For centuries, herbs and supplements like thyme and vitamin D have been used to help alleviate symptoms related to COPD. Fewer exacerbations and better lung function are just some of their potential benefits.

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of diseases that obstruct airflow from your lungs.

They do this by constricting and clogging your airways or by damaging your air sacs. This limits the amount of oxygen your lungs can deliver to your bloodstream.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic lower respiratory disease, which is primarily COPD, is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Two of the most prominent COPD diseases are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

There’s no cure for COPD at the moment, but rescue inhalers and steroids can help you manage your symptoms. Although herbs and supplements alone can’t cure or treat COPD, they can provide some symptom relief.

This culinary and medicinal herb is prized for its aromatic oil and is a generous source of antioxidants. It may also help relax your airways, improving airflow into your lungs.

A 2021 study found that essential oil from the species Thymus serrulatus causes a relaxation response in the tracheal (windpipe) tissue of guinea pigs. It also found that thyme oil and its components have antimicrobial effects that may help reduce airway diseases.

A 2018 study found that thyme extract increases the frequency of cilia, a type of cell structure that helps liquids such as mucus move throughout your body. This action is traditionally impaired in people with COPD and helps explain COPD symptoms such as a mucus-producing cough.

More human studies are needed to know whether these actions translate to real relief from the inflammation and airway constriction of COPD. Learn more about the benefits of thyme.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is another herb that may offer relief from the airway restriction and impaired lung function associated with COPD.

While promising, rigorous research on its effects on COPD is limited.

A 2021 literature review found that it helped upper respiratory tract infections and bronchitis in certain groups, including those with COPD.

A 2020 literature review found that English ivy preparations may help reduce coughing caused by viral respiratory tract infections. But it’s unclear whether English ivy can help reduce coughing from COPD.

English ivy can cause skin irritation in some people. Use of the extract isn’t recommended for people with an allergy to the plant.

Research on the benefits of ginseng for COPD is mostly encouraging.

A 2011 literature review examined all existing evidence regarding ginseng for COPD. The researchers concluded that — when compared with no treatment or with treatment with standard medications alone — ginseng offered an additional improvement in quality of life and lung function to people with stable COPD.

A dated but well-controlled 2002 clinical study concluded that treatment with ginseng is superior to a placebo at relieving COPD symptoms. People taking ginseng experienced significant improvements in breathing and the ability to perform exercise compared with people in similar conditions who received the inactive treatment.

A small 2014 study compared the effects of a combination therapy, which included ginseng and other traditional Asian healing herbs, with no treatment at all. In this study, four subjects taking the ginseng-based herbal blend experienced significant improvements in all measures of lung function when compared with five subjects who received no treatment.

Still, some research has concluded that ginseng doesn’t help with COPD.

A well-designed 2020 study looked at individuals with moderate to very severe COPD. Some took a 200-milligram (mg) ginseng capsule twice daily for 24 weeks while others took a placebo. Over a 12-month period, the researchers evaluated COPD exacerbation rates as well as lung function, walking distance, and medication use.

The study found that ginseng didn’t reduce the rate of acute COPD exacerbations or improve lung function, walking distance, or medication use when compared with a placebo.

Primarily known as an aid for sleeping, melatonin helps reduce oxidative stress in people with COPD, according to a 2012 study. This means melatonin makes it easier to breathe.

Further research on its long-term effects on COPD is needed.

A 2020 literature review stated that melatonin supplementation helped oxidative stress in almost all chronic diseases.

A 2021 study compared the blood levels of melatonin in people with and without COPD. The study found that people with acute exacerbation of COPD had lower levels of circulating melatonin levels than those with stable COPD or without COPD. Further examination in mice suggested that melatonin may help relieve chronic inflammation from COPD.

Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that’s commonly found in the spice turmeric (Curcuma longa).

Long used in traditional Asian medicine, curcumin has been shown to help reduce airway inflammation in animals as well as humans. Curcumin may help fight the oxidative stress believed to underlie COPD while also blocking inflammation at the molecular level.

A 2015 review of human studies looked at the effect of curcuminoids on oxidative stress. It found that curcumin supplementation significantly increased superoxide dismutase, a powerful antioxidant against oxidative stress.

Researchers are actively investigating curcumin’s ability to prevent, improve, or reverse a wide range of illnesses and conditions.

So far, experts have found that curcumin may have significant antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. What’s more, it may offer relief from arthritis and protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Experts are also intrigued by curcumin’s potential ability to treat or prevent lung and other cancers.

Curcumin is believed to be safe and well tolerated, even at high doses. Discover other benefits of turmeric and curcumin.

Widely used in traditional medications, licorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid along with flavonoids that may help treat respiratory tract infections and COPD.

Research suggests that these active compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help ease COPD symptoms.

Specifically, glycyrrhizic acid may:

  • have anti-asthmatic effects
  • relax the bronchial tubes
  • reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines, which are a type of protein

Experts also believe that saponins, another type of compound, may help loosen mucus so it can be more easily expelled from your lungs.

Animal studies also suggest that licorice root may be useful in helping to ease COPD symptoms.

In a 2018 study, mice were given isoliquiritigenin (ISL), a flavonoid derived from licorice root, before being exposed to cigarette smoke for 2-hour periods of time twice daily for 4 weeks. ISL helped protect the mice from cigarette smoke-induced COPD by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.

Additional research in humans is needed.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays important roles in bone metabolism, mineral metabolism, and many other physiological functions. Researchers believe it may also be involved in the progression and treatment of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD.

COPD is associated with vitamin D deficiency.

A 2016 literature review found that people with COPD had lower levels of vitamin D than people without the condition. Notably, people with vitamin D deficiency were at an increased risk of COPD and more severe COPD.

In addition, vitamin D status in people with COPD is directly associated with their lung function, inflammatory factors, and outlook. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to increased rates of exacerbation and hospitalization in people with COPD.

While COPD is associated with low vitamin D levels, experts aren’t yet sure whether supplementing with vitamin D will improve COPD symptoms.

One promising literature review from 2020 looked at the effects of vitamin D supplementation on people with COPD. The researchers found that supplementing with vitamin D can:

  • improve lung function
  • reduce acute exacerbation and sputum (a type of phlegm)
  • improve scores on a measure of COPD’s impact on daily life

A 2022 study of 155 people with COPD and vitamin D deficiency found that vitamin D supplementation had no effect on COPD symptoms.

Participants were given either 16,800 international units (IU) of vitamin D3 or a placebo once a week for 1 year. There was no difference in exacerbation rate, lung function, muscle strength, systemic inflammation, or other secondary outcomes between those who took vitamin D and those who took the placebo.

Derived from the amino acid L-cysteine, N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an antioxidant that helps loosen thick mucus and may slow or prevent worsening of COPD symptoms.

A 2015 literature review looked at the impact of both low and high doses of NAC on the frequency of exacerbations in thousands of people with COPD. Treatment time ranged from 4 to 36 months. The researchers found that those who took NAC had significantly fewer exacerbations of chronic bronchitis or COPD.

One 2021 study divided 121 people with COPD into two groups. One group took a total of 1,200 mg of NAC daily along with traditional bronchidilator medications. The other group took placebos and practiced conventional airway expansion therapy.

Over the months-long study period, markers of immune status in blood tests showed that the group who took medications and NAC improved their inflammatory status.

Although there’s no cure for COPD, there are many treatments available to reduce its symptoms.

Herbs and supplements provide a natural alternative to medications, sometimes with fewer side effects. Research on their effectiveness against COPD continues to grow.

Always talk with a healthcare professional before trying any new dietary supplements to be sure they’re safe for you and won’t interact with other medications you may be taking.