By Carlos Manuel Eusoya

PHOTO: Health Cautions

The threat of COVID continues to loom over the populace, terrorizing entire cities and towns as it claims lives.

Fear not! Science has become our integral weapon in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, science allowed us to determine potential medications against the virus. On October 23, 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) announced that lagundi leaves and virgin coconut oil (fresh and unprocessed oil from coconuts) can reduce the symptoms of the coronavirus. This revolutionary and scientific discovery marks the beginning of our search for affordable and local COVID remedies.

The secrets of plants

Phytotherapy is the use of herbal plants to treat illnesses and infections. This method could be traced back to historic times. Ancient Chinese were among the first to integrate phytotherapy. They used goji berries to cure influenza and yams (sweet potatoes) to treat diarrhea. In the Philippines, ampalaya (bitter gourd) has been long used for diabetic patients.

Most, if not all, plants possess numerous phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are powerful compounds that have a biological effect. In other words, they can either boost our health or treat diseases. Phytochemicals have different roles: some are antibacterial, which protect us from harmful germs and bacterial species; some are antioxidants, which shield us from cell damage; and others are antiviral, which combat virus particles such as COVID-19.

In this pandemic, finding the right plant with the right antiviral phytochemicals is the main task of scientists. A plant with the proper phytochemicals may show potential in treating the corona viral disease.

This is exactly what DOST researchers did. In their press release, they said that “lagundi tablet or syrup is a proven bronchodilator with antiviral activity”. Note that a bronchodilator is a medicine that widens the bronchi (the passageway of the air we breathe). Bronchodilators help us inhale and exhale more comfortably, even when we are experiencing shortness of breath. This is very helpful for COVID patients.

With bronchodilator properties and antiviral phytochemicals, it’s no wonder that lagundi can reduce anosmia (loss of smell) and other symptoms in individuals infected by COVID. But, how about virgin coconut oil? How does it help infected patients?

DOST stated that virgin coconut oil (or VCO) “has been known to have effective antiviral compounds that can benefit humans.” With its phytochemicals, VCO reduced symptoms such as headaches, colds, and anosmia.

The power of prophylaxis

Now that we have uncovered the secrets between phytochemicals and plant compounds, you may be wondering: how effective are these plant remedies?

Lagundi was tested in a randomized clinical trial. The tests were done twice to ensure accuracy. “Na-conclude ng ating team na ang lagundi safe nang gamitin for symptomatic treatment of mild COVID-19 cases for those without comorbidities,” says Science Undersecretary Rowena Guevarra.

Meanwhile, VCO was tested on 57 COVID-infected individuals. They were provided with VCO in their meals and their symptoms were measured daily for 28 days. “Symptoms in the VCO group significantly declined at Day 2 and no symptoms were observed at Day 18,” DOST Secretary Fortunato Dela Pena explained.

While the two plants are effective in decreasing chances of suffering mild symptoms, there is no confirmation that it can cure COVID. But, as the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” In medical terms, “preventive measures” are also known as “prophylaxis”.

Integrating these phytotherapic medicinal plants in the healthcare of patients can reduce symptoms and aid infected individuals. As Dr. Fabrian Dayrit, the researcher who proposed the use of VCO against COVID, has stated “In a way it’s prophylaxis. It’s good protection. Protection against the virus.”

The beacon of science

DOST will be continuing their studies in the efficacy of VCO and lagundi. The clinical trials on lagundi have concluded in August, but its antiviral phytochemicals will still be assessed and studied further.

Meanwhile, the comprehensive data of the study on virgin coconut oil (VCO) has been published in the Journal of Functional Foods. However, researchers are still planning to test it on high viral loads or patients with severe symptoms.

One thing’s for sure: the beacon of science will continually be upheld in our fight against COVID. Amidst this pandemic, science has helped the medical sector in finding remedies. Thus, it is simply proper that we study the science behind the herbal innovations being developed today.