and its treatment by Chinese Herbal Medicine

©1996 by Gunter R. Neeb


In the beginning of the eighties, on patients with severe immune deficiencies a new virus was found by showing that most of these patients had antibodies against this virus. Nowadays this virus is known in two types, called Human Immunedeficiency Virus Type 1 and 2 (HIV-1 and HIV-2) of which the first type is more common in the western world.

It belongs to a subgroup of the Retrovirus-Class, the Lentovirus-Group, which lead only slowly to disease after infect their host, such causing a persisiting infection which remains inactive for a long time. The symptomeless stage may take 10 Years or more, which an aproximate maximum of 15 years after which most patients show symptoms of mortal immune-deficiency.

The virus’ genom consists of RNA which is copied to a complementary RNA-string by the enzyme Reverse Transcriptase. After the first flu-like acute infection in which a high virustiter can be seen, the virus has killed and infected many CD4-T-Cells and macrophages. The immunic reaction consists of antibodies, CD-4-Helpercells and -inflammative cells, as well as of cytotoxic CD-8-Cells. After this acute phase the blood is effectively frred from the virus with a few circulating CD-4-Cells carrying one copy of the inactive genome of the virus.

Although the peripheral blood contains no viruses during the inactive phase, the virus reproduces itself actively in the lymphatic tissue, brain, and some other regions. this chronic infection gradually destroys the CD-4-T-Cells I

n a not yet completely explained way. After almost all CD-4-T-Cells are destroyed, i.e. if their count is below 200 per µl, the imunedeficiency stage is reached, and the syndrome is called AIDS. Gradually lymphatic folliculary dendritic cells are damaged leading to a loss of lymphatic follicles and thereafter a complete destruction of the lymphatic tissue. A similar process destroys the thymusstroma.

If a new acute infection with HIV-1 or HIV-2 is suspected or early enough detected, several antivirus herbs from Chinese Medicine can be prescribed to secure a low infection rate. Since the toxicity of some is very low, they can be used even as a preventive measure in order to keep the virus from spreading. One promising candidate among them is "zi hua di ding" or viola yedoensis ( Pls. refer to the following table ).


Chinese medical herbs affecting various viruses: List 1

Name Chinese Name Effects on  Virus       /    toxicity or LD50
Viola yedoyensis Zi hua di ding HIV / low toxicity
Arcticum lappa Niu ban zi HIV/ low tox.
Andrographis paniculata * Chuan xi lian HIV, ECH011 / 13.4g/kg

Lithospermum   rythrorhizon

Zi cao HIV, jinke,flu, polio, hepatitis / 681.13mg/kg

Altemanthera  philoxeroides 

Lung xin lian zi cao HIV, flu, encephalitis B. retrovirus, rabies virus / 455.5g/kg

Lonicera japonica

Jin yin hua

HIV, flu (PR8), herpes / orphan (mice) 53g/kg

Coptis chinensis


HIV, RuS hepatitis B, Newcastle disease / 24.3mg/kg

Epimedium  grandiflorum


HIV, polio, ECHO 6,9, Coxsackie A9, B4, B5    / 36g/kg

Woodwardia   unigemmata 

Guo ji jue guan zhong HIV, flu (PR8, jinke 68-1,57-4,NewA1, Lee, C1232, D), Gland. II, polio II,Coxsackie, Herpes simplex, encephalitis / 1.7g/kg (mice)

Prunella vulgaris

Xia ku cao HIV  /  low toxicity
Senecio  scandens Qian li guang HIV / 302.6g/kg***
Hypericum   japonicum Di er cao HIV, hepatitis B / no obvious toxicity
Scutellaria   baicalensis Huang qin HIV, flu PR8, (Asian A-flu) xiantai, rhinovirus 17, adenovirus 7,  / 3.081g/kg*
Baphicacanthis  folium  Da qing ye flu, mumps,encephalitis B / no obvious toxicity
Baphicacanthis  rhizoma, radix  Ban lan gen flu, hepatitis A,B,mumps, encephalitis B. herpes /  no obvious toxicity
Bupleuri radix   Chai hu flu, smallpox /  4.7g/kg gland (mice)
Ledebouriellae radix  Fang feng flu, Columbia SK
Polygonum  cuspidatum Hu zhang herpes, ECHO9, ECHO11,adenovirus, hepatitis B., flu, encephalitis B. Coxsackie A,B, polio II /  1363mg/kg*
Forsythiae fructus Lian qiao flu (Asian A), nose-17  /  29.37g/kg (mice)
Taraxaci herba Pu gong ying ECHO11, herpes / 156.3g/kg

*LD50 is given in the doses of chemical essences of the herb.

**LD50 is given in the doses of alcohol extract, IV injection.

***LD50 is given dependent on the herb produced in China; in some countries this herb is very toxic (Geissman, 1964).

There are 20 herbs listed in Table 1. The antiviral spectrum and toxicities of each herb are given. Thirteen of them have inhibitory effects on the HIV. Some others have antivirus effects on other viruses. The HIV-Virus’ ability to avoid immunity response has much in common with some of these viruses:

The permanent and latent infection is also seen in the Eppstein-Barr-Virus and the Herpes Simplex Virus; the antigene variation by mutations can be found as well in Trypanosomes, the influenza virus and some Streptococcus kinds. The induction of an immune-supression shares the HIV-Virus with some Staphylococcus kinds and the Mycobacterium leprae.

From an allopathic view, it may not be proper to list these herbs until they have been tested in vivo against the HIV virus; however, from a TCM view, if certain herbs have been proven effective against a certain virus in clinical trials, the same mechanism may work against another virus in the human body. TCM holds that any herb or drug taken into the body must first affect the body's metabolism so that it can more effectively fight the pathogen. Although the concept of an antivirus is an allopathic approach, TCM's principle of treating febrile infectious diseases (qing re jie du, heat-clearing-and-toxin-eliminating) with herbal remedies can give this approach a new meaning.

The toxicity of these herbs is very low, so they can be used safely for a long period, even over a lifetime, by HIV-infected persons or, as mentioned before as a preventive measure.

The 13 herbs which showed inhibitory effects on HIV in vitro may also contribute to the treatment of various complications of AIDS. These patients are known to be subject of opportunistic infections and some kinds of cancer. Those are caused by organisms which usually can be controlled easily by the immune system, like Pneumocystis carinii causing pneumonia, as well as e.g. Toxoplasma, the Cytomegaly virusand some Mycobacteria like M. tuberculosis and even some normally harmless kinds like M. avium. The functioning of the cellular defese is necessary for an effective control of these microorganisms. Some patients (about 20%) is also affected by organisms, which are usually controlled by the humoral defense system like Haemophilus influenzae.

Therefore most important are probably those herbs which stimulate the growth of the T-lymphocytes as listed below:

Common Name

asparagus (root)

atractylodes, white (rhizome)

coix (seed)

coriolus (sclerotium)

epimedium (leaves)

ganoderma (whole)

lentinus (whole)

ligustrum (fruit)

ginseng (root)

phaseolus, white (bean)

huang-jing (rhizome)

Besides AIDS-Patients are liable to develope tumors like the Karposi-Syndrome, a usually slowly developing proliferation of bloodvessel cells, and to tumors of the B-Cells, the non-Hodgekin-Lymphomes and such of the brain. This might be explainable by a lacking T-Cell response against tumor cells or a chronic stimulation of the B-cells, another feature of HIV-infections.

Since many herbs in Chinese Medicine have been proven to stimulate the immune system or some parts of it, these herbs can also be used in any stage of the HIV infection, i.e. when an opportunistic infection occurs or generally to stimulate the immune system. Pls. refer to list 2 below:


Chinese medical herbs affecting the immune system (list 2)

Promoting Lymphoblast Transformation

Botanical Name

Angilica sinensis, acutiloba

Astragalus membranaceus

Atractylodes macrocephala

Codonopsis pilosula

Coix lachryma-jobi

Coriolus versicolor

Epimedium grandiflorum

Ganoderma lucidum

Gelatin equi asini

Ligustrum lucidum

Panax ginseng

Phaseolus vulgaris

Polygonatum sibiricum

Polygonum multiflorum

Increasing the Number of White Blood Cells


Botanical Name

Acanthopanax senticosus

Astragalus membranaceus

Cinnamomum cassia

Codonopsis pilosula

Comus officinalis

Ganoderma lucidum

Gelatin Equi asini

Ligustrum lucidum

Millettia dielsiana

Panax ginseng

Phaseolus vulgaris

Placenta Homines sapientis

Psoralea corylifolia


Increasing Phagocytosis of Neutrophilic WBC

Botanical Name                                      Common Name

Astragalus membranaceus                    huangqi (root)

Atractylodes macrocephala                   atractylodes,white

Dioscorea opposita                                dioscorea (root)

Glycyrrhiza uralensis                                licorice (root)

Panax ginseng                                         ginseng (root)

Increasing the Number of Mononucleic Macrophages

Botanical Name              Common Name

Coriolus versicolor       coriolus (sclerotium)

Glycyrrhiza uralensis   licorice (root)

Lentinus edodes            lentinus (hole)

Promoting Phagocytosis of Mononucleic Macrophages

Botanical Name                      Common Name

Acanthopanax senticosus   ginseng, Siberian (root)

Angilica sinensis, acutiloba tang-kuei (root)

Astragalus membranaceus huangqi (root)

Atractylodes macrocephala atractylodes, white (rhizome)

Codonopsis pilosula              codonopsis (root)

Epimedium grandiflorum     epimedium (leaf)

Eucommia ulmoides             eucommia (bark)

Ganoderma lucidum              ganoderma, lingzhi (whole)

Lentinus edodes                     lentinus (whole)

Panax ginseng                        ginseng (root)

Polyporus umbellatus            polyporus (sclerotium)

Psoralea corylifolia                 psoralea (seed)

Rehmannia glutinosa             rehmannia (root)


II. Herbs Affecting Non-Specific Humoral Immunities

Inducing the Production of Interferon

Botanical Name                      Common Name

Astragalus membranaceus astragalus (root)

Phaseolus vulgaris (PHA)    phaseolus, white (bean)

(Astragalus can also promote the production of interferon by viral stimulations.)

Anti-Complementary Activities

Botanical Name         Common Name

Cinnamon cassia     cinnamon (twigs)

Lentinus edodes       lentinus (whole)

(These herbs have triggering effects on the C3 complementary.)

III. Herbs Affecting Specific Humoral Immunities

Those Promoting Hypertrophy of Antigen-Combining Cells in Mice Spleens at the Early Stage of the Immuno-Reaction

Botanical Name         Common Name

Angilica sinensis          tang-kuei (root)

Astragalus membranaceus astragalus (root)

Coix lachryma-jobi       coix (seed)

Comus officinalis           cornus (fruit)

Those Promoting Hypertrophy of Antibody-Producing Cells

Botanical Name              Common Name

Asparagus cochinchinensis asparagus (root)

Coix lachryma-jobi              coix (seed)

Coriolus versicolor              coriolus (sclerotium)

Epimedium grandiflorum  epimedium (leaves)

Ganoderma lucidum          ganoderma (whole)

Ligustrum lucidum              ligustrum (fruit)

Ophiopogon japonica        ophiopogon (root)

Polygonatum sibiricum     huang-jing (rhizome)

Polyporus umbellatus       polyporus (sclerotium)

Psoralea corylifolia             psoralea (seed)

Those Suppressing Hypertrophy of Antibody-Producing Cells

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Glycyrrhiza uralensis         licorice (root)

Those Regulating Hypertrophy of Antibody-Producing Cells

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Astragalus membranaceus astragalus (root)

Those Increasing Antibody Production

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Astragalus membranaceus huangqi (root)

Coriolus versicolor                coriolus (sclerotium)

Epimedium grandiflorum     epimedium (leaves)

Lentinus edodes                     lentinus (whole)

Panaxginseng                         ginseng (root)

Placenta hominis sapientis  placenta, human

Polygonum multiflorum         he-shou-wu (whole)

Rehmannia glutinosa             rehmannia (root)

Those Suppressing Antibody Production

Botanical Name                      Common Name

Angelica sinensis                 tang-kuei (root)

Glycyrrhiza uralensis            licorice (root)

Psoralea corylifolia               psoralea (seed)

Zizyphus jujuba                     jujube (seed)

IV. Those Herbs Affecting the Production of Different Types of Immunoglobulin (Ig)

Herbs Which Affect Immunoglobulin (Ig)

Promotive                                          Suppressive

IgG Lentinus edodes                      Psoralea corylifolia

Astragalus membranaceus

IgA Placenta hominis                      Psoralea corylifolia

(serum) Rehmannia glutinosa

IgA Astragalus membranaceus

(secretion) Ganoderma lucidum

Polygoni multiflori

Epimedium grandiflori

IgM Astragalus membranaceus    Psoralea corylifolia

Coriolus versicolor

IgE Astragalus membrananceus

Because of the disruption of the immune system, various allergic reactions can be seen in AIDS and HIV(+) patients, most notably hay fever and allergic sinusitis.

The following list contains herbs which can be used for different types of allergic conditions:

List 3: Herbs affecting Allergic Reactions

Herbs affecting Type-I Allergic Reactions

Those Suppressing the Secretion of Histamine

Botanical Name              Common Name

Ganoderma lucidum     ganoderma (sclerotium)

Those Providing Relief from Bronchial Spasms due to Histamine and Acetylecholine

Botanical Name              Common Name

Coriolus versicolor          coriolus (sclerotium)

Ganoderma lucidum     ganoderma (sclerotium)

Epimedium grandiflorum epimedium (leaves)

Placenta hominis sapientis placenta, human

Psoralea corylifolia          psoralea (seed)

Those Providing Relief of Gastrointestinal Smooth-Muscle Spasms Caused by Histamine and Acetylecholine

Botanical Name                 Common Name

Angelica sinensis              tang-kuei (root)

Cinnamomi cortex             cinnamon (twigs)

Comus officinalis               cornus (fruit)

Glycyrrhiza uralensis         licorice (root)

Those Which Suppress Allergic Shock or Allergic Skin Reactions Caused by Foreign Proteins

Botanical Name              Common Name

Glycyrrhiza uralensis     licorice (root)

Panax ginseng                ginseng (root)

Placenta hominis sapientis placenta, human

II. Those Affecting Type-II Allergic Reactions (Cytolytic)

Those Preventing ABO Hemolysis

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Glycyrrhiza uralensis          licorice (root)

Those Increasing the Number of Platelets

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Glycyrrhiza uralensis         licorice (root)

Placenta hominis sapientis placenta, human

Rehmannia glutinosa        rehmannia (root)

Those Increasing the Number of Red Blood Cells

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Acanthopanax senticosus ginseng, Siberian (root)

Codonopsis pilosula          codonopsis (root)

Equi asini                             equine gelatine

Panax ginseng                    ginseng (root)

(These herbs can also affect hemolysis.)

III. Those Affecting Type-III Allergic Reactions

Botanical Name                Common Name

Astragalus membranaceus astragalus (root)

Glyzyrhiza uralensis         licorice (root)

Rehmanniae radix            rehmannia(root)

IV. Those Affecting Type-IV Allergic Reaction (Delayed)

Botanical Name                  Common Name

Angelica sinensis               tang-kuei (root)

Bombyx batryticatus           silkworm (whole)

Glycyrrhiza uralentsis          licorice (root)

As mentioned above some kinds of cancer can occur in HIV positive patients. Since there are many herbs in TCM proven effective against various kinds of cancer, only an excerpt can be listed here, since this would exceed this topic by far. So finally in List 4 are listed only those herbs which may be effective against cancers typical in AIDS patients, namely leukemia and lymphoma. Since some of these herbst are toxic or cytistatic themselves, they should not be used before they are indicated.

List 4: Herbs for cancers in AIDS patients (late stage)

Botanical Name                  Chinese   Name

Polysticticum                          yun zhi

Hedyotis diffusa                     bai hua she she cao

Indigo naturalis                      qing dai

Catharanthi rosei                  chang chun hua

Lysimachiaiae Clethroidis   zhen zhu cai

Botanical Name                  Chinese Name

Camptothecae Acuminatae        xi shu

Sarcandra glabra                           zhong jie feng

Curcuma aromatica/zedoaria     e zhu

Brucea javanica                             ya dan zi

Of these herbs the first on in the list, Polystipticum is one of the most interesting herbs, since its toxicity is very low, while it is useful for leukemia, lymphoma and liver cancer, by inhibiting the synthesis of the DNA and RNA of tumor cells. Besides this it antagonizes the immunosuppression caused by cyclophosphamides and cortisone, while increasing the amount of macrophages, promotes phagocytosis and enhances the rates of blastogenesis and rosette forming, such being a promising agent for both enhancing the immune system and suppressing tumor developement.

At the moment clinical western medicine has not yet found any solutions exept medicaments like AZT, which inhibit the function of the reverse transcriptase and therefore have a toxic effect on human cells as well. Some other proposals are searching to find specific inhibitors of the viral protease or the developement of antibodies for the virus surface or synthezising substances which ought to block the docking of gp120 to the CD4. But they still are far from ready to be used in clinical practice.

Therefore Traditional Chinese Medicine might provide some useful alternatives by combining herbs with western medicaments or even use them alone in different stages of HIV-Positive patients and other types of immune deficiency syndromes.

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