The docking scores of artemisin and oleuropein in ACE-inhibitor receptor molecular crystalline studies prove that these natural substances have similar and often superior bonding energies to the chloroquines. Image: Shutterstock

In South Africa the Covid-19 pandemic is all about masks, social distancing and sanitising your hands. I know what you are thinking – what about fortifying the immune system? The average person has wallowed in a state of lockdown laziness, with minimal exercise and a steady supply of unhealthy takeaways.

Glutathione is our primary antioxidant and will ward off a respiratory crisis in the first place, providing we have adequate supplies of it. Nutrients involved in the conversion of homocysteine into glutathione include folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and choline. Vitamin C plays a vital role in maintaining glutathione levels so supplements are needed. Selenium is a cofactor for the production of glutathione. Fish, organ meats, and Brazil nuts are all selenium-rich foods that may help increase your levels naturally.

Food sources or supplements of: glutamine (all proteins), glycine and cysteine (whey protein), oral Glutathione supplements that include the bioavailable precursors such as N Acetylcysteine, can all effectively increase Glutathione production. For emergency treatment of virus infected patients, some forms of these can be inhaled into the lungs or used trans-dermally or intravenously. However, this treatment can be very costly.

How do we treat COVID-19 without drugs?

Very few of the existing “repurposed” drugs have achieved any measure of success in curing this Coronavirus pandemic and its nefarious cousins, let alone TB, pneumonia and the other ever-mutating super bugs. The oncoming winter wipe-out in South Africa is expected to reach a peak by September this year. As a health researcher and observer of conventional as well as traditional modalities I see a play-off between silver versus green bullets in the offing. For those who place their trust in vaccines and new drugs that roll out prior to thorough testing, the outcome is experimental at best. Are people really expected to hang in there without any support until a vaccine or new patent medicines arrive?

We need practical ways to fight the symptoms of a virus – the fever, sore throat and a dry cough. For doctors who have to treat patients who have a penchant for kitchen remedies and herbal teas, the safest way is to forestall the danger of duplicating their current medications. (e.g. Olive leaf lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Fresh ginger also kills viruses, but it competes with Warfarin.) Should one adjust a prescription accordingly or forbid the use of anything besides a regular medication? Our Ministry of Health insists on scientific evidence and has waved herbal remedies such as Artemisia aside.

They foster the scrutiny of random, isolated chemicals from a huge data base that includes herbs but most of them only look good on paper. By now most of us know that isolates require a synergy in order to be effective. So a tea, decoction, tincture, capsule or pill made from the actual herb provides all the complimentary factors as a safer and more reliable remedy. Antibiotics dished out for “just in case complications” do more harm than good, especially to an already compromised immune system. If there are no medications that can kill viruses as effectively as Elenoic acid then your patient may be right about Olive leaves.

Herbal remedies to consider for protection, symptomatic relief or treatment for COVID-19

Over 60% of our local population prefer to take traditional medicines. What do doctors of integrative medicine have to offer them? Tried and tested herbal remedies like Artemisia Annua offer some light at the end of the tunnel. Even prior to Madagascar’s bold march forward with COVID organics – a time honoured cure for malaria; we saw how well it worked in China. It was used during the initial Wuhan protocols based on TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). Their interactive approach albeit unwieldy, took into consideration the treatment of the causative factors and also offered symptomatic relief to their patients. The most successful remedies included liquorice, ginger, Artemisia and other blends of herbs to suit what they called wet coughs, dampness, heat, dryness and so on.

Traditional herbs have served the world for countless generations. Artemisia Afra is being used successfully in Madagascar and other African countries to cure Covid-19 patients and the tea is dished out daily to long queues of people, as is the habit for the treatment of malaria. It works despite the derision of scientists, the WHO and politicians alike. Traditional herbal remedies have additional health benefits and adverse effects are rare. The COVID series is also responding to the discarded anti-malarial drugs such as Chloroquine, Hydroxychloroquine and Artemisinin to name a few. Quinine salts are not a safe all-round remedy, especially for heart patients with irregular heart rates and Artemisinin is an isolate (often a synthetic analogue) that can cause oxidative stress if unaccompanied by protective antioxidants and the other supportive components like polyphenols and alkaloids that are present in the leaves.

The scientific obsession with isolates is questionable as we learn from history about the failure of Artemisinin to treat drug resistant malaria as opposed to using the Artemisia Annua or the Artemisia Afra leaf tea. Ironically, Artemisia Afra does not even contain artemisinin! Using the whole leaf provides anti-malarial chemicals such as Chlorquinone that are also present in the leaf. Oleuropein, another component converts to Elenoic acid and plays an important protective role against reactive oxygen species-induced oxidative injury in RBCs – one of the COVID hazards that doctors have observed. The key to the success of Olive leaf and Artemisia is thus due to their anti-malarial properties that, according to new studies, are equally effective against the ever-mutating coronaviruses that drive this global 2020 pandemic.

Here is the technical lowdown, should one require scientific evidence that Artemisia and Olive leaf can destroy the COVID virus. Firstly, Artemisinin and Oleuropein isolates inhibit Heme Polymerization, a pathway that is unique to the malaria parasite (and Covid-19 related infections) as effectively as Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine. This requirement for anti-malarial as well as anti-covid remedies needs to be met according the latest studies (virtual drug screening, molecular docking and supervised machine learning algorithms to identify novel drug candidates against COVID-19). So too, their docking scores in the ACE-inhibitor receptor molecular crystalline studies prove that these natural substances have similar and often superior bonding energies to the chloroquines.

Plants have combined defences against viruses (colds and flu and modified coronaviruses), bacteria (pneumonia and tuberculosis), protozoans (malaria) and other pathogens. Using them offers superior protection – as opposed to single-target drugs with unavoidable side effects. Phytochemicals (within the context of whole leaf remedies) deserve further recognition as studies have now demonstrated their superior activity against SARS-CoV-2 as well as malaria. They also provide anti-inflammatory, cardio protective (against blood clots) and immuno-regulating effects. Furthermore, nobody was able to detect any acute or chronic toxicity for the consumption of these plants, which have been utilized for thousands of years without any severe side effects other than a die-off or Herxheimer reaction.

Although broad spectrum antiviral drugs can be effective against novel coronaviruses and their constant mutations, their side effects may do more harm than good. They do not help to control inflammation or blood clotting, let alone cytokine storms. The inappropriate use of antibiotics or antivirals can destroy natural colonies of viruses, especially inside the lungs – the strains that control pathogenic respiratory bacteria that cause pneumonia and tuberculosis. As we know, antibiotics (including Zithromax) used against viruses are not effective and they wipe out the gut flora that form a major component of the immune system. Surely we need to strengthen, not weaken it?

Artemisia Annua

Initial studies in China showed the alcoholic extract of sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) was the second most potent herbal medicine used on the 2005 Sars-CoV. Aqueous infusions of A. annua significantly decreased levels of inflammatory cytokines including interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 in human intestinal cells in vitro. Rosmarinic and chlorogenic acids in the herb seemed primarily responsible for this effect. (Nature Fresh Parasite Remedy contains 25% in an alcoholic tincture and has been used for over 2 decades to treat malaria, schistosomiasis and HIV/Aids but only as evidence based from patients without clinical trials.) Artemisia Annua extracts show very little toxicity and Artemisinin-based drugs are widely used to treat malaria even in new-borns.

Evaluation of the plant extract was non-toxic with LD50 values no greater than 5000mg/kg. Artemisia Annua (Wilde Als / Umhlonyane, Chinese Wormwood or Ging Hau) is a traditional remedy for fever and colds and flu. It is also used to clear inflammatory and infectious conditions, referred to as ‘Internal Heat’ in traditional Chinese medicine. This is why most of the herbs in this category will have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. It was first used in traditional Chinese medicine 1000 years ago. Tu Youyou received a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 for her work and achievement in fighting malaria in Africa, Latin America and Asia with Artemisia. Artemisinin in Artemisia Annua tea absorbs faster than pure artemisinin alone.

From other sources: “Olive leaf combines well with Artemisia Afra. Traditionally, people take Artemisia Annua for cough, stomach and intestinal upset, the common cold, measles, diabetes, yellowed skin (jaundice), anxiety, irregular heartbeat, and muscle weakness. It is also used for parasitic infections such as roundworms, pinworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and flukes.”

“These proof-of-concept trials suggest that a sustainable supply of locally grown Artemisia Annua could be maintained in Africa as a way to deliver life-saving medicine, and that pharmaceutical companies and synthetic, isolated artemisinin’s are not necessary for the treatment of malaria.”

Black Cumin (Nigella Sativa / Kalonjie)

This is a traditional remedy for treating what Islamic people refer to as: “every ailment except your inevitable death”. This time honoured and much studied remedy can help any of our ailments, either as a stand-alone remedy or to support the effects of other medications. It is also an anti-malarial remedy, (similar to Chlorquinone) due to the presence of thymoquinone. It has been used successfully by the Taibah University anti-COVID-19 treatment as a novel evidence-based approach (using natural products) for treating COVID-19 patients. The 5ml (2g) dose of Nigella Sativa seeds mixed with honey and chamomile helped infected patients, even when on ventilators, to recover within 7 days. It was confirmed that: “Nigella Sativa enhances immunity, exerts tissue protective effects and effectively treats co-morbidities.

High levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and lymphopenia or a lack of macrophages are common to patients who are severely affected by coronaviruses, yet Nigella Sativa (Kalonjie) can provide both lympho protective activity and immune modulation. According to Doctor Saki Moidin,” Future clinical trials will unravel how exactly we can use Nigell Sativa (thymoquinone) for treating the current COVID-19 pandemic state.” Our endocannabinoids (CBD’s that are also present in Black Cumin) and their receptors influence the immune system, viral pathogenesis, and viral replication.

Black Cumin’s immune-suppressing (in states of inflammation) or immune-boosting ability (in states of infection) plays a key role in protecting us from pathogens as well as cytokine storms. It is a versatile supplement and helps to maintain the major aspects of our health. Benefits include immunomodulation, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, anticancer, hypoglycaemic, antihypertensive and anti-asthmatic. It has a broad antimicrobial spectrum including malaria, Gram-negative, Gram-positive bacteria, viruses, parasites, Schistosoma (bilharzia) and fungi. Apart from helping to control pain, epilepsy, Parkinsonism and anxiety Black Cumin (kalonjie) improves learning and memory, alertness and is mood elevating.

Olive leaf

Olive leaves contain a natural anti-malarial component called chlorquinone. Olive leaf also inhibits blood clotting and maintains optimal viscosity. It has a natural built-in benefit as an alternative to blood-thinning medications. This can help to protect high-risk patients against the formation of tiny clots that occur as a complication of the coronovirus infections. Olive leaf has been used successfully for diabetic and cardiovascular patients as an alternative to medications that lower blood pressure, thin the blood and lower blood sugar. Although it was first believed that ACE inhibitors may be harmful to coronavirus patients the verdict is that these drugs are of more benefit to help the heart and lungs of an infected patient.

Extracts from olive leaves have been shown to treat infections caused by a large number of viruses as well as bacteria, parasitic protozoas, and fungi. A phytochemical in olive leaf, called Oleuropein, is able to stop viruses in their tracks. It neutralizes the enzymes that are important for the virus to replicate itself and spread. Oleuropein also has the ability to interfere with the critical amino acid production that is essential for viruses.

Another component from the whole leaf is elenolic acid that inactivates viruses and bacteria without damaging the host cells by:

  • Interference with specific amino acid production processes vital to the life cycle of the virus
  • Interference with viral infection and/or spread by inactivating the virus or by prohibiting shedding, budding or assembly at the cell membrane
  • Immune activation of host defence through direct stimulation of phagocytosis
  • Neutralisation of the production of reverse transcriptase and protease (relates to retroviral ability to alter the host cell RNA)
  • Penetration of infected host cells while achieving an irreversible inhibition of viral replication.
  • The antiviral activity of elenolic acid was shown to be greatest in an alkaline environment (pH 7.5), which is very close to the normal human pH range of 7.35-7.45.

Vitamin D – RDA = 4000 iu

Vitamin D is a modulator of adaptive immunity. Like Nigella Sativa, it reduces the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increases the expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Supplements can reduce the risk of influenza and COVID-19 incidence and death but mostly we need to expose ourselves to 30 minutes of direct sunlight. Some studies show that supplementing with vitamin D may improve immune response. In fact, recent research suggests that taking this vitamin may protect against respiratory tract infections.

Selenium – RDA 50-300 mcg

A selenium deficiency can weaken the immune response to viruses and increase the virulence of certain viruses, including coronaviruses. In the influenza virus, a lack of selenium can lead to mutations that increase its pathogenicity. The same applies to the SARS virus, which is related to SARS-CoV-2. The influenza virus itself can increase oxidative stress in the host. In combination with increased oxidative stress due to a selenium deficiency-related low activity of the selenium protein glutathione peroxidase-1, this can lead to direct oxidative damage to viral RNA.[7] In the case of selenium deficiency, these mutations can turn a relatively harmless influenza A virus into a much more aggressive influenza A virus. Kate Bennett, a medical statistician at the University of Surrey, said; “There is a significant link between selenium status and COVID-19 cure rate.”

Zinc – adult RDA = 20-40mg

Zinc is needed for immune cell development and communication and plays an important role in inflammatory response. Taking zinc long term is typically safe for healthy adults, as long as the daily dose is under the set upper limit of 40 mg of elemental zinc. A laboratory study in 2010 showed that zinc inhibited the activity and replication of another coronavirus, SARS-CoV which caused an outbreak in 2002. Zinc inhibits the binding of the cold virus to cells within the nasal mucosa and helps to suppress inflammation.

How a virus attacks you

“Because a virus is merely a set of genetic instructions surrounded by a protein coat and because it does not carry out any biochemical reactions of its own, viruses can live for years or longer outside a host cell. Some viruses can “sleep” inside the genetic instructions of the host cells for years before reproducing. For example, a person infected with HIV can live without showing symptoms of AIDS for years, but he or she can still spread the virus to others.

Coming down with the flu or a cold is a good demonstration of how a virus works.

An infected person sneezes near you. You inhale the virus particle and it attaches to cells lining the sinuses in your nose. The virus attacks the cells lining the sinuses and rapidly reproduces new viruses. The host cells break, and new viruses spread into your bloodstream and also into your lungs. Because you have lost cells lining your sinuses, fluid can flow into your nasal passages and give you a runny nose. Viruses in the fluid that drips down your throat attack the cells lining your throat and give you a sore throat. Viruses in your bloodstream can attack muscle cells and cause you to have muscle aches.

Your immune system responds to the infection and in the process of fighting, it produces chemicals called pyrogens that cause your body temperature to increase. This fever actually helps you to fight the infection by slowing down the rate of viral reproduction, because most of your body’s chemical reactions have an optimal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If your temperature rises slightly above this, the reactions slow down. This immune response continues until the viruses are eliminated from your body. However, if you sneeze, you can spread thousands of new viruses into the environment to await another host.”


Disclaimer: This COVID research includes recent material that has not been peer reviewed or thoroughly tested over a long enough timespan. However, the Artemisia, olive leaves and Nigella Sativa have served us well for thousands of years as natural medicines. My intention is not to diagnose or treat an illness but merely to share the information on herbal remedies that can be useful for the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to remember that these herbs are medically active and can compete with regular medications. I hope these studies come in handy for treating patients who are keen to use herbal medicines – under professional guidance and supervision.

By Sue Visser, healthcare researcher at Nature Fresh

Source: Medical Academic