The Wuhan Coronavirus - Plant-based anti-virals

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So far in my articles about the Wuhan Coronavirus, I've been focussing on the threat of the virus. I think this has been important, not only because of the virus itself, but also because of the complacent and downright misleading behaviour of the Western media. Fortunately, this is starting to change. Today, Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in an interview with the Sunday Times (its website is subscription based), warned of the virus's dangers, its fast spread and what it'll do to an overloaded National Health Service. A short version of his interview is available on the Mirror newspaper's website and on the Daily Mail. This warning has come very late but, nevertheless, it's good that he's spoken out.

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Today, I'm going to focus on what possible remedies are available to combat this virus. There is no vaccine for the virus and so there's nothing that will cure any of us of the disease. Several companies are working on a vaccine but this could take a year or more, even if they do succeed in making one. It is very difficult to make a vaccine for any coronavirus, due the virus's mutability; that is why there is no vaccine for the common cold, in any of its forms. This doesn't mean that we should give up the idea of taking any medicine to combat the disease, if we get it. There are compounds that can suppress the virus's spread in our body.

For example, several compounds are used to slow the spread of the HIV virus; these are known as anti-virals. Some labs are already testing HIV anti-virals on the Wuhan coronavirus to see if that will help those infected. Unfortunately, these anti-virals are not made in large amounts and they are expensive. They're therefore effectively useless to the general public in any country once the Wuhan coronavirus spreads beyond the first thousand cases.

Instead, we can look at natural anti-virals. I know that the phrase 'natural' might ring alarm bells for some readers. To allay those concerns, I am going to approach this topic by first studying a scientific paper on this matter. The paper concerned is 'Anti-SARS coronavirus 3C-like protease effects of Isatis indigotica root and plant-derived phenolic compounds'. You can read it here. This is its abstract (the potted version of the paper):

'The 3C-like protease (3CLpro) of SARS-coronavirus mediates the proteolytic processing of replicase polypeptides 1a and 1ab into functional proteins, becoming an important target for the drug development. In this study, Isatis indigotica root extract, five major compounds of I. indigotica root, and seven plant-derived phenolic compounds were tested for anti-SARS-CoV 3CLpro effects using cell-free and cell-based cleavage assays. Cleavage assays with the 3CLpro demonstrated that IC50 values were in micromolar ranges for I. indigotica root extract, indigo, sinigrin, aloe emodin and hesperetin. Sinigrin (IC50: 217 microM) was more efficient in blocking the cleavage processing of the 3CLpro than indigo (IC50: 752 microM) and beta-sitosterol (IC50: 1210 microM) in the cell-based assay.'

The abstract is not exactly in layman's language, being a science paper, but I'll try my best to summarise its first sentences. What it's saying is that certain compounds can inhibit, as in block or slow down, SARS-coronaviruses' attempts to replicate themselves in the body. The Wuhan coronavirus is a SARS-like coronavirus, which makes this paper very relevant. The compounds mentioned inhibit the virus's spread within the body by targeting the 3C-like protease (3CLpro) part of the virus's machinery.

Medicines for other coronavirus diseases also target 3CLpro. For example, cats get a disease known as feline infectious peritonitis, which is also a coronavirus. This scientific paper explains how the 3C-like protease inhibitor GC376 was used to treat cats with this disease. I'm certainly not recommending anyone take GC376 - I've no idea what it is or its effect on humans - but it shows that the tactic of inhibiting the 3CLpro mechanism in a coronavirus is a known way to slow or defeat the infection.

The above abstract then discusses the natural compounds the team tested, in order to discover the compounds' abilities to target 3CLpro. The authors use biological terms for these compounds but I'll refer to the compounds with their common names.

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Woad - Isatis indigotica root extract: Woad is a flowering plant also known as the Asp of Jerusalem. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries. This natural medicine site, Chrysalis Natural Medicine, talks at length about Woad's beneficial effects. It says that, 'Isatis root and leaf are bitter in taste and cold in action. They reduce fever and heat, cool the blood and throat, and reduce activity of virulent viruses and microbes.' The site warns that Woad root extract is powerful and should be used carefully. They then add that, 'a number of studies of acute viral respiratory tract infections and infections normally requiring antibiotic therapy have demonstrated the efficacy of a combination of echinacea root, white cedar leaf tips and wild indigo root, which contains similar compounds to isatis (Wustenberg et al., 1999).'

Sinigrin - found in broccoli, brussel sprouts and in high concentrations in black mustard seeds: This scientific paper reports on studies of Sinigrin. It reports that, 'studies conducted on the pharmacological activities of sinigrin have revealed anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, wound healing properties and biofumigation.' Webmd.com describes how black mustard seeds are ground into a paste and then pressed directly against the skin to treat pneumonia and inflammation of the lungs. This is known as a 'mustard plaster'.

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The Aloe cactus - Aloe Emodin:: The aloe plant, which is a cactus, has been famous for millennia for its medicinal properties. The Ancient Egyptians revered it. The juice of the plant is associated with longevity and a host of medicinal benefits.

Hesperitin - Orange peel bioflavonoid: Hesperitin is the main flavonoid in lemons and sweet oranges: Hesperitin is found in Hesperidin (note the 'd'), a compound in orange peels. You can buy Hesperidin as part of a bioflavonoids supplement, for example here. Bioflavonoids have been known for a long time as having health benefits. They have even been used as a way to sell wine, as it contains grape flavonoids, but I think orange peels would be healthier. ;-)

Echinacea - This isn't mentioned in the science paper described earlier, but it is mentioned in this scientific paper which was testing natural remedies to combat the common cold (another coronavirus or rhinovirus). That paper's conclusion was, 'this study shows that the herbal remedy is effective and safe. The therapeutic benefit consists of a rapid onset of improvement of cold symptoms. If patients with colds are able to start the application of the herbal remedy as soon as practical after the occurrence of the initial symptoms, the benefit would be expected to increase (e.g. self-medication).'

Indigo - Indigo is a herbaceous perennial plant native to eastern North America. I can't find a supplement for this plant, but I'll mention it for completeness sake. Be aware that it's sold as a hair-colourant, so remember to read the label! :-)

Summary

These natural compounds are proven in scientific studies to be a natural way to combat an acute viral respiratory tract infection. Several of them are already known in traditional medicine for their therapeutic effects. I don't know how much you should take of them and for how long. This article is meant to be informative, so that people realise that they don't have to passively suffer the Wuhan coronavirus if they get it; they can take measures to improve their chances of beating it. If I find other, supporting material on this subject, I'll add it to this website.