Natural Treatments for Asthma

Natural Remedies for Asthma
Tadamasa Taniguchi Collection/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes difficulty breathing. The airways of the lungs, called bronchial tubes, become inflamed. The surrounding muscles tighten and mucus is produced, which further narrow the airways. Untreated asthma flare-ups can lead to hospitalization and can even be fatal. It is not a condition that should be self-treated. 

Symptoms and Signs 

Asthma symptoms can range from mild, such as wheezing, to chronic coughing and wheezing during severe asthma attacks. These are some of the warning signs and symptoms:

  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of breath during exercise
  • Increased need for bronchodilators (medications that open airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles)

Natural Remedies 

So far, scientific support for the claim that any remedy can treat asthma is lacking. If you are experiencing symptoms of asthma or are considering trying any form of alternative medicine, it's important to see your physician. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

1) Buteyko Breathing Technique

The Buteyko (pronounced bew-tay-ko) Breathing Technique was developed by Russian-born researcher Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko. It consists of shallow breathing exercises designed to help people with asthma breathe easier.

The Buteyko Breathing Technique is based on the premise that raising blood levels of carbon dioxide through shallow breathing can help people with asthma. Carbon dioxide is believed to dilate the smooth muscles of the airways.

A study involving 60 people with asthma compared the effects of the Buteyko Breathing Technique, a device that mimics pranayama (a yoga breathing technique), and a placebo. Researchers found people using the Buteyko Breathing Technique had a reduction in asthma symptoms. Symptoms didn't change in the pranayama and the placebo groups.

The use of inhalers was reduced in the Buteyko group by two puffs a day at six months, but there was no change in the other two groups.

There have been several other promising clinical trials evaluating this technique, however, they have been small in size and may have had other problems with the study design. Critics of the technique say that the technique is expensive, that it makes no difference in the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood, that higher levels of carbon dioxide is not an effective strategy, and that any effects of the technique may be due to general relaxation.

2) Omega Fatty Acids

One of the primary inflammation-causing fats in our diets is believed to be arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is found in certain foods, such as egg yolks, shellfish, and meat. Eating less of these foods is thought to decrease inflammation and asthma symptoms.

A German study examined data from 524 children and found that asthma was more prevalent in children with high levels of arachidonic acid.

Arachidonic acid can also be produced in our bodies. Another strategy to reduce levels of arachidonic acid is to increase intake of beneficial fats such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from fish oil, and GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) from borage or evening primrose oil.
Omega-3 fatty acid capsules are sold in drug stores, health food stores and online. Look for the active ingredients EPA and DHA on the label.

Omega-3 fatty acid capsules may interact with blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin) and aspirin. Side effects may include indigestion and bleeding. To reduce a fishy aftertaste after taking fish oil capsules, they should be taken just before meals.

3) Fruits and Vegetables

A study examining food diaries of 68,535 women found that women who had a greater intake of tomatoes, carrots, and leafy vegetables had a lower prevalence of asthma.

High consumption of apples may protect against asthma.

Daily intake of fruits and vegetables in childhood decreased the risk of asthma.

A University of Cambridge study found that asthma symptoms in adults are associated with a low dietary intake of fruit, vitamin C, and manganese.

4) Butterbur

Butterbur is a perennial shrub that grows in Europe, Asia, and North America. The active constituents are petasin and isopetasin, which are believed to reduce smooth muscle spasm and have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Researchers at the University of Dundee, Scotland, evaluated the effects of butterbur in people with allergic asthma who were also using inhalers. They found that butterbur added to the anti-inflammatory effect of the inhalers.

Another study examined the use of butterbur root extract in 80 people with asthma for four months. The number, duration, and severity of asthma attacks decreased and symptoms improved after using butterbur. More than 40 percent of people using asthma medication at the start of the study reduced their intake of medication by the end of the study.

Side effects of butterbur may include indigestion, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with kidney or liver disease should not take butterbur.

Butterbur is in the ragweed plant family, so people who are allergic to ragweed, marigold, daisy, or chrysanthemum should not use butterbur.

The raw herb as well as teas, extracts, and capsules made from the raw herb should not be used because they contain substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and have been linked to cancer.

It is possible to remove the pyrrolizidine alkaloids from butterbur products. For example, in Germany, there is a safety limit to the level of pyrrolizidine alkaloids allowed in butterbur products. The daily recommended dose cannot exceed one microgram per day.

5) Bromelain

Bromelain is an extract from pineapples. One of the theories about how it works is that it is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, researchers at the University of Connecticut found that bromelain reduced airway inflammation in animals with allergic airway disease. Bromelain should not be used by people with allergies to pineapples. Side effects may include digestive upset and allergic reactions.

6) Boswellia

The herb boswellia, known in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as Salai guggul, has been found in preliminary studies to inhibit the formation of compounds called leukotrienes. Leukotrienes released in the lungs cause narrowing of airways.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of forty patients, 40 people with asthma were treated with a boswellia extract three times a day for six weeks. At the end of this time, 70 percent of people had improved. Symptoms of difficulty breathing, number of attacks, and laboratory measures had improved.

Boswellia is available in pill form. It should say on the label that it is standardized to contain 60 percent boswellic acids. It should not be taken for more than eight to 12 weeks unless otherwise recommended by a qualified health practitioner.

It is not clear what dose is safe or effective or how boswellia may interact with other asthma treatments. Side effects may include digestive upset, nausea, acid reflux or diarrhea.

7) Weight Loss

Numerous studies have found that obesity is a risk factor for asthma.

8) Biofeedback

Biofeedback is sometimes recommended by practitioners as a natural therapy for asthma.

Caveats

Supplements have not been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Also, keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get additional tips on using supplements.

Using Natural Remedies 

Due to a lack of supporting evidence, it's too soon to recommend any form of alternative medicine for asthma. If you're considering using alternative medicine, make sure to consult your physician first.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources