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COVID-19 and “Natural Remedies”: Do They Work?

Right now, as of April 14th 2020, we don’t have a cure for the new coronavirus. That’s not to say that one won’t eventually be developed, but at the moment, there is no miracle pill or serum that you can consume which will cure you of the virus. Currently, medicine being used to treat patients who are sick with COVID-19 is helping to alleviate breathlessness and discomfort, and to provide life support, but is not actively curing the disease.


Because of this, there is a lot of discussion about the use of ‘natural remedies’ and ‘alternative medicines’ as part of this process. Will the use of these kinds of treatments be helpful in combating the disease? And what can we learn from the Chinese, who have a wealth of experience with the virus, and are also huge proponents of traditional, herbal medicine?

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There are three possible responses to these questions. The first is to say that “natural remedies” are the only real treatment and to avoid “modern medicine” altogether. The second is to work out how to integrate the two types of treatment together as an interconnected approach. And the third is to focus on the modern, scientifically based treatment and use “alternative medicines” sparingly, if at all. We’ll give you a breakdown of what these three responses might look like in the face of COVID-19.


1. Natural Remedies as the only treatment.


To be blunt, using purely natural remedies as a treatment for a deadly disease like COVID-19 is foolish and irresponsible. Since there is no cure for coronavirus (scientifically or ‘naturally’), relying on traditional medicines like teas and oils can give people a false sense of security about their own wellbeing. This means, whether it’s intentional or subconscious, people may stop following guidelines like social distancing, handwashing and avoiding touching the face, which will exacerbate the spread of the virus. In an extreme scenario, for people who are critically ill with COVID-19, rejecting modern medicine means rejecting things like isolated hospital care and ventilators, which increases the infection risk of loved ones and increases the chance of death. While natural solutions could have some effect on relieving symptoms, they cannot be relied upon in serious COVID 19 illness.


2. Natural remedies in tandem with modern medicine


This integrated method of treatment was an approach that was taken in China. The Chinese secretary of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Yu Yanhong, claimed that traditional medicines had relieved symptoms, reduced the severity of the virus, sped up recovery rates and reduced mortality. However, these claims came without any statistics or studies to support them. No evidence. And this is a consistent problem with these natural medicines, particularly those from China. There is no widely available breakdown of what the medicines contain, no way of ensuring a quality of manufacturing and no guarantee they aren’t contaminated or adulterated. This is especially a problem with essential oils, where there’s no real way of telling whether they're the genuine article, or a fake. So while some natural medicines can be used to alleviate mild symptoms, especially for illnesses like the common cold, for something as serious as COVID-19 it’s best to avoid them. For the direct problems just outlined, and the indirect consequences discussed earlier.


3. Modern medicine as the only treatment


It’s true that there is no cure, or vaccine available for COVID-19 as of yet. However, from the research that’s been conducted so far, we can be hopeful that this will soon change. In the meantime, “modern medicine” as a treatment for COVID-19 includes following all the social distancing and isolation guidelines as a community, washing your hands regularly, and (for those who have severe cases of the disease), ventilators, hospital care and supportive medication. So far, these are the only measures that have proof of working, and no particular natural therapy can be recommended with an evidence base. While we don’t want to condemn ‘natural remedies’ as entirely unsafe, with a dangerous virus like this (when so much is unknown) they are best avoided.


We should also be careful to say that there is already a large number of ‘modern medicines’ which have been tried as treatments for COVID 19 in the absence of any real evidence that they work. This includes some drugs that claim to have antiviral effects. There is, unfortunately, a history of such approaches being used in mainstream medicine when doctors are confronted by diseases for which no medical cure is available. Some of these treatments in the past, such as the use of steroids for treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, have even become ‘standard treatment’ for many years and yet eventually have been proven to be detrimental to patient wellbeing, even increasing the likelihood of death. It’s not just ‘natural therapies’, given without evidence of benefit, that can harm people. So, much as unproven natural therapies should be avoided, the same is true for unproven ‘modern medicines’. Ideally, any treatment, whether ‘natural/traditional’ or ‘modern’, which has a sound rationale for possible benefit should be given only in the context of a clinical trial until we better understand whether it causes help or harm. We understand that this is a difficult time for a great many people. If your mental health is really suffering, please reach out and get some help. Beyond Blue has a dedicated support service for this exact situation, so find out more by clicking here, or just calling them on 1800 512 348


The latest government information about restrictions and financial help can be found here.


If you have any concerns yourself about coronavirus or your respiratory health, you can get in touch with us to book a no fee telehealth appointment with our respiratory specialists.


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This article is from Keystone Medical Media, a sub-entity of Keystone Content.


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