Lifestyle and Natural Remedies

Lifestyle changes are part of managing your asthma. Some of the most helpful things for controlling your asthma do not require medication, such as avoiding triggers, losing weight, or managing stress.

Many people are interested in treating asthma with food or herbal remedies. In general, these approaches have not been well studied. One serious risk of using unproven home remedies is that it may delay necessary medical care.1 Therefore, claims that there are natural cures or treatments for asthma should be evaluated cautiously. In general, it is a good idea to tell your health care provider about any home remedies you are using or considering. Some herbs and supplements can interfere with medications that you are taking.

What are recommendations that I can do at home to manage my asthma?

Limit your exposure to allergens. Pet dander, dust mites, and cockroaches are allergens found in homes that may trigger asthma. Managing indoor allergens is often an ongoing, multi-step process.1 It may be necessary to wash bedding weekly, use a HEPA-vacuum cleaner regularly, keep pets out of the bedroom and rooms with carpet, and consistently put away food in closed containers.

Do not smokeTobacco smoke is an irritant that increases asthma symptoms and decreases lung function.1,2 First-hand and second-hand smoke are both harmful.

Stay healthyColds and other viral infections are a common asthma trigger, especially in children.1 You can keep yourself and your family healthy with frequent hand washing, teaching children to cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze, limiting your exposure to people who are sick, and disinfecting surfaces.3 Nasal saline irrigation, using probiotics, taking vitamin C and zinc, and garlic may help to prevent or shorten colds.4

Lose weightIf you are overweight, losing as little as 5% might improve asthma control.5 The few available studies show that adults who lose weight have better lung function, fewer asthma flare-ups, and need less medication.1

Manage stressChronic stress makes asthma worse. Consider asking for help in the areas that cause you stress.6 You can try relaxation or breathing exercises, regular physical activity, sufficient sleep, and eating healthfully. Seek professional help to treat anxiety and depression.

What can I eat or drink to improve my asthma?

Currently, there is little evidence that changing your diet or taking supplements will prevent or improve your asthma.7 However, this is an area of ongoing research. In general, a nutrient-rich diet is good for overall health and there is little risk that it will make your asthma worse.5,7

Fruits and vegetables. You may have heard that eating fruits and vegetables can be good for asthma. These foods are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, as well as other foods. In theory, low intake of antioxidants might mean more tissue damage, airway inflammation, and harmful changes in the immune system.8

Studies linking asthma with specific vitamins or foods are generally low quality. They tend to be observational, which means that there can be a lot of unknown factors that affect the results. They do not prove that one action leads to a certain result. However, several observational studies have shown that eating vitamin-rich foods is linked with lower rates of asthma, less wheezing, and less severe asthma.7,8

Interventional studies usually provide higher quality results. In the best interventional studies, people are randomly assigned to a treatment. This reduces the chance there are unknown factors that affect the results. There are not very many interventional studies of supplements or foods and asthma. A review of nine studies of vitamin C showed that there was not enough information to recommend taking vitamin C for asthma.8 A randomized trial showed that taking vitamin A or beta-carotene did not improve lung function or prevent asthma.8 Studies of vitamin E supplementation have had mixed results.8

Fish. The advice to eat more fish is based on the kind of fat in fish. Fish are a good source of omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory.9 A few observational studies have shown that people who eat more fish have a lower risk of asthma.7 One large, long-term study showed that eating more omega-3 fats was linked with a lower risk of asthma.9 However, overall, the results of observational studies are not consistent and the evidence is pretty weak.7 Intervention studies of fish oil supplements have been disappointing.7

Caffeine. You may hear that drinking black tea and coffee can help your asthma. A review of seven small trials showed that caffeine can improve airway function for up to four hours.10 The purpose of this study was to see if people should avoid taking caffeine before lung function tests. It was not a study to see if caffeine can be used to treat asthma symptoms.10 Caffeine should not be used in place of medications to treat increasing asthma symptoms; this could lead to delays in treatment with serious consequences. Caffeine can make GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) worse, possibly leading to more nighttime asthma symptoms.

Honey, Lemon, Licorice and Clove These foods and spices are considered soothing and are sometimes used to relieve cough.11 There have not been enough studies to know whether they are effective. Frequent asthma symptoms, such as cough, are a sign that your asthma may not be well controlled.1

Whole licorice can affect your blood pressure and interact with some medications.12 Honey should not be given to infants younger than one year. People with pollen or bee allergies may react to honey.13 However, for most older children and adults, honey and lemon are harmless.14 Clove is likely to be safe for most people in the amounts eaten in food.15

Spices Spices such as ginger and turmeric have been suggested as asthma remedies. In general, they have not been well studied for asthma. One laboratory study showed that ginger relaxes airway smooth muscle.16 However, this study was done in tissue samples, not in people. The authors suggest that ginger could be used in combination with—but not in place of—medication. Tumeric may reduce inflammation.17 A small study showed that taking capsules of curcumin (an ingredient in turmeric) improved lung function.17 The amount of ginger and turmeric usually eaten in food is safe for most people.

What herbal remedies can help my asthma?

About 11% of adults and 6% of children have tried herbal remedies for asthma.18 A number of different traditional herbal medicines have been used for asthma.

Guidelines from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say that there is not enough information to recommend herbal products for asthma.1 They caution that herbal products are not standardized. They may contain harmful ingredients that can cause a reaction. They also can interact with medications that you are taking.

Are there home remedies that make might make my asthma worse?

It can be dangerous to use home remedies for asthma in place of conventional medication. Asthma is a serious disease. When symptoms flare up, early treatment with effective medications can prevent severe attacks. Delaying medical care while trying home remedies can be risky.

No studies have shown that the following home remedies can improve asthma flare-ups:1

  • Warm, moist air (eg, from steamy showers or steams using essential oils)
  • Drinking large volumes of water
Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last Reviewed: May 2016.
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