Asthma Chapter 12

Live Well


Complementary Treatments

There are a number of complementary treatments for asthma, and they have proven effective for many people. But they are complementary—not alternative—treatments. They are meant to be used in addition to your prescribed medication. If you choose to try one or more of these therapies, you should not stop taking your medications. You may well find that you are able to reduce your use of medications, or eventually even do without them altogether. However, you should not do this too quickly, and you must have the approval of your doctor before you do so.


Breathing Techniques

Practicing special breathing techniques can allow you to reduce your use of quick-relief medication. Studies comparing these breathing techniques have found that all of them can be beneficial. In fact, it may be that the act of focusing on and controlling your breath is more important than which technique you choose. READ MORE

  • The Buteyko breathing technique teaches people with asthma to habitually breathe less than they normally do.

  • The Papworth method involves learning to take deep breaths using the diaphragm, breathing through the nose, and other techniques.

  • Yoga breathing techniques, called pranayama, emphasize deep, slow, steady breathing.




Although acupuncture has been used to treat pain and other conditions for thousands of years, we still have no very clear idea how it works. According to the Chinese system of medicine, acupuncture works to clear blocked “meridians”—channels of energy—in the body. Usually, very thin needles are inserted at certain sites corresponding to these meridians. The needles may be quickly twirled or electricity may be passed into them. Multiple sessions might be necessary to obtain the desired result. READ MORE

Acupuncture has become a popular complementary treatment for asthma. Many people who have had acupuncture treatments feel that they’ve significantly reduced their asthma symptoms. There is still a lack of scientific studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating asthma. However, acupuncture is considered a safe treatment, with few or no side effects, so it should not be overlooked as a complementary therapy for asthma. LESS



The foods you eat can have a significant effect on your asthma symptoms because they can reduce—or increase—inflammation.

Foods that may reduce asthma symptoms:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. The best source of these “good fats” is fatty coldwater fish (including salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna). Walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and evening primrose oil also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s lessen inflammation by inhibiting the production of certain inflammatory chemicals, reducing asthmatic symptoms.

  • Fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help to improve lung function and reduce asthma symptoms. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and bioflavonoids. Antioxidants inhibit the synthesis of proinflammatory chemicals and help quench inflammation. They also help cells protect themselves against the damaging effects of chemicals released in the inflammatory process. Bioflavonoids have similarly protective functions and keep certain immune cells from releasing inflammatory chemicals.

Food that can make asthma symptoms worse:

  • High-fat foods, especially those high in saturated fats. Eating even a single high-fat meal, like a burger and fries, has been found to increase inflammation and reduce lung function in people who have asthma. Eating large amounts of fats impairs the response to asthma medications as well.

  • Food additives. Certain food additives can cause asthma to worsen, including:

    • Aspartame, an artificial sweetener

    • Tartrazine (FD&C Yellow No. 5), a food coloring used in some foods and medications

    • Certain preservatives, including sulfites (used to preserve some foods as well as wine and beer) and benzoates (added to various foods and beverages as well as medicines, mouthwashes, and nutritional supplements)

  • Salty foods. High levels of salt may worsen asthmatic inflammation

  • Dairy products. Some people find that consuming dairy products like milk and cheese increases mucus production and worsens their asthma symptoms.



Herbal Remedies

Herbs have been used for centuries to cure a variety of lung disorders, including asthma. In some countries they are the main treatment for asthma. Not enough clinical trials have been performed to know for sure how effective and safe herbal remedies for asthma are, but the following herbs have been used to treat asthma with some positive results: READ MORE

  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

  • Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)

  • Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis )

  • French maritime pine (Pinus maritima) bark extract

  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) WARNING: Do not use ginkgo if you have a clotting disorder, as gingko may affect the time it takes for blood to clot.

  • Grindelia (Grindelia spp.)

  • Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata)

  • Ivy (Hedera helix)

  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

  • Tylophora indica

In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, herbs are commonly used in combination to treat various maladies. There is some evidence that blends of herbs are more effective than herbs used individually. LESS


Considerations When Using Herbal Remedies

Certain herbs may interact with other medications, so talk with your doctor before starting to use an herbal remedy. Remember that herbs don’t have to meet the same standards for safety and effectiveness as over-the-counter or prescription medications. Some Chinese and Indian herbs used as medicine have been tested and found to be contaminated with heavy metals. Herbs can also cause side effects, ranging from minor to severe. READ MORE

Ephedra, an extract of the plant Ephedra sinica (known in Chinese as ma huang), is sometimes used to treat asthma. However, ephedra has potentially serious side effects, including hypertension, insomnia, arrhythmia, headache, seizure, stroke, and heart attack. Ephedra-containing diet supplements have been banned in the US. It is not advisable to treat asthma with ephedra. LESS

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The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.