Chinese Proprietary Herbal Medicine Listed in ‘China National Essential Drug List’ for Common Cold: A Systematic Literature Review

Objective

Chinese proprietary herbal medicines (CPHMs) have long history in China for the treatment of common cold, and lots of them have been listed in the ‘China national essential drug list’ by the Chinese Ministry of Health. The aim of this review is to provide a well-round clinical evidence assessment on the potential benefits and harms of CPHMs for common cold based on a systematic literature search to justify their clinical use and recommendation.

Methods

We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, SinoMed, CNKI, VIP, China Important Conference Papers Database, China Dissertation Database, and online clinical trial registry websites from their inception to 31 March 2013 for clinical studies of CPHMs listed in the ‘China national essential drug list’ for common cold. There was no restriction on study design.

Results

A total of 33 CPHMs were listed in ‘China national essential drug list 2012’ for the treatment of common cold but only 7 had supportive clinical evidences. A total of 6 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and 7 case series (CSs) were included; no other study design was identified. All studies were conducted in China and published in Chinese between 1995 and 2012. All included studies had poor study design and methodological quality, and were graded as very low quality.

Conclusions

The use of CPHMs for common cold is not supported by robust evidence. Further rigorous well designed placebo-controlled, randomized trials are needed to substantiate the clinical claims made for CPHMs.