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, for example, with excess mucus, as in bronchitis, or by damaging or deteriorating your air sacs, as in alveoli. This limits the amount of oxygen your lungs can deliver to your bloodstream. Two of the most prominent COPD diseases are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic lower respiratory disease, which is primarily COPD, was the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States in 2011, and it’s on the rise. Currently, there isn’t a cure for COPD, but rescue inhalers and inhaled or oral steroids can help control symptoms. And although herbs and supplements alone can’t cure or treat COPD, they can provide some symptom relief.
Several herbs and supplements have been used for centuries to alleviate symptoms similar to COPD, including the aromatic culinary herb, thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and ivy (Hedera helix). Other herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine include ginseng (Panax ginseng), curcumin (Curcuma longa), and red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza). The supplement melatonin may also provide relief.
Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris)
This time-honored culinary and medicinal herb prized for its aromatic oils has a generous source of antioxidant compounds. A German study found that the unique mixture of essential oils in thyme improves the clearance of mucus from the airways in animals. It may also help airways relax, improving airflow into the lungs. Whether this translates to real relief from the inflammation and airway constriction of COPD remains less clear.
English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
This herbal remedy may offer relief from airway restriction and impaired lung function associated with COPD. While promising, rigorous research on its effects on COPD is lacking. Ivy can cause skin irritation in some people and ivy extract is not recommended for people with an allergy to the plant.
Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
A dated but well-controlled clinical study from 2002 concluded that treatment with this traditional Asian herb was superior to a placebo for the relief of COPD symptoms. People taking ginseng experienced significant improvements in breathing and the ability to perform exercise, compared to similar subjects who received an inactive treatment.
Another study examined the effects of a combination therapy, which included ginseng and other Asian traditional healing herbs, versus no treatment at all. In this Chinese study, subjects taking the ginseng-based herbal blend experienced significant improvements in all measures of lung function, compared to subjects who received no treatment.
Another study examined all existing evidence regarding ginseng for COPD. The authors concluded that compared to no treatment, or treatment with standard medications alone, ginseng offered some additional improvement in quality of life and lung function among patients with stable COPD.
Curcumin is commonly found in turmeric (Curcuma longa). Turmeric is a spice commonly used in curries. Long used in traditional Asian medicine, curcumin has been shown to reduce airway inflammation. A powerful antioxidant, curcumin may help fight the oxidative stress believed to underlie COPD, while blocking inflammation at the molecular level. Research is also being done into the possibilities of using curcumin in the treatment of cancer. Curcumin is believed to be safe and well-tolerated, even at high doses.
Researchers are actively investigating curcumin’s ability to prevent, reverse, or improve a wide range of ailments and conditions. So far, scientists 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. Scientists are also intrigued by curcumin’s potential ability to fight or prevent cancer.
Red Sage (Salvia Miltiorrhiza)
One study found that red sage is an effective antioxidant, protecting the linings of blood vessels from injury when oxygen is temporarily cut off and then resumed, as in the case of COPD exacerbations.
Primarily know as an aid for sleeping, this study shows that melatonin helps reduce oxidative stress in people with COPD, making it easier to breathe. Further research must be done for its long-term effects on COPD.
There is a lot of research on COPD, due to its severity and the large number of people who have it. Although there is no cure for COPD, there are many treatments available to reduce symptoms in this set of diseases. Herbs and supplements provide a natural alternative to drugs, with fewer side effects, although research on their effectiveness against COPD continues.