Can an ancient herb protect against COVID-19 infection

The herbal medicine containing extracts of an ancient plant long used in Asia to ward off virus infection by bolstering immunity is seeing surging demands and the attention of health authorities in the region.

A plant widely used in Asia, and clinically studied, for upper respiratory tract infection is getting close attention in the medical community for warding off infection of coronavirus (Covid-19).

The herbaceous plant Andrographis paniculata, native to India, and is widely cultivated in Southeast Asia and China. Formulations containing the bitter leaves of the plant are listed in traditional Indian and Chinese Pharmacopeias for treatment of bacterial infection and to boost the body’s immune system. In Thailand, formulations of the herb, which is popularly known as Fa-Thalai-Chon, are an approved medicine for cold, cough and flu, and is listed on its National List of Essential Drugs and is reimbursed by the government.

The symptoms of coronavirus are like that of the flu, also called influenza, a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system: the nose, throat, and lungs.
For most people, their immune system gets rid of the influenza. But the viral infection can be deadly for those who can develop complications, such young children and adults over 65 years of age, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases and weak immune systems.

Could Fa-Thalai-Chon prevent the infection?

Andrographis paniculata contains andrographolides and other compounds, which have been found to stimulate the general immune system and inhibit inflammation and microbial activities in the body.

The active compounds of the plant, most concentrated in the leaves, have shown to prevent viruses from invading cells in the body. Some research show that they also act as an antiretroviral agent, which means they blunt the process of the viruses replicating themselves.

Although long in use, no one has yet done a clinical study to prove or disprove the claimed benefits of Andrographis paniculata against coronavirus.

The Thai government has now undertaken to do a clinical trial on the anti-coronavirus effect of the herbal medicine in healthy volunteers.

The study will be performed on 10 healthy volunteers for one month, and the subjects will be hospitalized for 5 days, during which they will take Fa-Thalai-Chon orally. Then their serum will be mixed with the virus to see if the virus will be killed. The Thai Traditional Medicine and Alternative Medicine Department and other government agencies spearheading the study also plan to investigate the mechanism of action on the coronavirus if the herb is found to be effective.

Previous studies have found Fa-Thalai -Chon to have broad spectrum antiviral activities, e.g., blocking the entry of virus into cells, immune enhancement, anti-inflammatory effects, such that it has been used in treating upper respiratory tract infections.

The Thai scientists’ undertaking follows their positive findings in an in-vitro (in test tube) test that showed that Fa-Thalai-chon, grown in Thailand, has the ability to kill coronavirus.