Can Herbal Medicines Fight Wuhan Coronavirus?
Research over the past two decades shows that certain herbal medicines can fight the new Wuhan coronavirus contagion. Let’s review the evidence showing that certain plant medicines can fight similar viral infections such as SARS, MERS and Ebola, and why this can also apply to the Wuhan coronavirus
Let’s review some of the current science on this coronavirus infection. Then we can discuss what plant medicines can offer.
Latest on the Wuhan coronavirus
The SARS-like coronavirus that appears to have originated in Wuhan, China has now infected thousands of people. As of January 28, 2020, Chinese officials have confirmed over 6,000 cases. These have occurred in every province of China with the exception of Tibet. As of the 28th, 132 people have died from the virus.
To contain the coronavirus, nearly 50 million people have been quarantined. Quarantine areas include Wuhan and 15 other nearby cities in the region of Hubei province. The Centers for Disease Control said they are monitoring 73 possible infections in 26 states in the United States as of the 28th of January. None of these cases have revealed any person-to-person transmission in the U.S.
Investigators are suspecting that the virus originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. The market’s vendors have been selling live or butchered animals in addition to fish and other marine life.
What is the nCoV-2019?
The virus has been officially named nCoV-2019 (or 2019-nCoV) coronavirus as of now.
Sequencing of the virus has determined it to be 75 to 80 percent match to SARS-CoV and 85 percent plus similar to multiple coronaviruses found in bats.
SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. It is also a coronavirus, or CoV.
Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology published a paper on January 23, 2020. Their paper informs that nCoV-2019 has a 96 percent genome match with a bat coronavirus.
They also stated that nCoV-2019 utilizes the same cell entry receptor as the SARS-CoV of 2002-2004. The receptor is ACE2. We’ll discuss the importance of this later.
It has yet been determined whether the infection is as lethal as SARS. SARS is another outbreak that began in China in 2002, infecting people through 2004. More than 700 people died worldwide of SARS.
A study published on January 24 from University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital in Shenzhen studied six patients of nCoV-2019. They also determined that the virus was most similar to a SARS coronavirus found in Chinese horseshoe bats.
nCoV-2019 symptoms and transmission
These and other researchers have determined that nCoV-2019 is transmitted from person to person when a person comes into contact with the secretions of an infected person. This means the virus is transmitted via the following means:
- Shaking hands
- Touching infected object then touching eyes, mouth or nose
- Handling the waste of an infected person
Symptoms of nCoV-2019 include:
- Runny nose
- Mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness
- Sore throat
The elderly and young children are most at risk from the infection. This is similar to SARS, though it appears nCoV-2019 is less lethal than SARS and MERS. About 15 to 20 percent of cases can become severe. The lethal rate is about 1 in 10 according to doctors.
The nCoV-2019 virus, just as was SARS and MERS, is an enveloped virus. This means the virus is protected by a glycoprotein shell. This is why these viruses are so difficult to treat.
Red algae for SARS and MERS coronavirus
A few years ago we published research showing that an extract from red algae – called Griffithsin – can fight SARS and MERS infections. Red algae Griffithsin has also proven to be antiviral against HIV-1 (human immunodeficiency virus), HSV-2 (Herpes simplex virus), HCV (Hepatitis C) and the Ebola virus.
What do these viruses have in common? Along with nCoV-2019, they all have glycoprotein shells around them. According to doctors at the University of California at Davis:
“Griffithsin is a marine algal lectin that exhibits broad-spectrum antiviral activity by binding oligomannose glycans on viral envelope glycoproteins.”
The researchers are discussing what is also called a mannose-binding lectin. Mannose-binding lectins have been shown to penetrate and break down the shells that surround this class of viruses – which includes nCoV-2019 virus.
The red algae extract above was found in the Griffithsia species of red algae. This is not the only species of red algae that contains mannose-binding lectins.
Another mannose-binding lectin found to be antiviral against these viruses is the Scytonema varium red algae, also called Scytovirin. Another one was found in the Nostoc ellipsosporum algae species – called Cyanovirin-N.
A 2019 study from France’s Institute of Research Development tested a number of other species, and found the Ulva pertusa algae species contained lectins that fight these viruses. They also found the Oscillatoria agardhii blue-green algae halt replication of these viruses.
A 2016 study from the University of Louisville School of Medicine also studied Griffithsin and found it also inhibited SARS-CoV as well as HIV and similar viruses. The researchers wrote:
“These findings support further evaluation of GRFT [Griffithsin] for pre-exposure prophylaxis against emerging epidemics for which specific therapeutics are not available, including systemic and enteric infections caused by susceptible enveloped viruses.”
Studies have found that these mannose-binding lectins break down the glycoprotein shells of the viruses mentioned above, including Ebola and SARS. A number of animal tests and human cell laboratory tests have shown that these mannose-binding lectins are successful in halting replication of the virus.
In a study on mice with Ebola, researchers found that Griffithsin halted not only replication, but made mice immune to the virus. Similar results were found with SARS and MERS infections.
This means that Griffithsin – from red algae – should make an effective vaccine of sorts. Are researchers testing this?
It is currently unknown what scientists are studying. But often commercial focus is upon compounds that can be patented.
In the 2018 study from the University of California mentioned above, the researchers reviewed the technical ability to mass-produce Griffithsin, in this case, for HIV infections, using plants to produce the extract. They illustrated the end cost to be quite low:
“In this study, we conducted a technoeconomic analysis (TEA) of plant-produced Griffithsin manufactured at commercial launch volumes for use in HIV microbicides. Data derived from multiple non-sequential manufacturing batches conducted at pilot scale and existing facility designs were used to build a technoeconomic model using SuperPro Designer® modeling software. With an assumed commercial launch volume of 20 kg Griffithsin/year for 6.7 million doses of Griffithsin microbicide at 3 mg/dose, a transient vector expression yield of 0.52 g Griffithsin/kg leaf biomass, recovery efficiency of 70%, and purity of >99%, we calculated a manufacturing cost for the drug substance of $0.32/dose and estimated a bulk product cost of $0.38/dose assuming a 20% net fee for a contract manufacturing organization (CMO).”
This is the nature of treating disease with plant medicines: Plants are economical and productive on a large scale, as we know from food and herbal medicine production.
Licorice for SARS
Licorice root has been used for thousands of years for lung infections with similar symptoms as viral infections.
We have also published evidence that licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can fight SARS and MERS CoV infections. Studies have found that licorice root extracts were able to reduce SARS and MERS-CoV replication.
A 2008 study from the UK’s Luton & Dunstable Hospital NHS Foundation Trust tested licorice root extracts against a number of viruses, including HIV and SARS. They found that the extract broke down the viral envelope and also boosted immune activity.
The researchers stated that their studies,
“revealed antiviral activity against HIV‐1, SARS related coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, arboviruses, vaccinia virus and vesicular stomatitis virus.”
For the mechanisms, the researchers stated,
“Mechanisms for antiviral activity of Glycyrrhiza spp. include reduced transport to the membrane and sialylation of hepatitis B virus surface antigen, reduction of membrane fluidity leading to inhibition of fusion of the viral membrane of HIV‐1 with the cell, induction of interferon gamma in T‐cells, inhibition of phosphorylating enzymes in vesicular stomatitis virus infection and reduction of viral latency.”
Other plant lectins that fight these viruses
We have published other research evidence showing that mannose-binding lectins from other plants can also fight SARS-related viruses. A number of studies have shown that plants that contain mannose-binding lectins can significantly stimulate the immune system and help prevent a number of infections.
A 2007 study from Belgium’s University of Gent studied plant-derived mannose-binding lectins on SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus and the feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV).
The researchers studied known plant lectins from 33 different plants in the laboratory, using infected cells. The researchers wrote:
“A unique collection of 33 plant lectins with different specificities were evaluated. The plant lectins possessed marked antiviral properties against both coronaviruses with EC(50) values in the lower microgram/ml range (middle nanomolar range), being non-toxic (CC(50)) at 50-100 microg/ml. The strongest anti-coronavirus activity was found predominantly among the mannose-binding lectins.”
Of the 33 plants tested, 15 extracts inhibited replication of both coronaviruses. Those antiviral lectins were successful in inhibiting the replication of the viruses.
The 15 coronavirus-inhibiting plants were:
• Amaryllis (Hippeastrum hybrid)
• Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
• Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)
• Red spider lily (Lycoris radiate)
• Leek (Allium porrum)
• Ramsons (Allium ursinum)
• Taro (Colocasia esculenta)
• Cymbidium orchid (Cymbidium hybrid)
• Twayblade (Listera ovata)
• Broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine)
• Tulip (Tulipa hybrid)
• Black mulberry tree (Morus Nigra)
• Tabacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum)
• Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)