Traditional Indian medicine, including herbs and oils, might have a role to play in helping fight Covid-19, according to new research.
Scientists in India, the UK and South Korea have published two studies which show plants used in traditional medicines in India could potentially be used both in face masks to improve their ability to filter out the virus and taken orally to slow infection rates and ease symptoms.
One of the authors of these studies, Dr Pattanathu Rahman in the Faculty of Science and Health at the University of Portsmouth, UK, said: “There is an urgent need for novel treatment options for Covid-19, and Indian medicinal plants might prove to be one of the ways forward.
“Various drugs to tackle Covid-19 are being developed all around the world at an extremely quick pace, with some already being tested in trials. The virus will eventually be defeated.
There is an urgent need for novel treatment options for Covid-19, and Indian medicinal plants might prove to be one of the ways forward
Dr Pattanathu Rahman, Faculty of Science and Health
“Researchers including me and my colleagues are very curious about how best to protect people’s health before a vaccine is made available.
“Slowing the spread of the disease has been cited as our best chance of reducing its impact on our health services. This strategy, although crucial in maintaining the infrastructure of our hospitals, doesn’t help us treat those who are isolating at home with symptoms.
“Indian medicinal herbs are a promising field for the treatment of various illnesses. We hope that by identifying certain phytocompounds, we can isolate and administer them alone or mix them with other compounds to alleviate the infection.”
Traditional Indian medicine is used by millions of people worldwide and has been proven to help reduce the effects of other flu-like illnesses, like Covid-19.
The researchers hope that by repurposing drugs already known to be safe for humans, treatment options for Covid-19 could be speeded up.
The researchers list several medicinal plants that could be used as potential therapeutic agents against Covid-19.
Dr Rahman said it was likely to be at least a few months before a vaccine is available to fight Covid-19, but scientists already know it is structurally very similar to another Covid virus, SARS, for which Indian medicinal herbs have been found to be beneficial.
He and scientists led by Dr Balachandar Vellingiri at Bharathiar University in India have devised a way of infusing nano-fibre based respiratory masks with some of these herbs, which they claim will reduce the rate of infection passing through the filter and into the lungs of the wearer. The herb filter includes plants that were found to inactivate or ‘turn off’ the SARS virus.
Indian medicinal herbs are a promising field for the treatment of various illnesses
Dr Pattanathu Rahman , School of Biological Sciences
Dr Rahman said Andrographis paniculate was a well-known medicinal plant used to cure viral infections such as dengue fever and chikungunya fever.
“The mode of action of the compound is antiviral in the case of dengue while immuno-modulatory in chikungunya infection. It was used as an anti-viral therapy during the 2006 dengue outbreak in India. There is a potential to use these antiviral compounds to fight against Covid-19.”
The team’s mask filter study is published in European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences.
The size of the Covid-19 virus is 120-125 nanometer and most masks can stop only microbes of 300 nanometer or more, Dr Rahman said.
He and colleagues have made a prototype mask to World Health Organisation standards capable of filtering the Covid-19 virus using cotton interwined with fibres containing molecules of phytochemicals of government-approved herbs spun using electro spinning technology. All materials used are approved either by the Indian government or the US Food and Drug Administration.
Their second study, examining the use of Indian medicines as treatment for Covid-19 symptoms is published in The Science of the Total Environment.
Their studies examine the structural biology of the virus, the probable mechanism of action inside the host cell, genomic comparison between Covid-19 and SARS (also a coronavirus), comparison of the symptoms among Covid-19, SARS, MERS and common flu, current treatment, ongoing clinical trials and Indian traditional medicinal plants that can be developed as drugs specifically targeting Covid-19.