Study finds traditional Chinese medicine is as effective as drugs in treating a certain type of infection

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an alternative medical approach based on traditional medicine in China.

A clinical trial shows that Yupingfeng, a traditional Chinese medicine, is as effective as allopathic medicines in treating children with recurrent respiratory infections.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been used since the 14th century BC, and it is now a thriving field of research. Despite this, TCM is generally dismissed as pseudoscience and is viewed with significant skepticism in the West. This often happens because little research has been done to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of TCMs via randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs).

One such TCM is Yupingfeng (YPF, 玉屏风) – a proprietary formula available as compound granules that includes Astragali root (Huangqi), Atractylodis macrocephalae rhizome (Baizhu), and Saposhnikoviae root ( Fangfeng) – which is often used in China to treat recurrent respiratory tract infections (RRTI) in children. Although YPF is known to improve immune function, there is little evidence of its effectiveness in the treatment of pediatric RRTI.

Yupingfeng infographic

Based on the results of a randomized, double-blind clinical trial, Yupingfeng granules are not inferior to allopathic pidotimod in the treatment of recurrent pediatric respiratory tract infections. Credit: Pediatric Survey

To fill this gap, a large group of Chinese researchers conducted a multicenter RCT to assess the safety and efficacy of YPF in children with IRRT. The results of this double-blind RCT were recently published in the journal Pediatric Investigation. Professor Kunling Shen, who led this study, explains: “We wanted to conduct a rigorous investigation to understand the therapeutic benefits of YPF. That’s why we conducted a large-scale RCT, the gold standard of clinical studies, and recruited patients not from a single center but from multiple hospitals.

351 children with RRTI (aged 2 to 6 years) were included in this study and were assigned to one of three groups. While the first group received YPF, the second group received pidotimod, a conventional allopathic drug used to treat RRTI since the 1990s. The third group received only a placebo.

To eliminate as much bias as possible, neither the patients nor their doctors were told about the treatment. The researchers looked at the percentage of individuals whose frequency of infection dropped to typical levels after 8 weeks of treatment (ie, RRTIs returning to the normal norm). They also looked at each group’s safety and reduction in RRTI events.

During the 52 weeks of follow-up after treatment, the proportion of IRTI returning to the normal norm was only 39% in the placebo group. However, it was much better at 73% and 67% in the YPF and pidotimod groups, respectively. These two groups also showed a substantially greater reduction in RRTI events during follow-up.

Moreover, the safety profile was similar in the three groups. Together, the results indicated that YPF was not inferior to pidotimod in treating RRTI, nor did it have any safety concerns. YPF also costs less than pidotimod and was therefore a more economically feasible option.

“The strength of our study lies in its rigorous design. This is the largest multicenter study to prove that YPF, a TCM, can be as effective as an allopathic drug in the treatment of RRTI. This is a major step forward in sharing the benefits of TCM with the world,” comments Professor Rong Ma, who led this study with Professor Shen.

Indeed, this study cemented the value of YPF in the treatment of RRTI, which is common among children in China and other parts of the world. It shows that TCMs can be as effective and safe as allopathic medicines, even though we don’t fully understand the biological mechanisms underlying their effects. Dr. Julian L. Allen, associate editor of Pediatric Investigation, wrote an op-ed and said, “Just because we don’t understand how a drug works doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. This well-designed RCT could be an important step in addressing Western skepticism surrounding TCM and reaping the benefits of its holistic effects.

Indeed, the adoption of YPF in RRTI treatment could benefit thousands of children worldwide, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. YPF could be part of a line of TCMs that are gaining worldwide recognition for their therapeutic benefits, scratching the “nickname” while focusing on the “science.”

Reference: “Safety and Efficacy of Yupingfeng Granules in Children with Recurrent Airway Infection: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Baoping Xu, Xinmin Li, Siyuan Hu, Yixiao Bao, Fengmei Chen, Zhimin Chen, Yonggang Du, Enmei Liu, Yufeng Liu, Qinghui Mou, Baoling Su, Bo Wang, Jianwen Xu, Guiping Xu, Qiaozhi Yang, Liwei Gao, Xiaohui Liu, Lei Li, Rong Ma and Kunling Shen, June 2, 2022, Pediatric survey.
DOI: 10.1002/ped4.12326