So much is being said about treating the current pandemic, yet there is no firm evidence of any effective therapy save support strategies to manage the complications of fever, cough, blood clots and respiratory distress.

Surveys amongst the populace indicate that there is strong belief and practice in the use of home remedies to fight off infections from viruses such as the common cold, dengue, flu and the coronaviruses inclusive of the current SARS-CoV-2.

Before considering the several remedies in common use, let us remember the importance of good health as the core approach to fighting all infections. The state of best health is assured by good hygiene and nutrition, regular exercise and adequate rest.

Whilst not delving into the detailed contents of a balanced diet, it must be pointed out that green and red vegetables and fruits have anti-inflammatory properties due to chemical contents such as anthocyanins, flavonones, lycopenes, etc.

Vitamins D and C are particularly touted as having excellent anti-inflammatory activities and even though the scientific verdict is not yet in, over the decades society has indulged in high doses of Vitamin C for its reputed antiviral effects, and Vitamin D for its bolstering of the immune system and so assisting to fight off viral, bacterial and fungal attacks.

Regular exercise promotes release of certain hormones and endorphins, which not only enhance a sense of well-being, but are also implicated in boosting the immune response in the body.

Sunlight’s major contribution to our environment is heat (infrared rays) and ultraviolet (UV) rays. The heat evaporates much moisture into the atmosphere causing a high humidity. Heat and humidity kill viruses, and so may contribute to a lessened intensity of the presence of the virus in our region. UV rays make Vitamin D under the skin and, as earlier mentioned, Vitamin D helps to bolster the immune system. Thus it is assumed that to live in the tropics will provide some protection against viral attacks.

The belief that the sea and seaside offers protection against the virus because of the presence of ozone has been discredited as that smell formerly attributed to ozone has been researched and found to be due to DMS (dimethyl sulphide), a chemical produced by sea organisms. Some research studies suggest that this DMS kills viruses and bacteria and so benefits could possibly accrue from frequent visits to the beaches.

Having outlined some benefits from the environment in which we live, let us now consider some cultural beliefs and practices which claim nutraceutical benefits against viral attacks. 

Ginger

The rhizome (root) when crushed and steeped in boiling water will result in a tea rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents. These properties are due to certain oils known for their medicinal effect in a wide range of conditions including coronavirus infections such as the common cold. The main active component of this nutraceutical extract is gingerol. The tea is taken two to three times daily. 

Turmeric

Turmeric powder or the grated root steeped in boiling water for a few minutes results in a tea with very potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which minimise infections. The active compound is curcumin and when ingested is better absorbed by adding a tip of black pepper. The substance in black pepper, piperine, increases the absorption of curcumin in the gut 2000 folds. Up to four cups of tea are taken daily in respiratory infections. 

Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, Peppermint

Tea made from the leaves is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which are believed to boost the immune system. The active components are polyphenols and flavones, and these plants belong to the same family and have been used from time immemorial in treating several maladies, including the common cold. 

Garlic

The tea has been, for thousands of years, used in treating the common cold, and in combination with ginger is regarded as a superlative therapy in upper respiratory ailments. Garlic’s most active ingredient, allicin, is shown in some research studies to be very effective in protecting against viral infections and preventing its spread. A cup three times daily is believed to be very effective treatment. 

Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg

Tea made from any of these, whether alone or in combination, are rich in antioxidants, free radical scavengers and anti-inflammatory compounds belonging to the chemical families of phenols and terpenes. These teas have been used over the centuries for several ailments, especially the common cold. 

Guinea Hen Weed

Also known as garlic weed, gully root and anamu, it is rich in antioxidants and has a particular substance called dibenzyl trisulphide which has been demonstrated to have antiviral properties. Its host of anti-inflammatory compounds are believed to work via enhancement of the immune system. As a tea, it is taken up to 3 to 4 times daily. 

Gargles

Most commonly used as a gargle in a saltwater mixture (there are other gargles such as diluted antiseptics and hydrogen peroxide). The principle here is that since the infecting virus enters via the throat, frequent gargling will help to remove it. Also the pulling up of the salt solution through the nostrils will also help in removing some of the viral particles, and this is best done morning and evening and is probably even more effective when warmed. 

NB:

It must be emphasised that the above mentioned are only a fraction of the various home remedies used by all sections of the society. The use of teas is probably the most common method, although other preparations are in use. Of note, people use these remedies along with, alternating with or even instead of medications prescribed by the doctor; hence it can be difficult to assess the true efficacy of the medications… and the real benefits of the medically prescribed products. This is a major conundrum for public health bodies.

These methods have yet to undergo rigorous scientific appraisal and are not endorsed as being reliably effective. Nevertheless, these are some of the interventions used by our forefathers, and they have built up a formidable body of cultural science and its applications. 

Professer Errol Morrison is a consultant physician and research scientist.

Dr Andrew Wheatley, is a Member of Parliament and research biochemist.

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