New Delhi: Patanjali’s Coronil, which the company claimed can cure Covid-19, isn’t the only Ayurvedic concoction being touted as a possible antidote to the novel virus.
From cow-urine pills and panchgavya, which is a mixture of five cow products curd, ghee, milk, dung, and urine, to turmeric extracts — at least 19 Ayurvedic combinations have received approval for clinical trials in the country.
They have all registered with the Clinical Trials Registry-India (CTRI), a registry maintained by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
ThePrint reached out to some of the principle investigators of these trials to understand why practitioners believe that ancient ayurveda can help find a cure for a virus that evolved recently.
Giloy gomutra (cow urine) capsules
The trial with ‘giloy gomutra’ capsules, Asthi Churna and Kamdhenu Asava is being spearheaded by Dr Dineshchandra Pandya, chief physician at Neuropanch Ayurved Hospital in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
It is being conducted on 20 Covid-19 patients at the Sola Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad. Gomutra, or cow urine, is often been touted as a cure for a number of diseases, though no scientific studies have conclusively proven its benefits.
According to Pandya, participants in the trial have been divided into two groups — one that will be given the ayurvedic concoctions along with allopathic treatment, while the other group will receive allopathic treatment alone.
All the symptoms are being measured on the first day, seventh day and the 15th day of treatment.
“Coronavirus (infection) is just a type of jvar (fever). To treat fever, in my opinion, is very simple — it’s not that difficult,” Pandya told ThePrint. “My experience says that if we treat this in time, there is no reason we should not see positive outcomes.”
He added, “The fatality of coronavirus is lower than that of flu. So it is not that problematic, unless the patient has other diseases like hypertension and diabetes as well. So I think ‘pure corona’ cases are easy to treat.”
The idea that coronavirus is similar to influenza has long been dispelled. The virus, which still does not have a cure, has been shown to affect patients in a number of ways — from causing organ damage to triggering strokes and cardiac arrest.
Asked whether there was any scientific basis to his claims, Pandya simply said he was speaking from experience.
“In 40 years of practice, I have used panchagavya in various types of ailments and I continue to use it. It is very useful for all types of diseases, in my opinion,” he said.
Kabasura kudineer in Tamil Nadu
Down south, another trial being carried out is at the Government Medical College and Hospital at Theni, Tamil Nadu, where Covid-19 patients are being administered a Siddha formulation — ‘Kabasura Kudineer’.
The principal investigator of the trial, Dr C. Anbarasi, told ThePrint that the formulation is a traditional mixture of 15 dry ingredients including ginger, pippali and clove.
Siddha is similar in principle to Ayurveda, but its formulations are based on the resources that are more common in southern India.
The uses of this concoction had been recommended by the AYUSH ministry for Covid-19 management.
Asked how ancient practice can possibly have a cure for a disease that evolved just a few months ago, Anbarasi, a Siddha doctor, said the treatment aims to heal the person rather than target the disease.
“According to existing literature, we have nearly 4,400 disease classifications based on signs and symptoms. Symptoms of one of these disease classifications match with the symptoms we see in Covid-19 patients — such as fever, cough, loss of taste and smell,” she added.
“So we thought that the medicine indicated for that disease can be recommended in patients,” she said.
The trial, however, is being conducted only on asymptomatic patients. Asked how the treatment would benefit asymptomatic Covid-19 patients, most of whom are likely to get better on their own, Anbarasi said the objective was to see if the viral load in patients can be reduced.
There are several medical practitioners trained in allopathy who are also conducting clinical trials based on Ayurveda.
These researchers say that the problem in many ayurvedic practices lies in the fact that there is no standardisation of formulations and protocols, and that many practitioners tend to make tall claims about the benefits of the medicines.
To scientifically validate whether an ayurvedic formulation will work, practitioners must identify the important active compounds, specify the levels or dosages at which they work, describe the chemistry of how the compounds work and test it against the pathogen, said Yogesh Arun Dound, a Mumbai-based allopathic doctor who is testing his formulation containing curcumin, a compound in turmeric, and vitamins on Covid-19 patients in Maharashtra.
“We found curcumin was able to block viral replication ‘in silico’,” Dound told ThePrint. His findings are currently under review with the Nature Research journal.
In silico studies are those that virtually simulate how a potential drug of molecules will behave on encountering a pathogen. However, findings from such studies need to be validated through laboratory experiments and clinical trials.
Dound conducted a clinical trial at Niphad sub-district Hospital in Maharashtra among 30 people who had mild Covid-19 symptoms and found that the formulation was able to ease these symptoms over a two to three days.
“We are not claiming that this can cure coronavirus infection. We are proposing that this may act as a preventive, and are open to sharing our data for review,” he said.
Circumin and black pepper
Similarly, Kirti Pawar, another trained doctor of the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, has been conducting a trial with curcumin and black pepper tablets for over a month on Covid-19 patients as well as healthcare workers looking after them in a rural hospital in Nashik.
While curcumin has anti-viral properties, black pepper increases the body’s ability to absorb curcumin, Pawar said.
Existing research does show that curcumin can act against enveloped viruses like Zika.
It also prevents hemagglutination (blood thickening), which is one of the consequences of coronavirus infection, Pawar said.
“We are using this in patients alongside ICMR recommended therapies, and also in healthcare workers. The results are encouraging,” she said.
“So far, none of the healthcare workers have tested positive for the coronavirus,” Pawar told ThePrint. She added that the health workers had not been taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug that ICMR recommends as a preventive.
“If we want to say that ayurvedic medicines are useful, we have to provide scientific evidence,” Pawar said. “Even though ayurveda has existed for thousands of years, we need to now start from scratch.”.
Ayurveda is not accepted in mainstream science because practitioners unscientifically extrapolate from ayurvedic knowledge, she said, adding that there is no standardisation of the practices.
“This standardisation needs to be done with good, evidence-based science. We cannot ignore ayurveda, but we must also not accept it blindly,” Pawar said.