5 Herbal Remedies for the Effective Management of Asthma Symptoms

Susceptibility to certain triggers can put you at risk of this lung disorder. Learn herbal remedies that can help you ease asthma symptoms.

An Asian woman with a backpack hiking a mountain forest happily as the sun shines in the background

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disorder characterised by airway inflammation, narrowing and obstruction to airflow, and increased sensitivity to allergens. It can also make you susceptible to blood vessel disorders. Asthma symptoms can vary over time and in intensity. 

These symptoms include coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, and tightness in the chest. It’s important to note that asthma is not a treatable disease but you can manage it by controlling its symptoms and the risk of future disease complications. 

On the contrary, poorly treated asthma can put you at risk of cardiovascular diseases or a stroke. 

What are Common Asthma Triggers? 

A woman in bed reaching for her asthma inhaler
Being exposed to asthma triggers can put you at risk of symptoms that include wheezing and tightness in the chest.

An asthma attack occurs when you are exposed to specific triggers, which are different for every person. From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the primary cause of asthma attacks is phlegm.  

“The blockage of qi pathways due to phlegm prevents lung qi from descending, causing breathlessness. Prolonged asthma is usually associated with kidney deficiencies. During an asthma attack, the emphasis would be to remove the phlegm,” explains TCM practitioner, physician Lim Sock Ling. It is recommended that you identify your asthma triggers and stay away from them to avoid symptoms. 

Here are some of the common asthma triggers you should know: 

Viral infections 

Viral respiratory tract infections significantly affect the severity of the disease for people who have or are at high risk for asthma. They can worsen the effects of asthma by increasing airway sensitivity and triggering inflammation or infection of the airways. A more severe form of asthma can lead to breathing difficulties and a long-term loss of lung function. 

Exposure to animal dander, pollen, and mould 

Exposure to allergens can have an impact on asthma morbidity. Dander from household pets such as cats or dogs is associated with severe asthma in children. Exposure to protein particles shed by cockroaches or mouse dander can put you at risk of developing allergic asthma. Avoid using dust-collecting rugs in your home and ensure you keep the house well-ventilated and dust-free.

Outdoor exposure to pollen can induce an asthma attack or worsen symptoms in people who are sensitive to pollen-producing plants. Other outdoor allergens include spores from fungi like Alternaria and are prevalent in dry, warm climates. They are commonly found in soil, seeds, and plants. Avoid areas with pollen producing plants, especially in the mornings and late evenings. If you must go out, wear a pollen-filtering mask. 

Tobacco smoke  

Cigarette smoking relates to more severe symptoms and rapid worsening of lung functions. This attributes to the inflammatory effects of tobacco smoking. In addition, smoking may also impair the therapeutic effects of corticosteroids – steroid hormones that help to reduce inflammation in the body. Remember, to be affected by tobacco smoke, and you need not smoke it yourself – second-hand smoke is equally dangerous. 

Chilled or cooling foods and beverages 

Foods or beverages that are cold or generally cooling in nature can compromise the spleen and digestive system. As a result, these reactions can lead to phlegm accumulation and consequently, impair qi circulation in the lungs.

External pathogens 

External cold, heat or wind can disrupt lung qi circulation, and cause a phlegm build-up. Seasonal weather changes that are accompanied by a rapid drop in temperature can also trigger asthma attacks due to an undermined circulation of lung qi

5 Herbal Remedies to Help Your Asthma Attacks in Check

Flat lay of different herbs and spices used to relieve asthma symptoms
Some herbs and spices may be able to relieve the symptoms of asthma.

During the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023, it observed countries like China, India and Vietnam are working towards an integration of traditional and complementary medicines (T&CM) into national health systems. In the same way, Malaysia has also integrated T&CM practices in public healthcare centres across the country.

Ginkgo Biloba  

Ginkgo Biloba is a TCM herb neutral in nature. It restrains lung qi, thus relieving asthmatic coughs. It’s worth noting that the maximum dosage varies for different people. For instance, children below the age of 10 should not consume more than 7 pieces of ginkgo daily. An overdose can cause poisoning, which may cause symptoms like stomach aches, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, or loss of consciousness. Parents should consider administering paediatric tuina – an ancient massage technique that originated in China – to support phlegm removal, regulate lung qi (vital energy), and strengthen the different organ systems. 

Schisandra fruit 

Schisandra fruit is a warm-natured food you can use to relieve breathlessness by restraining lung qi. However, people with warm syndromes should abstain from this fruit. However, the consumption of schisandra fruit can trigger allergic reactions and gastrointestinal problems like stomach aches, heartburn and a reduced appetite. Pregnant women should refrain from consuming schisandra fruit as it can cause uterus contractions.

Breastfeeding mothers should avoid this fruit as there isn’t enough evidence to prove that it is safe for mother and baby. Similarly, people with epilepsy, peptic ulcers, heartburn, and high brain (intracranial) pressure should abstain from eating this fruit. It can help stimulate the secretion of acids in the stomach and excite the brain. 

Turmeric 

Turmeric also exhibits the ability to reduce bronchial inflammation in people with asthma. This ability attributes to curcumin, a compound of turmeric that can block the release of inflammatory chemicals in white blood cells. 

Curcumin also demonstrates an ability to inhibit the production of cytokines — a group of signalling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity — which suggests the ability to keep other allergy-related diseases under control. 

ASHMI 

A non-steroidal blend of TCM herbs called ASHMI (anti-asthma herbal medicine intervention) incorporates the use of 3 ingredients:  

  • Lingzhi (Reishi mushrooms) 
  • Gan cao (Chinese liquorice) 
  • Ku shen (shrubby sophora) 

This herb mixture has a therapeutic effect on inflammation and bronchial constriction, the two main pathogenic mechanisms of asthma. It also increases the secretion of immunity-enhancing chemicals in the body and improves immune function.

When recuperating from asthma, treatment focuses on improving immunity by strengthening the spleen, kidneys, and lungs. Physician Lim says, “At this juncture, Cordyceps would usually be helpful as it benefits both the lungs and kidneys. Individuals who are allergic to fungi must be cautious when consuming Cordyceps. When an individual is suffering from flu symptoms or has a fever, he or she should not consume tonifying herbs like Cordyceps. It is often used in soups by double-boiling. Alternatively, the powdered form can also be encapsulated for consumption.”  

At the same time, you can consume ingredients like Bai Zhu (white atractylodes rhizome), Chinese yam, longan and red dates to improve spleen function and reduce the production of phlegm. People with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, ovarian or uterine cancer, as well as endometriosis or uterine fibroids should consume Chinese yam cautiously, as it contains chemicals that will increase the level of oestrogen in the body. 

Black cumin

A spoonful of black cumin seeds displayed on a wooden table
The use of herbal remedies like black cumin seeds can prevent an asthma attack due to their anti-inflammatory activity.

The bronchial relaxation effects of black cumin are comparable to theophylline — a drug used to treat respiratory diseases like asthma. It also improves airflow in the trachea and shows effective anti-inflammatory activity by reducing secretions of inflammatory chemicals that cause airway obstruction. 

Vasa 

The Ayurvedic system of medicine use this herbaceous shrub to treat respiratory illnesses such as cough, cold, and asthma. It contains several components that have demonstrated several medicinal properties.

These include vasicine, which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and bronchodilator qualities. Alternatively, you may also choose to drink a herbal tea to reduce excess heat in the body, nourish the lungs and relieve the symptoms of asthma. 

Traditional medicine has become increasingly popular in the management of chronic respiratory disorders like asthma. Consult with your healthcare provider if you wish to incorporate herbal remedies to do away with asthma symptoms

References

  1. Biomedcentral.com (BMC). 2021. Asthma and stroke: a narrative review. [Accessed 27 September 2021]
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2018. Asthma. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  3. US National Library of Medicine. 2019. Asthma exacerbation related to viral infections: An up to date summary. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  4. US National Library of Medicine. 2010. Role of viral respiratory infections in asthma and asthma exacerbations. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  5. US National Library of Medicine. 2010. The Role of Allergen Exposure and Avoidance in Asthma. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  6. US National Library of Medicine. 2017. Allergen Avoidance in Allergic Asthma. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  7. Biomedcentral.com (BMC). 2016. The management of asthmatic smokers. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  8. Institutes of Integrative Medicine, Fudan University and World Century Publishing Corporation. 2018. Global situation and WHO strategy on traditional medicine. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  9. World Health Organization. 2018. TRADITIONAL AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE IN PRIMARY HEALTH CARE [Accessed 27 September 2021]
  10. US National Library of Medicine. 2014. Evaluation of Efficacy of Curcumin as an Add-on therapy in Patients of Bronchial Asthma[Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  11. Clinical Education. 2018. New Studies Confirm the Power of Three Chinese Herbs for Asthma. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 
  12. Hindawi. 2019Nigella sativa L. (Black Cumin): A Promising Natural Remedy for Wide Range of IllnessesAccessed 27 September 2021] 
  13. ScienceDirect. 2019. Justicia adhatoda. [Accessed 27 September 2021] 

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