Asthma is a chronic lung condition characterized by airway obstruction, spasm and hyper-responsiveness in the bronchial tubes, or inflammation and swelling in the lining tissue. It is often an advanced stage of allergies, and currently is increasing in prevalence and severity. This disease can be life threatening, and must be managed by an MD allergist to avoid crisis and to handle emergencies. During asthma attacks, patients have severe dyspnea due to bronchial spasms, and hypersecretion of mucus, leading to air passageway obstruction. These attacks can be true emergencies, and lead to death. For this reason, asthma should only be treated by a qualified expert, and having an MD allergist as the primary caregiver to monitor, prescribe and take care of emergencies is essential.
The first step in treating asthma is to remove hidden causes of systemic inflammation, as mentioned in the corresponding sections of this website. For example, sinus and/or intestinal issues can be hidden sources of inflammation that ends up causing lung symptoms. The reason is that the inflammation from these areas contributes to asthma (recent research on gut ecology supports this well known ancient idea). I have noted that, especially in children, clearing up their bowel issues can in some cases dramatically improve the asthma without any direct lung medicines. As well, it is also important to make supportive changes in diet, and add essential nutrients such as vitamin D3 and Omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to help asthma.
The herbal approach one secondary factors have been handled is to work on three basic parameters - lung inflammation, obstructive mucus and lung tension
To improve obstructive mucus, relax the airways, and/or reduce lung inflammation, construct a base formula using ephedra, apricot seed, boswellia gum and licorice root, about ten grams of each herb (concentrated powder granules). This relaxes the lung tissue and reduces cough and inflammation. If the patient has elevated blood pressure, delete ephedra and substitute aguru wood, khella seed and/or coltsfoot flower (kuan dong hua or Tussilago farfara). This should comprise about 50% of your formula.
Choose secondary herbs for the rest of your formula from the groups mentioned in the section on treatment of the respiratory system, and always add a few herbs for weakness and deficiency. Use about two or three grams three times per day for several months. Nourishing lung syrups can also be made using honey mixed with tinctured herbs taken from those lists. A commercial formulation of use is honey loquat flavored oral demulcent syrup (nin jiom pei pa koa), available from TCM herbalists. Although categorized as a sore throat remedy, the syrup nonetheless contains several lung-nourishing herbs.
TAM doctors point out that weaknes of the inhaling and exhaling functions point to a hidden neurasthenia which can benefit from use of tonics at low dosage over a sufficiently long period of time. They also warn that asthma can be related to digestive problems, constipation and kidney problems, as well as cardiac dysfunction, obesity and edema. All of these must be treated separately.
They recommend a strict regulation of the external environment and diet. Asthma patients with a cold lung condition are told to avoid excess cold, such as might occur during swimming, drinking icy cold drinks etc. Those with inflammation have to be careful with overexertion (especially leading to breathing through the mouth), summer heat and working near stoves etc. The bedroom and workspace must be well ventilated and properly heated and cooled (Bajracharya, 1988).
You should notice that the herbs we use for asthma are almost the same as the herbs used for upper respiratory infections, except that we do not use the strongly anti-bacterial herbs like isatis root and leaves, forsythia fruit and honeysuckle flowers. Instead, we use a higher proportion of tonic and nourishing herbs, because chronic lung illness always weakens the tissues. Also, don't forget to choose the appropriate diet based on whether there is more mucus, tension or inflammation. The methods mentioned here for treating asthma can also be used for chronic bronchitis or chronic cough after the severely inflamed state has passed.
For children, we use similar but milder formulas with good results. I have found that diet, hidden food allergies and intestinal issues are very important for them.
• A randomized controlled trial using boswellia gum involved forty patients who had suffered from bronchial asthma for from 3-15 years. They received 300 mg. three times per day for six weeks. Researchers reported that "70% of patients showed improvement of disease as evident by disappearance of physical symptoms and signs such as dyspnea, rhonchi, number of attacks . . . as well as decrease in eosinophilic count . . .Only 27% of patients in the control group showed improvement (Gupta et al, 1998).
• A study of the clinical properties and mechanisms of action of coltsfoot flower showed benefit in bronchial asthma and chronic obstructive bronchitis (Ziolo and Samochowiec, 1998).
• Although tea leaves and coffee can offer symptomatic relief from asthma, they only deal with a small part of the problem. Therefore it is not surprise that a study of adults who used this strategy showed an increased hospitalization rate, probably due to a delay in using more efficacious methods (Blanc et al., 1997).
• A review of evidence suggests that dietary salt reduction, magnesium supplementation and use of essential fatty acids (fish oils, flaxseed oil etc.) all have value in reducing asthmatic symptoms (Ziment, 1997).
• Early British researchers were so impressed by the anti-asthma effects of the Ayurvedic herb anthrapachaka leaf (Tylophora indica) that it was officially admitted into the Bengal pharmacopoeia in 1844 (Nadkarni 1954). It produces uniform and certain results, stimulating phagocytic function while inhibiting the humoral component of the immune system (Udupa et. al., 1991). Researchers at Johns Hopkins concluded that an extract from this herb constituted a new class of anti-allergy agent (Gnabre et. al., 1994). In asthma patients, use a 1:5 tincture, giving only 15-30 drops once per day for no more than 7 -10 days per month. The results are long lasting, and will continue for up to a month after stopping. Excess dosage always creates nausea and vomiting, so this herb should only be prescribed by a qualified herbal practitioner.
• Ginkgo leaf oral liquor was shown to significantly reduce clinical symptoms and pulmonary function of asthmatic patients (Li et. al., 1997). It has also shown benefit in children's asthma (Keville, 1996).