Ayurvedic medicine (Ayurveda) is an ancient, centuries-old medical system that originated in India. It’s currently practiced as a form of complementary medicine in many countries, including the United States.

Ayurvedic practitioners believe they can successfully address many health conditions, including:

In Ayurvedic medicine, there are five elements that permeate the entire universe, as well as our bodies. These elements are space, air, water, earth, and fire. They combine to promote health, by forming and maintaining the healthy balance of three doshas, which exist in each living thing.

When the doshas become imbalanced, illness results. These doshas are:

  • vata (air and space)
  • kapha (earth and water)
  • pitta (fire and water)

Each person has one primary dosha, which is meant to be stronger than the others. People with a strong pitta dosha are thought to be those most likely to get asthma.

Despite widespread use, there’s little scientific data available to back up the value of Ayurveda. However, there’s some evidence indicating that the herbs used in Ayurvedic treatments may have benefits for people with asthma.

Ayurvedic practitioners use multiple techniques to bring the body into a balanced, disease-free state. They include:

  • saying mantras
  • massage
  • yoga
  • oral and topical use of herbs
  • dietary and lifestyle changes
  • breathing exercises

For the treatment of bronchial asthma and allergic asthma, Ayurvedic practitioners have reported on the successful use of several herbal treatments. These include Argemone mexicana, a common herb that can be found growing wild throughout India. Other herbs include:

  • Cassia sophera
  • Piper betel
  • holy basil (tulsi)
  • Euphorbia hirta, often referred to as asthma weed

These and other herbs may have antihistamine, bronchodilating, and anti-asthmatic properties.

Ayurvedic practitioners also focus on diet, exercise, and deep breathing techniques to help reduce asthma symptoms.

Some small studies, such as this 2012 one published in the International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda, indicate that the herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine may have benefit for the treatment of asthma. Other studies include use of dietary modification and lifestyle changes, as well as herbal treatments.

Another small 2016 study, done without controls, found that tulsi was beneficial for liquefying phlegm and reducing coughs associated with asthma and allergic bronchitis.

These and other studies are compelling but haven’t been replicated with large study populations. Some reported studies also use vague language about the type of herbal treatments and strategies used.

Aryuvedic healers aren’t regulated or licensed in the United States, so it’s important to choose a practitioner wisely.

If you’re considering Ayurvedic treatments for asthma, talk to your doctor first. Don’t substitute Ayurvedic medicine for your current protocols until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.

Keep in mind that there’s a lack of scientific evidence about the efficacy and safety of Ayurvedic practices. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that potentially harmful metals, minerals, and gems, including lead, mercury, and arsenic, have been found in Ayurvedic herbal blends.

Western medicine often starts with a written asthma plan that includes identifying your asthma triggers and how to avoid them. Your asthma plan will also include instructions for handling flare-ups and information about when to call your doctor in case of an emergency.

Well-studied medications are used for both long-term control and immediate symptom relief. These medications include:

  • Rescue inhalers. Portable devices that deliver a premeasured dose of medications to reduce swelling and irritation. Some inhalers are designed to stop asthma attacks quickly.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators. These are inhaled medications or a combination of medications that provide long-acting opening of the airways. They’re maintenance medications and include things like inhaled corticosteroids.
  • Nebulizers. Nebulizers aren’t portable. They may use some of the same medications inhalers do and are highly effective at stopping asthma attacks.
  • Pills. Oral medications for asthma may be prescribed for daily or occasional use. These include corticosteroid medications and leukotriene modulators, designed to reduce inflammation in the airways.
  • Immunomodulators. Also known as biologics, these injectable medications are used to treat severe asthma symptoms. They work by reducing sensitivity to trigger allergens in the environment, such as dust mites or pollen.

Asthma attacks are serious. If you’re coughing, wheezing, have chest pain, or are having trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately. In some instances, your rescue inhaler may not provide relief. If so, call your doctor.

Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient medical system that has origins in India. Ayurveda is practiced today around the world. Some Ayurvedic treatments, such as dietary alterations or the use of herbs, may have benefits for asthma, although scientific evidence is lacking about their effectiveness.

Some herbal formulations have also been found to contain harmful substances such as lead. Ayurveda shouldn’t be substituted for your standard asthma protocol or without your doctor’s approval.