Chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) is a lung condition. It makes it harder to breathe. To treat COPD, your doctor may prescribe medications or oxygen therapy. Some alternative and complementary therapies may also help relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Complementary treatments are used alongside standard COPD treatments. But often they haven’t been proven effective in large scientific studies. Some treatments may interact with certain medications or pose other risks. Always talk to your doctor before trying a complementary or alternative (used instead of standard) treatment. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks.
Herbs and supplements
Certain over-the-counter supplements may have a place in the treatment of COPD. Ask your doctor if any of these might be right for you.
Vitamins C and E
A Korean study of people with COPD, mostly men, showed that increasing dietary intake of vitamins C and E improved lung function. These vitamins are known as antioxidants. They’re believed to play a role in warding off cell damage.
The results of this study indicate that antioxidants may have a place in treating COPD, alongside doctor-prescribed medications. The necessary dose of these supplements is unknown at this time. Larger studies are needed.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids consumed as a regular part of the diet may benefit many systems throughout your body. There are currently no studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids have a specific role in the treatment of COPD. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may be useful in treating other conditions that go along with COPD, like elevated cholesterol. You can get them from supplements or via food. Food sources of omega-3s include:
- soy beans
- fatty fish, like salmon or tuna
Talk to your doctor to see if this supplement could benefit you.
This is a common herbal expectorant (mucus loosener and cough promoter) often found in cough drops. A study published in the Journal of Respiratory Research has shown positive results in people with COPD who took cineole capsules daily. Cineole is the main ingredient in eucalyptus oil. People reported less breathlessness when used together with their regular medications.
Eucalyptus oil may help with opening airways in COPD as well as treating inflammation. However, breathing in concentrated eucalyptus oil can cause lung irritation and make symptoms worse. It can also interact with a wide variety of medications.
Many people with COPD experience depression, anxiety, and stress. The challenges of living with a chronic health condition can take a toll. It’s important to manage your negative thoughts and stress levels. Meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques may improve your quality of life.
Yoga may be especially helpful. At the 2013 annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, researchers presented evidence that yoga may:
- improve lung function
- improve breathing
- improve quality of life
- reduce inflammation
Speak to your doctor if you think you might be experiencing depression. Relaxation strategies might not be enough to manage it. Your doctor may recommend antidepressant medications, counseling, or both.
Acupuncture is a technique used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. During an acupuncture session, your acupuncturist will insert thin needles into certain points of your body. Acupressure is a similar technique. It involves applying pressure instead of inserting needles.
According to a study in Acupuncture in Medicine, acupuncture might help treat COPD. The researchers compared people with COPD who took medication alone to those who took medication and also had weekly acupuncture treatments. After 10 weeks, those who received both had less trouble breathing during exercise.
Another small study in China compared people with COPD who used medication alone versus those who used medications and acupuncture. After eight weeks, those who added acupuncture had less breathing difficulties in a six-minute walk test and a higher quality of life than those who used medication alone.
There are no studies suggesting that acupuncture treatments can replace the current medical treatment for COPD.
Adjusting your daily habits can also make a big difference to your health when you have COPD. It’s important to:
- quit smoking, if you smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke
- limit your exposure to other lung irritants, such as toxic chemicals and pollution
- drink plenty of water and use a humidifier to keep secretions from becoming too thick
- get vaccinated against the flu, whooping cough, and pneumonia
- wash your hands regularly to lower your chances of getting lung and respiratory infections
- eat a well-balanced diet
- exercise regularly
- participate in pulmonary rehabilitation
- get plenty of sleep
Talk to a doctor
More and more doctors across all specialties are seeking further training in the field known as integrative medicine. Integrative medicine is a combination of traditional and complementary medicine. Nationally recognized integrative medicine centers can be found at:
- The University of California at San Francisco
- The University of Arizona
Integrative medicine is also a recognized medical board certification.
Ask your doctor for more information about alternative and complementary treatments and lifestyle changes that may help you manage your COPD. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of trying new methods or changing your daily routine.