People have used herbal remedies for thousands of years to treat lung problems, especially in Asia. Some research has shown promising results for their use in asthma. But we need more studies to know what herbs are effective, what dose to use, and what side effects are possible.
How can I safely use herbal remedies to treat asthma?
The best way to safely take herbs is to talk often with your doctor. Ask them about which herbs you want to try. Some questions to ask your doctor include:1,2
- Does this herb have proper quality?
- Is there any clinical evidence that this works?
- How strong is this herb?
- Are there any known side effects?
- What should I do if I have any side effects?
- Will this herbal remedy interfere with any of my other drugs?
These concerns do not mean that all herbal remedies are bad. But it does mean you should be careful. Here are some more tips for staying safe if you choose to use herbal remedies:1,2
- If you have side effects, stop taking the herb and talk to your doctor
- Avoid remedies made with more than 1 herb
- Look for scientific-based information instead of company claims
- Pick brands that list detailed information. This should include the name of the herb, manufacturer name and address, expiration date, dosage guidelines, and potential side effects
What are some herbal and natural treatments for asthma?
Nutrition and dietary supplements
A balanced diet has many general health benefits. Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables may also help your asthma. One study found a link between fruit and vegetable intake and lower severity of symptoms. We do not know why fruits and vegetables help in asthma. It could be that antioxidants help reduce inflammation in the airway.3
Some studies have found that other parts of your diet may help in asthma. Many of these can be found in or added to foods, or taken as supplements. These include:4-8
- Turmeric, or its main active ingredient curcumin
- Omega-3 fatty acids
None of the studies definitely say these help asthma symptoms. Talk to your doctor before changing your diet or taking any supplements. Many supplements interfere with other medicines.
Nigella sativa seeds are also called black cumin, black caraway, or black seeds. Their main active ingredient (thymoquinone) seems to have anti-inflammatory properties. A small study found that nigella sativa extract can improve lung function. We need more research to know how to use it in asthma, including its dosage and side effects.9
Butterbur is a shrub with ingredients (petasin and isopetasin) that seem to have anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that butterbur root extract improves symptoms, reduces severity of asthma attacks, and reduces medicine intake.10
Some butterbur products contain chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). PAs are toxic to the liver and kidneys and have been linked to cancer. Make sure your products are certified as PA-free. However, even PA-free butterbur can cause side effects, including:10
- Itchy eyes
- Breathing problems
- Upset stomach
- Allergic reactions in people sensitive to ragweed
People who are pregnant, children, and people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur.
Bromelain is an extract from pineapples that may have anti-inflammatory properties. A study in lab animals found that bromelain reduced airway inflammation. We do not yet know if it helps symptoms in people.11
Side effects include upset stomach. People allergic to pineapples should not take bromelain.11
Boswellia is an herb that may reduce inflammatory chemicals. Some studies have shown that Boswellia reduces the severity of asthma symptoms and attacks. Talk to your doctor about dosage and how long you should take Boswellia.12
Some side effects include:12
- Stomach discomfort
- Acid reflux
Other herbal remedies
Many other herbs have reported anti-inflammatory effects. Most of these come from Chinese herbal medicine or Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine. Some of these include:13
- Ma Huang (ephedra)
- Ginkgo biloba
- Anti-asthma herbal medicine intervention (ASHMI) containing a combination of herbs
- Ligusticum wallichii
- Picrorhiza kurroa
- Solanum xanthocarpum
- Tylophora indica
There is not much evidence for these traditional herbs in the treatment of asthma. Talk to your doctor before using any of them.
Supplements and herbs are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means no agency confirms the ingredients. For example, a fish oil supplement may have more or less fish oil than listed on the label. A supplement may also contain ingredients that are not labeled correctly or at all. This can be dangerous. It can lead to taking too much or taking unwanted ingredients.
The FDA created good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to help this situation. GMPs are guidelines for companies to follow when making supplements. The FDA rarely inspects facilities making supplements in the United States. Companies outside the United States do not have these inspections. But many more supplements are sold than are tested. Your doctor can help you decide if a supplement is safe.