Natural Remedies for Asthma: Do They Work?
Do an internet search for “natural remedies for asthma” and you’ll find all sorts of links to websites offering so-called natural alternatives to treating asthma. Many of the claims are outlandish, although some treatments may have promise. This article will sort out the facts from the myths when it comes to natural remedies.
The first thing to understand is that there is no cure for asthma, natural or otherwise. It’s true that symptoms can come and go. And children sometimes “outgrow” asthma as they get older. But all asthma treatments strive to reduce symptoms, not cure the disease itself.
So, if you find a website that claims to have found an “asthma cure,” proceed with caution and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Every person with asthma needs to follow their health care team’s recommendations for treatment. Most people will need to be on medication regularly. People who have exercise-induced asthma or mild, intermittent asthma may be able to get away with only a rescue inhaler. But people who have moderate to severe asthma will probably need to be using a daily or twice daily controller medication of some type.
Use natural alternatives only in addition to your prescribed treatment regime. These are known as “complementary” therapies. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
What Does “Natural” Mean?
In general, natural treatments focus on one or more of the following approaches:
- reducing exposure to asthma and allergy triggers
- lessening the sensitivity and spasticity of your airways
- balancing the allergic/inflammatory pathways in the body
- correcting nutrient imbalances
Most asthma, especially asthma in children, has an allergic foundation. So doing what you can to avoid your known asthma and allergy triggers is a great first, non-medication related step. Triggers, also known as allergens, can include things in your environment such as pet dander, pollen, molds and dust. They can also include certain foods, in sensitive people.
Other natural remedies for asthma might include:
- Herbs, botanicals and dietary supplements
- Things you eat and/or drink, i.e., nutrition
- Massage therapy, yoga & other stress relievers
- Homeopathic solutions
- Lifestyle changes
There are many claims as to what these things can do for your asthma. Keep in mind, though, that there are very few scientific studies that actually prove how well any of these approaches work. So we really don’t know how safe or effective any of these are.
This doesn’t mean they don’t work or that they won’t offer relief from some of your symptoms. It simply means there’s a lot we don’t know about them yet, in relation to asthma.
Herbs, Spices and Supplements
Asthma is an inflammation of the airways, so it follows that things that reduce inflammation in the body might have a positive effect on people with asthma. But, although some small observational studies may suggest the value of anti-inflammatories in treating asthma, there is not enough evidence yet to rely upon.
Ginger and turmeric are two spices with anti-inflammatory properties that have been suggested for asthma. Both have been used in pain relief. Ginger may enhance relaxation of your airways. Turmeric may act on the chemical in your body called histamine that triggers the inflammatory response common in allergies.
Antioxidants have also been suggested for asthma. One of the most well-known are omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish, as well as fish and flaxseed oils. Antioxidants can help with airway inflammation and to strengthen the immune system. Another well-known antioxidant is vitamin C.
Vitamins B6, B12, E, molybdenum and selenium may also have some value in reducing symptoms of asthma. Echinacea and licorice root are also popular, but can have serious side effects in some people.
A recent study in the journal, Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, provides some new hope for natural treatment of asthma in the anti-inflammatory arena. This study looked at the use of a Chinese-medicine based insect parasite called Cordyceps sinensis in addition to traditional asthma medications.
Researchers studied 120 asthma patients, half of whom used a placebo and half who took the parasite. After 3 months, there was significant improvement both in lung function and subjective reports of their asthma status among the group who used Cordyceps sinensis. There was also a reduction in inflammatory cells.
Certain fruits and vegetables are known for their anti-oxidant content, so it could be possible that they may help with asthma. Examples include:
- Citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato juice
- Green and red peppers
- Kiwi, strawberries, papaya and cantaloupe
- Green vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli
Certainly, including these types of food in your daily intake can have a beneficial effect on your overall health. However, it is not known how much of an impact they will really have on your asthma symptoms.
Coffee and black tea, because of the caffeine in them, have also been touted as containing antioxidants that might reduce asthma symptoms. Honey can be soothing to a cough, though it will not prevent a cough from occurring when asthma triggers are encountered.
Although we know now that stress does not cause asthma, it is true that stress and/or strong emotions can be a trigger for asthma attacks in some people. So it stands to reason that anything that helps reduce stress or that assists you in dealing with strong emotions might help you avoid asthma attacks.
Some examples of stress relievers include:
- Massage therapy
- Tai chi
- Meditation and deep breathing
Again, while any or all of these therapies can be part of a healthy, proactive lifestyle, there is no real or specific proof that they can prevent or relieve asthma symptoms in the absence of traditional asthma medications.
Other “Natural” Possibilities
Homeopathy is an approach where people with allergic asthma ingest minute amounts of the substances known to trigger their asthma symptoms. You may have heard them referred to as “allergy drops.” Homeopathic solutions are widely-used in Europe and other areas of the world, but are not as common here in the U.S. Still, they may have some value and are generally considered safe.
Acupuncture, which uses tiny needles to stimulate certain points in the body is an ancient eastern-based therapy. Studies show that is may have some impact on nausea and pain. The jury is definitely still out as to its value with asthma, however.
Finally, lifestyle changes that promote overall health, can be beneficial in preserving a healthy asthma status. This might include:
- Getting plenty of sleep, 7 to 8 hours a night
- Eating a healthy diet
- Staying active
- Managing your stress
- Avoiding tobacco smoke & other irritants
Natural remedies may help you feel better with your asthma. But they should always be considered as “add on” therapies, rather than something that is going to replace your prescribed controller and rescue medications.
Safety is a consideration, particularly with herbs and supplements. Some of them can have side effects in certain people. This is especially true when used in large quantities. More is not necessarily better. And “natural” does not always equate to safe.
So, talk with your doctor and work closely together on adding natural remedies to your asthma treatment plan!