Chinese Herbal Medicine Used With or Without Conventional Western Therapy for COVID-19: An Evidence Review of Clinical Studies

Front Pharmacol. 2021 Feb 26:11:583450. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.583450. eCollection 2020.


Objective: To present the evidence of the therapeutic effects and safety of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) used with or without conventional western therapy for COVID-19. Methods: Clinical studies on the therapeutic effects and safety of CHM for COVID-19 were included. We summarized the general characteristics of included studies, evaluated methodological quality of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) using the Cochrane risk of bias tool, analyzed the use of CHM, used Revman 5.4 software to present the risk ratio (RR) or mean difference (MD) and their 95% confidence interval (CI) to estimate the therapeutic effects and safety of CHM. Results: A total of 58 clinical studies were identified including RCTs (17.24%, 10), non-randomized controlled trials (1.72%, 1), retrospective studies with a control group (18.97%, 11), case-series (20.69%, 12) and case-reports (41.38%, 24). No RCTs of high methodological quality were identified. The most frequently tested oral Chinese patent medicine, Chinese herbal medicine injection or prescribed herbal decoction were: Lianhua Qingwen granule/capsule, Xuebijing injection and Maxing Shigan Tang. In terms of aggravation rate, pooled analyses showed that there were statistical differences between the intervention group and the comparator group (RR 0.42, 95% CI 0.21 to 0.82, six RCTs; RR 0.38, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.64, five retrospective studies with a control group), that is, CHM plus conventional western therapy appeared better than conventional western therapy alone in reducing aggravation rate. In addition, compared with conventional western therapy, CHM plus conventional western therapy had potential advantages in increasing the recovery rate and shortening the duration of fever, cough and fatigue, improving the negative conversion rate of nucleic acid test, and increasing the improvement rate of chest CT manifestations and shortening the time from receiving the treatment to the beginning of chest CT manifestations improvement. For adverse events, pooled data showed that there were no statistical differences between the CHM and the control groups. Conclusion: Current low certainty evidence suggests that there maybe a tendency that CHM plus conventional western therapy is superior to conventional western therapy alone. The use of CHM did not increase the risk of adverse events.

Keywords: COVID-19; Chinese herbal medicine; SARS-CoV-2; clinical study; coronavirus disease 2019; novel coronavirus pneumonia; review; traditional Chinese medicine.