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March 27, 2020

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TCM a key player in the war against novel coronavirus

For the first time this week, the Chinese medical authorities announced that they had approved the clinical trial of a traditional Chinese medicine product for potential use in the treatment of COVID-19 cases.

There is currently no cure for the novel coronavirus pneumonia in either Chinese or Western medicine though the global medical community is optimistic after recent test results.

TCM treatment has been widely used in China’s battle against the invisible virus. Official reports show more than 90 percent of COVID-19 patients in China — more than 74,000 patients — used TCM in various forms.

“Clinical trials under strict regulations are underway and results are still inconclusive, but TCM treatment, including acupuncture and traditional wellness exercise, has been widely used by our team at the front line in Wuhan and here in Shanghai,” Huang Haiyin, a senior respiratory physician from Shanghai Yueyang Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine, told Shanghai Daily.

“Our experiences showed that these treatments have been effective in many cases.”

TCM treatment is included in the latest editions of the official guidelines for treating COVID-19 released by both the central and Shanghai governments. TCM medicinal products were also sent to virus-battling Italy.

Huang said many remedies consist of a proper combination of anti-viral, detoxication and lung-improvement ingredients that have been used for centuries.

TCM treats the body as a sophisticated and interconnected system as a whole. Rather than just killing the virus, it tries to reach an overall balance — treating diseases and improving immunity.

It is also rooted in traditional Chinese culture — philosophy, daily habits, classic texts and martial arts — thus finding an easy reach and acceptance in Asian societies.

For instance, the idea of junchen zuoshi, the appropriate arrangement of main (“emperor”) and assisting (“minister”) ingredients, can also be found in other forms of traditional Chinese culture with slight changes in wording. In simple terms, you need a protagonist and many supporting ones, all in their right places, to achieve optimal results.

With the coronavirus crisis spreading globally, billions of people are being told to stay at home — self-isolate and maintain social distancing.

“Since you are being advised to stay at home, why not use the time to reboot your own body and take control of your wellness management?” Professor Qian Hai of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine suggested.

“Whether you believe in TCM or not, there are some ideas and practices that you can work on to improve your health with no side effects. So why not?”

He added that wellness depends on habits — “change little by little every day and you will feel the difference in your body in days.”

Qian cited his daily face-washing routine — one he “stole” from a veteran TCM practitioner. It is divided into three steps:

• Use cold water for the nose and area near it to gradually improve the endurance of the nostril to deal with outside temperature. It can help in preventing one from catching cold easily and fighting allergy brought by temperature changes.

• Use a cold towel to clean the face and apply mild force on some of the acupuncture points around eyes and noses — organs that rule the five senses on the face are respectively linked to the five internal organs in TCM.

• Use a warm towel on the back of the neck with mild force applied on the acupuncture points to relieve internal blockage that causes body pain or headache among people who spend too much time working on computers or mobile phones.

Chinese front-line doctors are now among the much sought-after by their foreign colleagues. Media reports show TCM ingredients selling out and acupuncture demands rising sharply in cities like New York and Melbourne.

Hu Bijie, a Western medicine practitioner who helped pen Shanghai’s guidelines, recently told local media that TCM is essential to “Shanghai Plan,” especially “in helping to relieve symptoms such as high fever, constipation and diarrhea, among others.”

Hu, who is director of the infectious diseases and infection control departments at Zhongshan Hospital, said TCM also helped improve patients’ immunity.

Prevention and recovery

With no immediate vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, immunity is globally acknowledged as being essential in the prevention and recovery from the new virus.

Other experts have also cited the significance and relevance of a key TCM idea — zhiweibing, literally translated into “treating the undiseased,” and in the case of COVID-19 — prevention method for the healthy from getting infected and those with mild symptoms from getting severe.

The number of critical cases is key to the mortality rates as inflow of very severe patients, whose lives depend on ventilators, would crush any medical system in the world.

“Classic TCM texts have many theories and treatments on epidemic diseases. It’s been with us for thousands of years of history, accumulated experience and group wisdom,” Huang of Yueyang Hospital explained.

“It is also clear on how to go about fighting it.

“First of all, you avoid it — that means avoid gathering and wear masks. Secondly, positive energy trumps evil energy — improve your immunity to fight the virus. Thirdly, TCM therapies are always individualized because it strives to reach internal optimal balance for each individual body.”

There are classic therapies for many diseases and situations, Huang said. Doctors revise these therapies according to individual cases. In cases of urgency with mass patients, a broad therapy that applies to the most common body types is used.

Huang’s front-line colleagues have also experimented with the wide use of acupuncture and mild “kung fu” exercises, some of them targeting the heart and the lungs. Both methods were popular with the patients at Wuhan’s Leishenshan Hospital.

Medics from Yueyang Hospital, among the nearly 5,000 TCM health workers sent from all over the country for medical assistance in Wuhan, left home as early as on January 23, the eve of Chinese New Year.

Many are still there treating patients although many have returned home and are under a 14-day quarantine.


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