While wearing masks, social distancing, and regular hand washing are some preventative measures against COVID-19, some of us still wonder what else can be done to keep ourselves safe.
I remember receiving WhatsApp chain messages from relatives during the first few months of the pandemic about all kinds of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that could boost the immune system, with some even claiming they could cure the virus.
Although I grew up using TCM regularly to treat minor illnesses, some of these messages have still struck me with doubt. Many felt misleading and, if believed by the masses of uncles and aunts who receive them, could lead to worse results.
So I turned to 3 TCM specialists and a nutritionist to clarify the role of TCM in combating COVID-19:
TCM cannot help with severe COVID-19 symptoms
"Chinese medicine is supposed to treat the human body, not the disease," said Dr. Serena of the Vulcan Post with.
She explained that TCM is usually individualized and that they rely on the differentiation of the syndrome to prescribe medication to their patients, which the other two TCM specialists also agreed on.
Dictionary time: Syndrome differentiation (Bian Zheng) in TCM is the use of the techniques of observation, listening, questioning, and pulse analysis to guide the choice of treatment through either acupuncture and / or TCM herbal formulas (Fu Fang).
National Library of Medicine
"For example, some people may have mucous cough, heated cough, cold cough, etc. and we will diagnose the type of cough by differentiating the syndrome," explained Dr. Serena.
Based on research findings, TCM can help alleviate COVID-19 symptoms by reducing the severity of the disease, reducing the length of hospital stays for patients, improving recovery, and lowering the death rate, especially among those in the intensive care unit. according to Dr. Ren Jye.
Dr. However, Serena said it is also important to note that TCM can only treat mild symptoms and not severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing.
"I always ask my patients to check that the oxygen in their blood has dropped first, and if so, I will ask them to go to the hospital immediately," she said.
Addressing false claims in Circulation
Since there is no one size fits all when it comes to TCM, anything that tells you otherwise should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Since TCM is tailored to each person and their current state of health, these TCM specialists will first ask you a series of questions before prescribing a medication for you.
“We're going to get them to take pictures of their tongue to diagnose their condition like color and ask some questions like how often you cough, the color of your mucus, your lifestyle, how often do you go to the bathroom and a lot more. Janet shared.
Dr. Serena added that she would ask about their age, whether they cough more during the day or at night, whether they have phlegm in their throat when they cough, whether they often feel thirsty, the color of their urine. etc.
"We have seen some consumers buying unregistered products or herbal formulas in raw materials to cook based on the wrong message chains or through friends and have side effects," shared Dr. Ren Jye of the Vulcan Post with.
He pointed out that the public should not be misled by false information like this, as treatment and prevention are two different things. Preventive drugs should not be used for treatment and vice versa.
“Even with the same condition, different people may need different formulas for personalized treatment, and this may need to be changed quickly. The specific amount of each herbal therapy may also need to be adjusted accordingly, ”he added.
"It is illegal for anyone to claim that TCM herbs can cure COVID-19," confirmed Janet.
You can take TCM for improved immunity, but not 100% rely on it
Dr. Ren Jye said that Yu Ping Feng Shan, a Chinese herbal blend containing Astragali Radix (Huangqi), Atractylodis Macrocephalae Rhizoma (Baizhu), and Saposhnikoviae Radix (Fangfeng), can form a protective screen to keep out the cold, excessive heat. "Wind" and disease gone.
"Things like chrysanthemum or Luo Han Guo that are not too strong of an herb can be consumed during this hot season to boost your immune system and fight the heat," shared Dr. Serena with.
However, she also reiterated that no one should use these herbs for COVID-19 prevention and go to high risk areas as they are still prone to infection.
How does western medicine see the role of TCM in COVID-19?
"For the most part, there is no conflict between Western medicine and evidence-based TCM, as both practices share a similar belief that proper nutrition is essential for optimal health," Celeste told the Vulcan Post.
However, she emphasized that when looking for a TCM treatment, it is important that patients go to certified and qualified TCM providers.
As with TCM, nutritionists also personalize and manage a patient's food intake based on the category of their infection.
“For ventilated patients or critically ill patients, studies have been conducted that have shown that higher protein and caloric intake is required. While Category 1 and Category 2 COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms, it is important that they continue to eat well and healthily during the recovery period, ”she shared.
When it comes to boosting your immune system, Celeste explained that eating a healthy diet along with increased consumption of antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin D, and some micro-minerals can help, as evidence-based studies show.
While TCM can help build the immune system and relieve COVID-19 symptoms, it is clear that it has no healing capabilities for the virus.
For example, before we pass on the chain messages recommending ginger or lemon as a panacea, we should take our care to investigate what they really do for the body and avoid spreading more misinformation.
- More articles on COVID-19 can be found here.
Selected image source: Celeste from Sunway Medical Center (right), Dr. Serena from the Serena Liow TCM & Acupuncture Center (center) and Dr. Lim Ren Jye from the Sunway TCM Center (right)