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Herbal products can help in dealing with COVID-19, if they are made trustworthy

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Herbal products can increase our immune responses; however, we first need authenticity, a proper scientific approach, strict governmental guidelines and proper monitoring of herbal products

Currently, human life around the world has been has been endangered due to the vice-like grip of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The pandemic has caused a global health emergency. Rapidly evolving bacterial and viral infections are creating a global menace for humans. Increasing immunity to prevent such infections will help in maintaining optimum health conditions.

There are multiple products, both synthetic and natural, that are available in the market for improving the immune system. But choice of multiple immunity booster products can also cause confusion among consumers.

In the current pandemic scenario, when better immunity is the key to a healthy life, the use of medicinal plants is the need of the hour. According to ancient science, one can strengthen his or her immunity by consuming herb and herbal products.

Many herbal plants are a part of the daily life of Indians. In our society, medicinal herbs are considered natural, safe, cheap, accessible, without any toxic side effects and have high phramocogical importance.

Herbs have been popularly used alone or in amalgamation with other drugs in the treatment of various diseases such as cancers, diabetes, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases, cognitive complications and wound healing.

Phyto-compounds, extracts, essential oils, decoctions, powders, tinctures, poultices as well as raw herbs form an important part of drugs approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

They provide more than 50 per cent of modern therapeutics. Phyto-compounds like terpenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, quinones, tannins, coumarins, terpenes, lectins, polypeptides and saponins are herbal constituents. They play an important role in signal transduction, mitosis (cell division) and apoptosis (cell death) too. Medicinal plant-based phytomedicine leads to the concoction of newer drugs.

The World Health Organization itself has noted that 80 per cent of the world’s population relies on herbal therapeutics. Their antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-tumour and antiviral properties have successfully promoted their valid usage in drug discovery. Some crucial drugs listed below are successfully derived from medicinal plants and their phyto-compounds:  

DrugPlant
Aspirin Filipendula ulmaria (L) Maxim
Codeine , Papavarine, Noscapine, Apomorphine -hydrochloride (Apokyn®)Papaver somniferum L
  Colchicine Colchicum autumnale L
Digoxin and digitoxin  Digitalis purpurea L
Cannabidiol, Tetrahydrocannabinol  Cannabis sativa L.
Vinblastine, vincristineCatharanthus roseus (L) G Don
Artemisinin Artemisia annua L
Galantamine (Reminyl®) Galanthus woronowii Losinsk
Berberine                 Berberis vulgaris
Tiotropium bromide (Spiriva®)Atropa belladonna L
Paclitaxel (Taxol®) Taxus brevifolia Nutt
Camptothecin   Camptotheca acuminate Decne
Allicin (diallylthiosulfnate)Allium sativum L
Reserpine                  Rauvolfia serpentina
Quinidine        Quinine          Cinchona ledgeriana
GlycyrrhizinGlycyrrhiza glabra
Digitalin, Digitoxin, DigoxinDigitalis purpurea

Medicinal herbs for immune response

The immune system is a complex system that is interlinked through various biochemical pathways. Various phyto-compounds found in drugs actively contribute to the host-defence mechanism by killing the pathogen and providing supportive therapy.

Apart from developed drugs, various medicinal plants impart crucial immunomodulatory / antioxidant response. These include:

  • Amla or Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis)
  • Pippali or Indian long pepper(Piper longum)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
  • Giloy
  • Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia)
  • Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
  • Clove
  • Laung (Syzygium aromaticum)
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • Ginseng (Planax quinquefolius)
  • Kalonji (Nigella sativa)
  • Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
  • Ghritkumari (Aloe vera)
  • Kalmegh (Andrographis paniculate)
  • Yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Neem (Azadirachta indica)

The rebooting of the immune response through herbs is also noticed via antioxidant / anti-inflammatory activities, enhancing cell-mediated response, generation of inter-cell communication and modulation of antigen-presenting cells during an adaptive and innate immune response.

The therapeutics of medicinal herbs creates free radicals, followed by generation of inflammations and invasion through macrophages and neutrophils, leaving no side effects. During selective immunosuppression conditions derived from several inflammatory diseases, autoimmune disorders, organ and bone marrow transplants and cancerous conditions, they work as well as immunomodulators.

Apart from this, the immune response can be stimulated through appropriate sleep, judicious exercise, a stress-free environment, nutritive foods, water intake and consumption of fresh and healthy fruits.

Several investigations have suggested the effect of common, traditionally-used medicinal plants in alleviating the immune response inside cells. However, the multifactorial pathogenicity of infections cannot be eradicated easily. For this, a systemic approach of comprehensive profiling, reproducible and robust bioassays, targeted therapies and advanced drug discovery should be practised.

With expanding knowledge about herbal therapeutics, a combination of chemistry, biology and immunology might be helpful in generating a sufficient database for its proper utilisation in disease treatment and development of newer phytomedicine. A combination of our ancient traditional knowledge and advanced medicinal technology may provide us with safe and effective immunity supplements.

Herbal products are generally expensive and hence, out of the range of the common man. Thus, making them cost-effffective is also a big challenge. In India, the market of herbal products is vast and full of opportunities. So, a significant investment by the government and industries in the research and development of herbal products is much needed.

Authenticity and a proper scientific approach in herbal products are also lacking in the Indian market. Though the AYUSH (Ayurveda-Unani-Siddha-Homeopathy) department of the Union health ministry is concerned with herbal products, strict governmental guidelines and their proper monitoring are also required for making herbal products trustworthy.  

There is a myth among common people that herbal products are harmless. So they use them without any expert  prescription. Sometimes, this may cause adverse effects on human health. Hence, proper prescription and observation of doctors is necessary in herbal products too.

The wise and optimum use of herbal products as immunity boosters will be helpful to better deal with the current pandemic situation.

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