The Effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine as an Auxiliary Treatment for COVID-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

J Altern Complement Med. 2021 Mar;27(3):225-237. doi: 10.1089/acm.2020.0310. Epub 2020 Nov 20.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become a pandemic with no specific and widely accepted effective drug or vaccine. However, studies have shown that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may play a significant role as an auxiliary treatment for COVID-19. Objective: This study aimed to assess the effects of TCM as an auxiliary treatment for COVID-19 through a systematic review of randomized-controlled trials (RCTs). Methods: Four English and three Chinese language databases were searched from December 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. RCTs comparing TCM in combination with Western medicine (WM) with the same WM therapies alone for confirmed COVID-19 patients were included. The outcome measures were cure rate, lowering of body temperature, cough relief, improvement in chest computed tomography (CT) images, deterioration of condition, and adverse effects. Methodological quality was assessed using the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool. A series of meta-analyses were conducted for selected outcomes using RevMan 5.3 software. The quality of evidence was appraised using the grading of recommendation, assessment, development, and evaluation (GRADE) recommendations. Results: Ten RCTs with a total of 1,285 patients were included. Compared with WM alone in treating COVID-19, WM with auxiliary treatment by TCM appears to have increased the cure rate (risk ratio [RR] 1.15 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-1.26]), relieved cough (RR 1.32 [95% CI 1.15-1.52]), improved chest CT images (RR 1.23 [95% CI 1.11-1.37]), and reduced the number of cases transitioning from a moderate to severe condition (RR 0.58 [95% CI 0.43-0.77]). The authors are uncertain whether TCM combined WM has effects on fever normalization (RR 1.10 [95% CI 0.94-1.29]) or adverse effects (RR 0.81 (95% CI 0.42-1.57]). Although they evaluated the certainty of evidence for lowering body temperature and adverse effects as very low, and low for cure rate, certainty was evaluated as moderate for improvement in chest CT images, cough relief, and deterioration of condition. Conclusion: TCM may be an effective auxiliary treatment for COVID-19 patients, which is likely to help improve the main symptoms and reduce disease progression. However, due to the limited number of studies and apparent heterogeneity among them, a more definitive conclusion on the effect of TCM on lowering body temperature and adverse effects cannot be drawn at this time.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); Western medicine (WM); auxiliary treatment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal* / administration & dosage
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal* / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal