'Dangerous to rely on alternative medicine', warn health experts

Updated: 18 November, 2020 07:48 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Health experts warn people, especially those with comorbidities, against relying on Ayurveda, homoeopathy, instead of seeking medical help

Experts have said ayurvedic and homoeopathic medication taken without supervision can prove to be life-threatening
Experts have said ayurvedic and homoeopathic medication taken without supervision can prove to be life-threatening

Alternative treatment amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a matter of concern for mainstream health care experts, as many with comorbid conditions are taking alternative medication without supervision and that can be life threatening, warn health experts.

Dr Wiqar Shaikh, senior allergy and asthma expert, said, "The Union Health Minister on October 6, released an AYUSH standard protocol for the clinical management of COVID-19. This protocol lists dietary measures, Yoga and ayurvedic formulations. The protocol includes Ashwagandha, both for prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection, as well as to prevent complications of COVID-19 such as fatigue, lung fibrosis and mental health issues. It was claimed that the protocol was based on research studies conducted by AYUSH."

Extensive research lacking

"It must be clarified at the outset, that I do not wish to denigrate or derogate alternative medicines. However, it is important to understand that claims of efficacy of any treatment should be based on extensive double blind, placebo-controlled trials that should be published in peer-reviewed medical journals. An extensive search did not show any published studies in medical journals supporting the use of alternative medicines in COVID-19 treatment."

Dr Shaikh said nine clinical studies were registered with the Central Trial Registry of India for the use of Ashwagandha in the treatment of COVID-19. While five of them are yet to begin, four have not been published. There are 6 studies on Ashwagandha for prevention of COVID-19, but none have been completed or published. Besides, three studies on the effect of Ashwagandha on COVID-19 are ongoing, but again, none of these have been published yet.

No published evidence

"Alternative medicines, such as Ayurveda, and the use of Ashwagandha are being promoted for COVID-19 without published data or infallible evidence. The same could be said of other Ayurvedic medicines such as Guduchi and Yashtamadhu," Dr Shaikh said.

Dr Ketan Vagholkar, professor of surgery at D Y Patil Medical College, said, "The pandemic has challenged the medical fraternity and the entire healthcare system of the entire world. Doctors are still identifying the right drug. Even in recovered patients, meticulous follow up is essential to detect late complications that may affect multiple organs. In such a scenario, relying on medication, which is devoid of scientific evidence, could prove to be very dangerous. None of the traditional medicines have undergone rigorous clinical trials to prove their efficacy and safety in treatment of COVID-19."

Follow-ups are important

Dr Vagholkar continued, "It has also been observed that patients, instead of following up with their regular physicians, prefer opting for self-medication with different types of traditional medicines. As a result, a variety of health complications may arise. Kidney, liver and lungs are specifically impacted by traditional medicines due to heavy metal contents."

Dr Subhash Hira, professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, said, "AYUSH Ministry has recommended existing medicine for the treatment of COVID-19 using the same principle of 'repurposed formulations' on similar lines of modern medicines i.e. remdesivir, tocilizumab, and favipiravir, etc. The AYUSH formulations are cocktails of multiple ingredients, some of which may contradict with modern medicines or be harmful to human systems having other underlying comorbidities. I think the practice of self-treatment using AYUSH medicines can be 'risky' at times due to inherent contradictions in ingredients that patients would not be aware of. A cautious approach is suggested till there's evidence."

Need clinical trials

However, he welcomed the move by the World Health Organization to set up a Global Centre for Traditional Medicine in India. "This is a major step towards the right direction. Despite the community's faith in Ayurveda and homoeopathy for prevention and treatment of novel coronavirus and other chronic diseases by using generic formulations, traditional medicines continue to remain globally ignored. While the AYUSH Ministry has published elaborate guidelines for COVID-19 management, the modern medicine propagandists remain critical of the efficacy of these traditional medicines, mainly due to the lack of clinical trial data and the lack of their willingness to engage in transparent research," Dr Hira said.

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First Published: 18 November, 2020 07:40 IST

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