Alternative botanical therapies may help treat COVID-19

Nov. 16, 2021

A study is assessing whether medicinal mushrooms and Chinese herbs provide therapeutic benefit in treating acute COVID-19 infection.

The MACH-19 (Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for COVID-19) — a multi-center study led by University of California San Diego School of Medicine and UCLA, in collaboration with the La Jolla Institute for Immunology — is among the first to evaluate these specific integrative medicine approaches using the gold standard of Western medicine: the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, according to a news release from University of California San Diego.

Three trials are currently recruiting for between 66 and 80 patients who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and who are quarantined at home with mild to moderate symptoms. Two are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Phase 1 clinical safety trials for investigational compounds to treat acute COVID-19.

“Mushroom-Based Product for COVID-19,” which started December 2020 and is slated to run until December 2022, tests the safety and feasibility of a 50/50 blend of the mushrooms agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis) and turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) in capsule form.

“Chinese Herbal Formula for COVID-19,” which began in July 2021 and is projected to conclude in December 2022, tests the safety and feasibility of a formulation of 21 Chinese herbs from Taiwan called Qing Fei Pai Du Tang that is widely used as a COVID-19 remedy in China.

According to Gordon Saxe, MD, PhD, Director of Research at the Centers for Integrative Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, the mushrooms were chosen because of their long history of use and recent evidence of immune-enhancing and anti-viral effects. In a preclinical study published in the March 2019 issue of Mycology, agarikon was found to inhibit viruses including influenza A(H1N1), influenza A(H5N1) and herpes. Saxe said he believes medicinal mushrooms inhibit the viruses’ replication, a theory he plans to test against SARS-CoV-2 in a Phase II trial.

MACH-19’s third ongoing trial, “RCT of Mushroom Based Natural Product to Enhance Immune Response to COVID-19 Vaccination,” measures whether the same medicinal mushrooms, given in capsules at the time of initial COVID-19 vaccination, can increase antibodies and other measures of immune response. It began in June 2021 and is scheduled for completion in June 2022.

Saxe said his team is nearing launch of a fourth trial, which will look at whether medicinal mushrooms could provide a similar lift to COVID-19 booster shots as an adjuvant, a substance which enhances immune response.

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