Could Artemisia annua be an effective treatment for Covid-19?

Elizabeth Pasipanodya - Kachembere

Artemisia annua has been gaining traction across Africa since Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina gave a televised address praising the benefits of the herbal remedy.

The race to find a cure for Covid-19 has sparked renewed interest in plants such as Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood and over the last few weeks, it has increasingly been promoted as a treatment for Covid-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that medicinal plants such as Artemisia annua, advertised as possible treatments for the virus, should be tested for effectiveness and side effects before it is considered.

Branded Covid-Organics, the therapy was developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA).Although the herbal mix has not been scientifically tested yet, the heads of several African countries have placed orders, or have received shipments of it.

WHO said it is working with research institutions to select traditional medicine products that can be investigated for clinical efficacy for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

What is Artemisia Annua?

It’s a plant indigenous to China and other Asian countries. It has been exported to other countries and now grows in some African countries.

What is it used to treat?

Traditionally used to treat malaria, the plant's antimalarial properties were first identified in 340 BC as part of traditional Chinese medicine, according to expert Zhou Yiqing from the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology of the Chinese Academy of Military Medical Sciences.

The immunosuppressive effects have been used to treat autoimmune conditions such as Lupus. Studies have also shown that it affects cellular and humoral responses in order to affect the immune system.

Other studies were done to show artemisinin‘s effectiveness on Rheumatoid arthritis, which is another autoimmune condition.

The Wong group did a study on its effectiveness for allergy treatments. This showed that it acts by relieving allergic inflammation of the airways by negative feedback regulation of the cellular pathway signaling system, PI3K/AKT pathway and blocks the Immunoglobulin (IG-E) induced mast cell degranulation, which manifests as inflamed skin. It also suppresses the airway proliferation of the smooth muscle that occurs in allergic reactions.

Tumour necrosis factor – kb (NF-KB) and mitogen activated protein kinase(MAPK) are signaling pathways that promote cell survival. Studies have been done that show that artemisinin’s anti-inflammatory effect is by repressing the pathway named above, as a result, no inflammation occurs.

So why is this reportedly effective against Covid-19?

Based on overall research, we can see Artemisia has the potential to work against Covid-19, given the way the disease presents itself in airways, and causes inflammation and a weakened immune system.

There has been talk of cytokine storms in a number of cases as reported in a study by Lancet. Cytokines are small proteins released by many different cells in the body, including those of the immune system where they coordinate the body’s response against infection and trigger inflammation.

What is a cytokine storm?

Cytokine storms are a common complication, not only of Covid-19 and flu, but of other respiratory diseases caused by coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS.

When an infection occurs, coagulation factors are activated in response and lead to over production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may lead to multiorgan failure. This means all organs become inflamed as a response and aren’t able to cope. Artemisinin works, by suppressing the pro-inflammatory factors as a response to immune overactivity, therefore being immunosuppressive.

Artemisinin has been known to improve airways during an allergic reaction. It would seem that Covid-19 may inflame airways as well. As a result, its anti-inflammatory effect may also down regulate the tumour necrosis factor and in so doing, become an immunosuppressive.

Herbs and do they need to be registered?

All therapeutic herbal products have to be registered with boards. The requirements are similar however; some are stricter than others .Some guidelines for a few countries include:

Australia - Therapeutic Goods Administration.

America - Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

The United Kingdom - The traditional Herbal Registration – Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency.

Canada - Natural Health products regulations – for a product license.

South Africa - South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.

Zimbabwe - Medicine Control Authority – Zimbabwe MCAZ.

Disclaimer: The above is based on Elizabeth's personal and professional opinion as a naturopath and on the information available on its mode of action and the conditions it's used to treat.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Pasipanodya – Kachembere is an African Naturopath and founder of Hutano Natural Health Solutions.

She has been in the health industry for 26 years, starting out as a pharmacy technician and then pursued natural medicine. She has a Bachelors in Naturopathy and is passionate about women’s health.