How good are alternative treatments?

The goal of asthma treatment is to prevent attacks before they start. People often turn to alternative treatments for asthma as a means to bolster their body’s ability to protect itself. Lung problems rank in the top 15 medical conditions people use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for.

When it comes to asthma, many alternative treatments claim to strengthen your lungs and immune and hormonal systems. But it’s important to know that CAM isn’t as effective as traditional medications. Avoid replacing your asthma medication with alternative therapies. Regarding their effectiveness, these therapies have shown little or mixed results. Research is also minimal in comparison to that for traditional medicine treatments.

However, many people report benefit from using CAM for asthma. Read on to learn about which treatments may work. And be sure to check with your doctor before trying any asthma alternative treatments.

Some herbs and dietary supplements may help relieve asthma symptoms. But much of the research is ongoing or still inconclusive. Some findings indicate that many natural and over-the-counter products have the potential for serious side effects.

Products that have been scientifically evaluated include magnesium and fish oil. Sometimes these ingredients were used in combination with Vitamin C. Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) and fish oil (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) may reduce inflammation and alleviate asthma symptoms. Studies show that the quality of life scores improved in people who took these supplements.

Other natural herbs that may treat asthma include:

  • ginkgo, shown to reduce inflammation
  • mullein
  • boswellia (Indian frankincense)
  • dried ivy
  • butterbur
  • black seed
  • choline
  • French maritime pine bark extract

Coffee and tea may also be useful for treating asthma symptoms. Caffeine is a natural and mild bronchodilator. Tea contains small amounts of theophylline, a caffeine-like substance. In tablet form, theophylline (Uniphyl) is one of the less frequently used prescription drug options for asthma.

Read more: How to prevent asthma attacks »

Stress and anxiety can increase asthma symptoms and trigger asthma attacks, according to the Cleveland Clinic. To relieve stress, you may want to try practicing mind-body approaches to help achieve relaxation.

For children with asthma, the most popular mind-body practices are breathing exercises, prayer, and relaxation.

Early studies suggest that muscular relaxation therapy can improve lung function. But more evidence is needed.

Biofeedback also could help improve lung function. It uses monitors to reveal physiological changes. This may help you control your body by understanding how you physically respond to different stimuli. Evidence on the efficacy of biofeedback is minimal.

Yoga and relaxation

Adults with asthma who choose alternative treatments tend to opt for exercise techniques like qi gong, tai chi, and yoga.

A key aspect of yoga practice is proper controlled breathing. The science of proper breathing is also known as pranayama. This facet of yoga may help you manage your asthma by teaching you to expand your lungs, practice deep breathing, and reduce stress.

The evidence of yoga’s effectiveness for asthma is limited. But study results do show an improved quality of life.


This traditional Chinese technique involves placing very thin needles in strategic points on the body. It’s sometimes used to ease the symptoms of asthma, but there is minimal scientific evidence to support its efficacy.

Alternative treatments for asthma include supplements and herbs, yoga, relaxation therapy, and biofeedback. Research backing up the effectiveness of these approaches for asthma is minimal. They classify most mind-body approaches as safe. But herbal supplements and over-the-counter rubs have serious potential for side effects. Talk to your doctor before trying any alternative treatment for asthma. They’ll be able to make a recommendation based on your overall health and condition.

Read more: Quick relief for asthma »