treating COVID. These trials are first focusing on establishing safety of the formula. One hope the investigators have is that this will open the door for more research on the efficacy of Chinese herbal treatments in general.

Another hope of the researchers is that establishing the safety of the herbs will also help certain herbs become more available. Three of the herbs in the QFPD formula are currently not available in several Western countries due to unresolved safety questions. For example, one of the herbs in the formula, Ma Huang (Ephedra), is currently not legal for use in the US due to concerns about one of its isolated chemical compounds, ephedrine, which was previously used in performance-enhancing and weight loss drugs before it was banned in many countries. 

However, many practitioners consider it an invaluable herb, and would argue it is safer as a whole herb in a formula with other whole herbs (which each contain many different chemical compounds, each with different and often complementary properties) than as a single isolated chemical extract. If the study establishes safety, it could potentially open doors for Ma Huang to once again become legally available for use by Chinese herbalists in the US.

The other three studies specifically focus on the use of Chinese medicinal mushrooms: their safety in COVID patients, as well as the use of the mushrooms to help stimulate the immune system to increase the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot recipients.

The study’s results are expected in a few months. Investigators are actively recruiting participants from the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. For more information, visit UCSD COVID Research or UC Clinical Trials. To purchase our Qing Fei Pai Du (Clear Toxin & Restore Harmony) from our webstore, click here.

Rachel Firak, Program Coordinator

The researchers’ Qing Fei Pai Du formula:

Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica Herba)
Zhi Gan Cao (Radix et Rhizoma Glycyrrhiza Uralensis Praeparata Cum Melle)
Ku Xing Ren (Semen Armeniacae Amarum)
Shi Gao (Gypsum fibrosum)
Gui Zhi (Ramulus Cinnamomi)
Ze Xie (Rhizoma Alismatis orientale)
Zhu Ling (Polyporus umbellatus)
Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae)
Fu Ling (Wolfiporia extensa)
Chai Hu (Radix Bupleurum Falcatum)
Huang Qin (Radix Scutellaria Baicalensis)
Jiang Ban Xia (Rhizoma pinelleae Praeparatum cum Zingibere et Alumine)
Sheng Jiang (Rhizoma Zingiberis Officinale Recens)
Zi Wan (Radix et Rhizoma Aster Tartaricus)
Kuan Dong Hua (Flos Tussilago Farfare)
She Gan (Rhizoma Belamcandae Chinensis)
Xi Xin (Radix et Rhizoma Asarum Heterotropoides)
Shan Yao (Rhizoma Dioscorea Japonica)
Zhi Shi (Fructus Citrus Aurantium Immaturus)
Chen Pi (Pericarpium citrus reticulate)
Guang Huo Xiang (Herba Pogostemon Cablin)

Our version of Qing Fei Pai Du (Clear Toxin & Restore Harmony):

Gan Cao (Radix et Rhizoma Glycyrrhiza Uralensis)
Xing Ren (Semen Armeniacae Amarum)
Shi Gao (Gypsum fibrosum)
Gui Zhi (Ramulus Cinnamomi)
Ze Xie (Rhizoma Alismatis Orientale)
Zhu Ling (Polyporus Umbellatus)
Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae)
Fu Ling (Wolfiporia extensa)
Chai Hu (Radix Bupleurum Falcatum)
Huang Qin (Radix Scutellaria Baicalensis)
Sheng Jiang (Rhizoma Zingiberis Officinale Recens)
Zi Wan (Radix et Rhizoma Aster Tartaricus)
Kuan Dong Hua (Flos Tussilago Farfare)
She Gan (Rhizoma Belamcandae Chinensis)
Xi Xin (Radix et Rhizoma Asarum Heterotropoides)
Shan Yao (Rhizoma Dioscorea Japonica)
Zhi Shi (Fructus Citrus Aurantium Immaturus)
Chen Pi (Pericarpium citrus reticulate)
Huo Xiang (Herba Pogostemon Cablin)

Sources:

Chinese Herbs and Mushrooms for COVID-19: FDA-approved clinical trials as UCLA and UCSD

Groundbreaking FDA-approved study: Mushrooms and Chinese herbs for COVID-19

FDA-approved clinical trials at UCLA and UCSD: Chinese Herbs and Mushrooms for COVID-19

COVID research: MACH-19 Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19

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