- Resistant forms of malaria have resulted in the medical community utilizing a traditional Chinese medical herb, Qing Hao, as key ingredient to fight malarial infections.
- At present, artemisinin is often used in combination with chloroquines or other anti-malarials.
- One species of the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria, P. falciparum, causes the most significant symptoms.
Combination therapies are proving useful. Use of the whole Artemesia annua plant, with active ingredients other than the artemisinin which is the present focus of attention, may be important in ensuring drug resistance doesn’t develop.
The treatment of Summer Heat, a type of feverish disorder which occurs most often in the summer, has been valuable in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Malaria fits into the Summer Heat pattern and one of the herbs commonly used in this pattern, A. annua, has been proven effective against malaria. Known in Chinese herbal medicine as Qing hao, sweet annie (or sweet wormwood), is the key component in treating malaria.
TCM practitioners utilize other herbs to treat malaria, making a formula that also takes into account other problems the individual may be having. In most cases, several Heat clearing herbs are used and each formula is modified to take into account the symptoms that are most predominant in a particular case.
One species of the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria, P. falciparum, causes the most significant symptoms. For many years chloroquine was the standard medication for treating malaria. But P. falciparum has become resistant to the drug and other treatments have had to be explored.
Sweet Annie was one of the plants looked at for alternative active ingredients against P. falciparum. In studying the plant, it was found that there are actually several different active ingredients that work synergistically to fight the malarial parasite.
At present, artemisinin is often used in combination with chloroquine or other antimalarials This is called Artemisinin Combination Therapy and it may be a wiser choice than attempting to isolate single active ingredients from the sweet annie plant, as it will make it more difficult for the malarial parasites to develop resistance.
Unfortunately, there are already manufacturers separating out derivatives of artemisinin, each with slightly different properties. Simplifying down to one active ingredient from a plant is what has led to high levels of drug resistance in the first place. It is much harder for a parasite, bacteria, or virus to modify itself to be resistant to a complex plant than to a single active ingredient.
And efforts are underway to cultivate a sweet annie that has higher consistent levels of artemisinin.
This may affect the other active ingredients and reduce the overall effectiveness of A. annua in treating malaria. A more appropriate plan would be to encourage the cultivation of sweet annie as a cash crop in various parts of the world so that sufficient quantities of the original plant are available.
It will be important to involve Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners in the development of malarial protocols as years of experience have resulted in a treatment for malaria that the Plasmodium parasite has not been able to develop resistance to in thousands of years.