Breathe Naturally

By staff May 1, 2003

As the rate of asthma cases increases, so does the search for "complementary and alternative" medicine to treat the condition. CAM encompasses everything from dietary restriction to herbs to acupuncture, and while there is little scientific evidence to support its efficacy over modern medicine, its use is growing by leaps and bounds.

Researchers at the UCLA Medical Center say that some double-blind studies do suggest that acupuncture and homeopathy can offer measurable benefits to asthma patients, but maintain that most herbal preparations serve only to prompt an expectorant (coughing) response that can provide some relief.

The Chinese have used herbs to treat asthma for centuries. One, yiqi bushen huoxue, has been shown to lower the number of endothelial cells (the cells which cause inflammation in airways) and decrease the frequency of asthma attacks.

The problem many physicians have with herbs is that the lack of governmental regulation makes them vulnerable to harmful contaminants. They can also adversely affect medications patients are already taking for their asthma. Some are toxic: licorice, for example, is frequently used to induce coughing, but can be poisonous in large doses. Ephedra (ma huang) is used to treat asthma symptoms, but has been linked with numerous deaths; its use is highly discouraged by the FDA.

Like herbal therapies, acupuncture has not undergone the strict clinical trials that many scientists use to judge medical efficacy. Still, the studies that have been done indicate it has at least short benefits. A group of German researchers is trying to rectify the problem by staging a long-term, controlled study of the acute and chronic effects acupuncture has on the inflammation that induces asthma.

If you are considering adding herbal treatments to your present medical regimen for asthma, be sure to alert your doctor, so you can both monitor the results and ensure no adverse drug interactions occur.

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