Medicinal Roots: Covid-19 And Its Impact On Plant-Based Medicine

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June saw the first plant-based drug clinically tested in the fight against Covid-19. Are we witnessing a return of natural, plant-based medicine?

Earlier this month, Indian company Sun Pharmaceutical Industries ltd. launched trials for their new plant-based drug. Originally designed to cure dengue, its tropical climbing shrub cocculus hirsutus derivatives are proving successful in the fight against coronavirus.

Today’s consumer demand for plant-based symptom relief, and interest in clinical trials for plant-based drugs is higher than ever before.

Dorota Jannece, MD and founder of organic mushroom supplement company SuperShroom, says modern medicine can be traced back to “a concentrated plant derivative”. But the power of plants in their natural form is still underestimated, and she believes this is because people are not informed properly. Should plants and fungi should have a more significant role in modern society?

Plant-based medicine origins

Traditional plant remedies have been around for thousands of years. Highlighting our function as foragers, Jannece says nuts, berries, and edible fungi were a part of our evolution. “In the West, we’ve ignored nature as a medicine on a social level,” she adds.

CEO of Farlong Pharmaceutical and expert in traditional Chinese medicine, Jing Struve also believes in the health benefits of natural plant remedies. “[They] are science backed with full sets of in vivo and in vitro, toxicity, pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, animal, and human safety and efficacy studies,” she says.

Both Jannece and Struve say a trend towards natural medicine is already occurring. But strict laws have placed barriers in scientific progress.

Dividing plants from derivatives

The separation between plant and their constituents began a while back, and has widened over time. One of the barriers faced is their classification as “Schedule I” drugs, demonstrating links of potential abuse rather than medicinal benefits.

In the US, it is illegal to analyse chemical properties of plant-based goods –making it extremely hard for researchers to identify the medicinal benefits within our plants. The US also makes herbal products go through the FDA ahead of treatment or cure claims, which can be extremely expensive.

Struve explains these laws are in place to protect consumers: “because some of the herbal products can be toxic or harmful if not consumed properly under right care.”

But using herbs without extraction has proven to retain overall effectiveness as it preserves the profile and achieves medicinal intentions without the side effects.  

Nutritional Therapist Claudia le Feuvre describes The Entourage Effect. She says maintaining something like CBD products in their natural form, which contain CBG, CDC, and many other cannabinoids, allows them to “work together like an orchestra to produce amazing results”. In acquiring prescriptions from the doctor, one would normally be prescribed “Epidiolex”, formed of CBD isolates. Le Feuvre states: “The pharmaceuticals tend to isolate the key product, and clinical studies show you need an enormous amount of that key product to have an effect.”

Instead, plants in their normal form “can achieve the same results with a much lower dosage,” she adds. 

With fewer expenses, and more freedom, scientists could inform the public better. Furthermore, legalising this research can only help patient and doctor confidence, as well as making plant-based drugs the new norm.

Plant superpowers

Plant-Based MedicinePlant-based diets have been proven to sufficiently support both a normal and an active human lifestyle. But plants and their health benefits go beyond this.

Founded in 2019, SuperShroom brings the benefits of mushrooms as supplements to the public. Whether eaten in porridge, or drunk in smoothies, tea or coffee, their three fungi supplements have shown benefits in cognition and brain health, cholesterol level improvement, and most importantly: boosting the immune system. Turkey Tail, their third fungi, was even clinically tested, showing “an increase in natural killer cells and other cancer-fighting cells in the immune system”.

Farlong Pharmaceutical focuses more on herbal products. CEO Struve strongly believes in our planet’s natural sources of health defence. “Our immune system turns on its full defense mode as soon as it detects anything that could possibility harm our body. I think that the earth is designed the same way as our human body. It has the resources and ability to heal and cure itself and anything living in it,” she states.

Is Covid-19 setting a precedent?

The pandemic has significantly influenced people’s food and medicine consumption. 

Le Feuvre says this can be divided in two. One is the overeating, hoarding, and binging that came with stockpiling and lockdown. “Some disordered food patterns have reared their heads up again, by people with a history of binging,” she explains. Some people, however, are being positively impacted. “[Covid-19] has galvanised them to really elevate their health, and to become as resilient as they can be. That’s a wonderful thing,” she says, smiling.

In China, people turned to herbal remedies. In the first week of the coronavirus outbreak, Furlong had sold out on 90% of their herb inventory. Their latest formula, Qing Fei Pai Du Tang, made of 21 natural herbs, can dry up the lungs in as fast as three days and rebalance the body’s blood, energy, YinYang and Qi flow. The company’s formulas have a 97% success rate of curing people with influenza or coronavirus symptoms and have been officially approved as part of the coronavirus treatment plan in China. With this proof, Struve says there will continue to be “increased demand”.

Are plant-based medicines strong enough?

Jannece would trust a plant-based treatment over a “synthetic one”, but she highlights the importance of ensuring the immune system is operating at an “optimal level” to fight the coronavirus effectively.

Le Feuvre identifies vitamin D, iron, and zinc, as the three most important nutrients to watch out for during the pandemic as a vegan. While most vegans are fine with non-heme iron, vitamin D3 can be difficult to assimilate from non-animal products, and zinc is often blocked by phytates, which are found in popular vegan foods like nuts, lentils, and chickpeas. All three nutrients are essential, but zinc is necessary for our immunity and is linked to our smell and taste – one of the symptoms of Covid-19. Taking supplements is highly advised.

Through plants, we have found cures for numerous viruses, including the recent SARS disease in 2003. Because of this Struve says: “Plants alone could potentially cure Covid-19 and similar viruses, [and] are truly the answer to all human diseases.”

While le Feuvre says she would definitely trust a plant-based cure, because of its fibre quantity and anti-inflammatory properties, people must be wary of developing deficiencies. This can be checked through regular blood tests, and taking advantage of the decrease in cases.

“We’ve got this window now with the summer, with the extra sunshine we should be topping up on all these levels,” she says. If there is any chance of undergoing a second Covid-19 wave: “Now is the time to be building our resilience.”

Olivia Rafferty
Olivia Rafferty
Olivia is the Assistant Editor of The Vegan Review. An aspiring Middle Eastern correspondent currently studying journalism at City, University of London, she is passionate about the planet, she believes veganism is the first step to solving the complexities of climate change.