NHS to trial ayurvedic herbal remedy to cut down on antibiotics for coughs and colds

A meta-analysis of 33 trials have already suggested that andrographis is useful for treating the common cold and the flu virus
A meta-analysis of 33 trials have already suggested that andrographis is useful for treating the common cold and the flu virus

GPs will prescribe a South Asian herbal remedy to patients suffering from colds and the flu in a trial to see if it could take the place of antibiotics.

In the first NHS intervention of its kind, 20 surgeries in south east England will offer andrographis, or a placebo, to see if the plant can help soothe symptoms of coughs, sore throats and sinusitis.

Some 33 trials have already suggested that andrographis is useful for treating the common cold and the flu virus but it has never undergone clinical testing in the west.

The new trial, which starts in April and runs until the summer, is being led by the University of Southampton and comes after the NHS announced its five year antimicrobial resistance action plan, aiming to cut prescribing by 15 per cent by 2025.

Doctors have been asked not to prescribe antibiotics for self-limiting illness such as respiratory infections, but one in three people still receives a course each year for minor infections even though there is little evidence they make a difference, and can cause side-effects.

The initial trial aims to find out whether patients will find it acceptable to take the andrographis capsules, and if successful, larger trials will follow.

The andrographis plant  - Credit: Pukka herbs 
The andrographis plant Credit: Pukka herbs

Dr Michael Dixon, NHS England’s National Clinical Lead for Social Prescription, said: “With the NHS confirming its five year antimicrobial resistance action plan this research programme by is extremely useful.

“Involving family doctors from the outset is especially welcome as GPs are on the frontline in reducing reliance on antibiotics.

“To have the prospect of a natural remedy like andrographis, able to enhance a patient’s resistance would be a big step forward.”

Andrographis extract is derived from the leaf of the plant Andrographis paniculata.

It is is currently used in Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal traditional medicines for respiratory and digestive illnesses.

Results from trials suggests that Andrographis performed better than placebo after 5-7 days and could replace antibiotics.

Public health experts are increasingly concerned about the rise of antibiotic resistance, in which overuse allows bacteria to evolve new ways to beat the drugs.

The Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has warned that without action medicine could revert back to the point where even a common infection could kill and surgery would become impossible.

A report in  2016 estimated that, unless progress is made, it could cost approximately 10 million lives a year worldwide by 2050.

In the new trial participants will be randomly allocated to receive capsules containing 250 mg Andrographis paniculata or placebo for a week.

They will be asked to take 3 capsules 4 times a day with water before food. Neither the doctor not the patient, will know which participant is getting. And they will be asked to report on their symptoms after a week.

NHS Medical Herbalist, Dr Euan MacLennan, said: “There is an urgent need to discover effective and low-cost solutions to this problem and the provision of an antibiotic alternative at this simple grass-roots level may have significant effects on the battle to tackle antibiotic resistance.

“We believe that organic and ethically farmed herbs and spices can play an important role in global sustainable healthcare and nutritional approaches.”

The andrographis capsules are being supplied by the herb company Pukka.

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