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Treating Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms the Natural Way: What You Need to Know

Cystic fibrosis symptoms can be controlled with modern medicine. Here are some traditional therapies to support the treatment.

A girl coughing into her closed palm

Did you know that cystic fibrosis affects 1 in 31,000 newborns of Asian descent? This genetic condition is inherited due to a gene defect.

In this condition, it causes body secretions such as mucus and digestive juices to become thick. Unfortunately, the body cannot easily expel the sticky and thick phlegm, causing it to accumulate in organs such as the lungs and pancreas. It can even affect the liver, intestines, sinuses and sex organs. 

Cystic fibrosis was formerly associated with poor prognosis, and few children diagnosed with the condition lived to adulthood. However, advances in modern diagnostics and treatments have drastically improved the survival of patients. Children are now tested for cystic fibrosis at birth, and those diagnosed have a high chance of surviving until middle age. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry, more than half of cystic fibrosis patients born between 2015 and 2019 can expect to live beyond 46 years of age.

Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms

The severity of cystic fibrosis symptoms varies from person to person. Some with the classical disease develop symptoms in early childhood. Others may have the typical and milder form of the disease, allowing them to grow until adolescence or adulthood before developing any symptoms. Patients can receive diagnosis even before symptoms appear with the advent of screening tests for cystic fibrosis.

High salt levels

An unusual feature of this disease is high salt levels in the sweat of patients. Often, tasting salt when they kiss their kids left parents perplexed!

Thick mucus and a stuffy nose

Most other symptoms are related to the respiratory and digestive systems. Thick and sticky mucus collects in the airways and respiratory passages of patients with cystic fibrosis. As a result, the delicate airways that help with the exchange of air in the lungs cannot function. This leaves patients with breathing difficulties.

Along with the lungs, the thick mucus affects the sinuses and nasal passages. Blockage and infection of the mucus in the sinuses can cause repeated attacks of sinus infections. Similarly, cystic fibrosis patients tend to have stuffy noses very often.

A persistent cough and wheezing

Typical cystic fibrosis symptoms include a persistent cough with thick sputum that is difficult to cough out. Patients also experience wheezing and breathlessness on performing exercise. Repeated lung infections are prone in patients with cystic fibrosis.

Inability to gain weight and stunted growth

Thick mucus which blocks the tubes carrying the digestive juices, particularly from the pancreas affects the digestive system. When cystic fibrosis patients eat, food cannot be completely digested, resulting in foul-smelling and greasy stools.

As food is not digested and absorbed adequately, cystic fibrosis patients do not gain weight easily and may not grow as much. Newborns and young children may experience complications, including blockage of the intestine and chronic constipation.

Natural Remedies for Cystic Fibrosis

A lady getting an acupressure massage with a massage stick on her foot
Natural remedies like acupressure can help to support the treatment and relieve cystic fibrosis symptoms

According to Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) attributes the condition to hereditary deficiencies of the Lungs’ qi, yin and yang, which cause Cold, Dampness, phlegm, Fire, Qi Stagnation, blood stasis, and fluid retention within the Lungs.

As cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease, there is no way to prevent or cure the condition. However, patients can effectively manage the disease with the help of medical and natural therapies.

The main aim of treatment is to keep the airways open and unblocked. Patients receive prescription medications to prevent infections, broaden the airways, make the mucus thinner and help with digestion. Here are some natural therapies that can support treatment.

Physical therapy to keep airways clear

Cystic fibrosis patients receive training in special ways of coughing and breathing, which help to clear the thick mucus. There are devices available which fit in the mouth and use vibrations to loosen up mucus. Chest physical therapy, in which the patient moves in certain positions to drain the secretions from the lungs, also helps.

Diet

TCM advises that patients with cystic fibrosis should limit the intake of cold, raw, oily, fried, fatty, starchy, gassy, dairy-based, spicy or sugary foods and beverages. Physician Brandon suggests incorporating Astragalus root, Largehead Atractylodes Rhizome, poria, malt, and Chinese yam in their diets to improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients.

Astragalus root in a bowl on a table
Astragalus root is one herb that is said to be able to improve the digestion and absorption of nutrients for patients with cystic fibrosis.

Herbal medications

Physician Brandon also suggests herbal formulations that dispel Cold, Fire, Dampness and phlegm from the Lungs to relieve cough and breathlessness. These include She gan ma huang tang (射干麻黄汤), Hua gai san (华盖散), Ma xing shi gan tang (麻杏石甘汤), Dao tan tang (导痰汤), Su zi jiang qi tang (苏子降气汤), San zi yang qin tang (三子养亲汤), Sang bai pi tang (桑白皮汤) and Ding chuan tang (定喘汤).  

Besides these, formulations that dispel Qi Stagnation, blood stasis and fluid retention, and address the deficiencies of the Lungs’ qi, yin and yang are also helpful. However, he cautions, “Herbal formulations are meant to be used based on the underlying aetiology of cystic fibrosis, which is difficult to diagnose. Hence, do take TCM treatment only under the guidance of a licensed TCM practitioner.”

Acupressure

Physician Brandon suggests the following acupoints: 

  • Tai yuan (LU9 ,太渊): On the radial end of the transverse crease of the wrist, where the radial artery pulsates.  
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷): On the back of the hand, between the first and second metacarpal bones.  
  • Nei guan (PC6, 内关): On the palmar aspect of the forearm, three-fingers breadth above the transverse crease of the wrist. 
  • Dan zhong (RN17, 膻中): On the centre of the chest, at the midpoint between the two nipples  
  • Zhong wan (RN12, 中脘): On the midline of the abdomen, at the mid-point between the tip of the sternum and the umbilicus.  
  • Guan yuan (RN4, 关元): Along the midline of the lower abdomen, four-fingers-breadth below the navel.  
  • Qi hai (RN6, 气海): Along the midline of the lower abdomen, two fingers-breadth below the navel.  
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): On the anterior aspect of the lower leg, four fingers-breadth below the depression of the knee joint, one finger-breadth (middle finger) from the shin bone 
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉): On the depression of the inner side of the knee joint.  
  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交): On the inner lower leg, four-fingers-breadth above the tip of the inner ankle bone, just behind the shin bone.  
  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪): On the inner side of the foot, in the depression between the tip of the inner ankle bone and Achilles tendon.  
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太沖): On the dorsum of the foot, in the depression proximal to the first metatarsal space.  

Though cystic fibrosis is not curable, it is possible to manage symptoms with modern medicine supported by traditional remedies. Share this with your loved ones who may be suffering from the condition to help relieve their symptoms.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. Cystic fibrosis [online]  [Accessed on 25 May 2022].
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Cystic Fibrosis. [online] . [Accessed on 25 May 2022]
  3. National Library of Medicine, 2007, Cystic Fibrosis [online], [Accessed on 30 May 2022] 

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