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Chinese herbal medicine for acute respiratory tract infection

Clinical bottom line: Description of the studies and methods of the review was poor, and studies were methodologically weak. No conclusion can be drawn about the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicines from this review.

Systematic review:

Lui C, Douglas RM. Chinese herbal medicine in the treatment of acute respiratory tract infections: Review of randomised controlled clinical trials. Clinical Infectious Diseases 1999; 28: 235-6.

Date review completed: Date of searches not mentioned.

Number of trials included: 27

Number of patients: Not stated.

Control groups: Not stated.

Main outcomes: Cure, fever, cough, chest crackles, hospitalisation, laboratory findings (e.g. X-ray, white blood cell count).

The reviewer's did not state the methods used in the identification of studies, other than to say that a modified search of the Chinese and English language literature was conducted. Twenty-seven trials were identified; 26 were in Chinese.


Insufficient detail of randomisation and baseline characteristics of studies was provided, different outcomes were assessed, and studies were described as being of poor methodological quality and validity. Fifteen of the 26 studies showed Chinese herbal medicine to result in significant improvement in acute respiratory tract infections.

Adverse effects

The safety of Chinese herbal medicines was not mentioned. Some Chinese herbal remedies are associated with the blood disorder agranulocytosis.



This review was poorly reported and its conclusions were based on studies which were methodologically unsound. A conclusion that Chinese herbal medicines are effective would be misleading.

Further reading

Ries CA, Sahud MA. Agranulocytosis caused by Chinese herbal medicines. Dangers of medications containing aminopyrine and phenylbutazone. JAMA 1975; 231: 352-355.

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