Can Licorice Successfully Treat MERS? Research finds it Antiviral Against SARS
The new Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has now killed 92 people and infected at least 238 people in Middle Eastern countries, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The virus, once called the Novel coronavirus 2012, is not the same virus as Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – more specifically SARS-CoV – but both are Beta-C coronaviruses, and both produce severe acute respiratory syndrome. And like SARS, some reports have suggested that there is a 50% risk of death for someone in an advanced stage of the condition.
Currently there is no vaccine or no drug available to counteract the virus. There was one study on monkeys published in the Journal Nature which found a cocktail of antiviral medication (including interferon-alpha2b and ribavirin) decreased respiration difficulty. Outside of this, doctors have little to work with.
Licorice has been used against viruses for centuries
But Mother Nature does. In fact, Ayurvedic and ancient Chinese medicines have been utilizing licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) to successfully combat virus infections for centuries.
This is now being confirmed in the research. For example, scientists from Sun Yat-sen University in China studied the antiviral potential of licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) and its triterpenoids. They found that several triterpenoids in licorice can provide “broad-spectrum antiviral medicine.”
Their research found glycyrrhizic acid, glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhetinic acid and their derivatives to inhibit viruses that include SARS coronavirus, herpes, HIV, hepatitis, influenza.
Other research confirms SARS inhibited by licorice
Confirming their findings, researchers from Italy’s University of Padua studied the mechanisms of licorice for viral respiratory tract infections. They found that licorice showed antiviral action against SARS related coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus by increasing cell membrane protection against the virus, increasing T-cell activity to fight the virus and helping to prevent a latency – or the ability of the virus to hide from the immune system and resume its attack later.
And in 2003 – when the SARS virus was in full infection swing around the world – scientists from Frankfurt University Medical School tested licorice’s central antiviral constituent, glycyrrhizin in a study that was published in the British Medical Journal Lancet.
The researchers tested glycyrrhizin along with three conventional antiviral medications on infected cells from two SARS-infected individuals who were admitted into the Frankfurt University clinic. In fact they tested two different infective types of the SARS coronavirus, FFM-1 and FFM-2.
Along with glycyrrhizin the researchers tested ribavirin, 6-azauridine, pyrazofurin and mycophenolic acid. Remember, ribavirin was recently tested against MERS in monkeys.
The researchers found that the glycyrrhizin provided the strongest effects against the virus compared to the other medicines. More importantly, they found that glycyrrhizin prevented replication of the SARS-CoV.
The researchers concisely concluded:
“Our findings suggest that glycyrrhizin should be assessed for treatment of SARS.”
The fact that licorice can more broadly stop viral respiratory infections was also shown in a study from Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Medical University. Here researchers tested two different preparations of licorice root against the human respiratory syncytial virus, also called HRSV or RSV.
The researchers used hot water extraction methods to prepare the licorice treatments. They found that both extracts significantly decreased viral infection and replication among the infected cells. This was accomplished, according to the researchers, by the licorice preventing the attachment of the viruses onto cell membranes, along with stimulating the secretion of interferon among the cells.
Remember from the monkey research that interferon was one of the medicines tested. As the Taiwan research proves, licorice helps the body stimulate the production of its own antiviral form of interferon.
This is an example of how herbal medicine works with the body instead of against it – helping the body heal itself.
Falzarano D, de Wit E, Rasmussen AL, Feldmann F, Okumura A, Scott DP, Brining D, Bushmaker T, Martellaro C, Baseler L, Benecke AG, Katze MG, Munster VJ, Feldmann H. Treatment with interferon-α2b and ribavirin improves outcome in MERS-CoV-infected rhesus macaques. Nat Med. 2013 Oct;19(10):1313-7. doi: 10.1038/nm.3362.
Pu JY, He L, Wu SY, Zhang P, Huang X. [Anti-virus research of triterpenoids in licorice]. Bing Du Xue Bao. 2013 Nov;29(6):673-9.
Fiore C, Eisenhut M, Krausse R, Ragazzi E, Pellati D, Armanini D, Bielenberg J. Antiviral effects of Glycyrrhiza species. Phytother Res. 2008 Feb;22(2):141-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ptr.2295
Cinatl J, Morgenstern B, Bauer G, Chandra P, Rabenau H, Doerr HW. Glycyrrhizin, an active component of liquorice roots, and replication of SARS-associated coronavirus. Lancet. 2003 Jun 14;361(9374):2045-6. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)13615-X
Feng Yeh C, Wang KC, Chiang LC, Shieh DE, Yen MH, San Chang J. Water extract of licorice had anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jul 9;148(2):466-73. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.04.040.