Fah Talai Jone capsules. Photo: Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Earlier this year, health-conscious customers were seen lining up at a herbal medicine retailer in a Bangkok neighborhood hoping to purchase a few bottles of fah talai jone (green chiretta) capsules. With a surge of Covid-19 cases earlier this year, the herbal product made them feel safe and gave them hope to rely on something other than Favipiravir.
However, not everyone got what they wanted.
“Stocks are limited. Each customer can buy a maximum of two bottles,” read a sign at the store checkout. Despite this, the store sold out quite quickly.
In recent years, a growing number of Thais have turned to traditional herbs as a shield, if not a cure, against the novel coronavirus following the waves of the pandemic that first hit the country in 2020. The extracts not only fah talai jone but other herbs from the garden, many that people already know, like kra chai (finger roots), turmeric, ginger and Indian gooseberry have become sought-after products in the context of public health crises.
The popularity of traditional herbs in the fight against the epidemic is not without controversy, however. Many still frown on herbal remedies, citing a lack of research and scientific evidence to support their effectiveness against the potentially deadly virus.
Pharmacist Anchalee Chuthaputti from the Department of Traditional and Alternative Medicine of Thailand at the Ministry of Public Health told the 11th National Toxicology Conference that Thailand is not the only country turning to herbal medicines in the fight against Covid-19. Nations like China and India have also taken similar paths.
“Traditional medicine played a role during Covid-19 because people use herbs as an immunity booster. In countries like China and India, traditional medicine is being integrated with modern medicine in their fight against disease, ”Anchalee said in a session titled“ Herbal Medicines for Immunity ”. The 11th National Toxicology Conference was recently hosted by Mahidol University Institute of Nutrition, Thai Society of Toxicology, Thailand Risk Assessment Center, Thai Society of Clinical Toxicology, Thai Society of environmental mutagen and Thailand Lab International.
In early 2020, China released guidelines on how to treat Covid-19 with traditional Chinese medicine using certain medicinal formulas concocted especially for specific symptoms and organ systems. In India, the Ministry of AYUSH – short for Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa, and Homeopathy – has also released the National Clinical Management Protocol for caring for Covid-19 patients using practice of Ayurveda and yoga.
“They believe that better health prevents infection with Covid-19. So several organizations have joined forces to use herbs to treat mild cases and to educate people on how to use the herbs,” added the pharmacist.
The global immune health supplement market has grown significantly due to the continuing epidemic. While the global market for dietary supplements for boosting immunity was estimated at US $ 16.8 billion (556.2 billion baht) in 2020, it is expected to reach $ 27.6 billion by 2026, with a 8.4% annual growth, according to Business Wire data. .
Known as the king of bitters, fah talai jone has been in the spotlight following a wave of Covid-19 infection cases across Thailand. The Guidelines for clinical practice, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of healthcare associated infections in response to patients infected with Covid-19 also recommend that healthcare workers consider the use of fah talai jone in asymptomatic cases. However, the guideline does not recommend the use of green chiretta with antiviral drugs for fear of side effects.
“It’s a shame that the guidelines say so because it limits the use of fah talai jone in Covid-19 patients, ”commented Anchalee.
Fah talai jone has been on Thailand’s National Essential Medicines List since 1999 and is known to relieve sore throat and cold symptoms as well as diarrhea of non-infectious origin. The Department of Public Health has approved the herb as a first-line cold medicine and has prioritized the use of fah talai jone on unnecessary prescriptions of antibiotics as treatment for sore throats and influenza in accordance with its rational drug use policy.
In recent years, several scientific reports have supported the effectiveness of fah talai jone as treatment. A few years ago a study was published in PLOS A affirm the effectiveness of fah talai jone (Andrographis paniculata) for the symptomatic relief of acute respiratory tract infections in adults and children. The analysis, which involved 7,175 subjects, found that the herb was able to relieve coughs and sore throats compared to placebo. Additionally, when prescribed on its own or in combination with usual care, the herb may improve symptoms of acute respiratory tract infection compared to placebo, usual care, and other herbal formulas.
In 1991, research was also published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand on the effectiveness of fah talai jone. The study involved 152 adult subjects with inflammation of the pharynx and tonsils who were randomly given either paracetamol, a low dose of fah talai jone or a high dose of fah talai jone for seven days. It has been found that the effectiveness of paracetamol or a high dose of fah talai jone provided more fever and sore throat relief on day 3 than its low dose counterpart.
“As for the Covid-19, fah talai jone was able to reduce the duration of symptoms from 11 days to eight days, ”added Anchalee. “The herb can relieve a cough and allow the body to clear the virus.
Despite the universally recognized wonders of traditional Thai herbs, Anchalee suggested that the safe way to use herbs is to incorporate them into food and use them as a cooking ingredient.
“When cooking, consumers should choose different herbs. Use them alternately every day instead of just one, ”she advised.
Different types of herbs produce different effects. Some boost the body’s immunity while others can also act as an anti-inflammatory or antiviral agent. So, before using herbs, consumers are advised to study the related data carefully and check whether it is safe.
“Some herbs can have an enhancing effect while others can heal. If a specific herb is to be used as a remedy, remember not to use it for too long,” Anchalee concluded.