Herbal and Alternative Remedies for COPD

There is limited evidence that herbal remedies offer significant relief

Selection of herbs, including Rosemary, Dill, Lemon Balm, Mint, Lavender, Sage, Marjoram, Lungwort, Feverfew
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Herbs have long been used and appreciated by man for medicinal purposes. In fact, depictions of medicinal herbs have been found in ancient Chinese and Egyptian writings long before their use was documented in modern medical history.

While medicinal plants continue to provide new and important leads in the fight against many diseases, including HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's, malaria, and chronic pain, several studies have suggested that herbal remedies can help people with COPD.

Herbs That May Help Symptoms of COPD

The following list includes several common herbal remedies believed to ease respiratory conditions and COPD.

Keep in mind, however, the effects of these different herbs are not, as of yet, scientifically proven. Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any type of herbal or alternative treatment, as serious side effects or drug interaction may occur.

Echinacea

Echinacea has traditionally been used to help prevent upper respiratory infections related to the flu and common cold.

With that, one study examined whether Echinacea purpurea (along with vitamin D, selenium, and zinc) could relieve COPD exacerbations triggered by upper respiratory infections.

Results were positive, revealing that those who took the Echinacea purpurea (plus the micronutrients) had shorter and less severe COPD flares.

The good news is that echinacea is generally well-tolerated.

When side effects do occur, they are usually related to common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, such as nausea or stomach pain. Echinacea may also cause allergic reactions, including rash, increased asthma symptoms, and anaphylaxis.

Asian Ginseng

Traditional Chinese medicine believes that ginseng has its own unique healing powers, specifically related to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects.

That said, in one study of people with moderate to severe COPD, there was no difference in measured outcomes (like COPD symptoms, use of relief medications, or change in FEV1 after using an inhaler). However, the study was very small and of a short duration. 

The most common side effects of Asian ginseng are:

  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive issues

It's worthy to note that there has been some evidence that Asian ginseng may affect blood sugar and blood pressure. Asian ginseng may also interact with certain medications, like blood thinners.

Finally, while short-term use appears to be OK, some experts recommend against the long-term use, or use by infants, children, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Licorice Root

Licorice root also comes in pill form or as a liquid extract, and it can be found with glycyrrhizin, the main, sweet tasting compound in licorice, removed. Research suggests that glycyrrhizin may improve the benefit of  beta-2 agonist bronchodilators (for example, albuterol) in people with COPD.

In terms of side effects, large amounts of licorice root containing glycyrrhizin may cause high blood pressure, sodium and water retention, and low potassium levels, and this can lead to heart and muscle problems.

Lastly, pregnant women should not use licorice root or consume products containing licorice.

Astragalus Root

A staple of Chinese medicine, astragalus root has been used to boost the immune system, prevent colds, and treat respiratory infections. In addition to its asserted antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, astragalus is believed to improve lung function and decrease fatigue. 

While astragalus is generally considered safe for most adults, it may cause diarrhea or other digestive problems. In addition, astragalus may affect a person's blood pressure or blood sugar levels, and it may interact with medications that suppress the immune system.

Moreover, it's important to avoid using certain astragalus species such as "locoweed" that are grown in the United States, as these can be toxic. Additionally, other astragalus species may contain toxic levels of selenium.

Ginger

This spicy herb is also thought to be extremely beneficial to lung health, as many believe it contains powerful antioxidants and natural antibiotics to help our bodies fight off infection. Ginger may also help eliminate congestion, as well as ease sore throats.

Few mild side effects have been reported including abdominal discomfort, heartburn, diarrhea, and gas. Furthermore, there is concern that ginger may interact with blood thinners. Some experts also recommend that people with gallstone disease avoid or limit ginger use because it can increase bile flow. 

A Word From Verywell

Although the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicine have not yet been established within the medical community, herbal remedies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are increasing in popularity. 

While it's good to remain knowledgeable and up to speed on your COPD health, be certain to keep your doctor in the loop about any herbal or complementary medicines you are considering. 

Sources:

Cai Y et al. Effects of lung support formula on respiratory symptoms among older adults: results of a three-month follow-up study in Shanghai, Chinda. Nutr J. 2013;12:57.

Isbaniah F, Wiyono WH, Yunus F, Setiawati A, Totzke U, Verbruggen MA. Echinacea purpurea along with zinc, selenium and vitamin C to alleviate exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: results from a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2011 Oct;36(5):568-76.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. What Do We Know About Safety?

Shergis JL et al. Therapeutic potential of Panax ginseng and ginsenosides in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Complement Ther Med. 2014 Oct;22(5):944-53.

Shi Q, Hou Y, Yang Y, Bai G. Protective effects of glycyrrhizin against β₂-adrenergic receptor agonist-induced receptor internalization and cell apoptosis. Biol Pharm Bull. 2011;34(5):609-17.