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The Truth About Herbal Remedies for COPD

Traditional Herbal Remedies Have Powerful Roots, But Do They Really Work?


Updated May 23, 2014

Herbal Remedies

Herbal Remedies Are Good For You

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If you have ever chosen herbal remedies over traditional medicine to treat symptoms of COPD or any other illness, why did you do so? After reading this article, you'll have an opportunity to share your experience.

Remember when you were a kid, sick with a cold and your grandmother made you drink a cup of special, home-made herbal tea? Perhaps she too, believed in the power of herbs!

Our ancestors looked to herbal remedies to provide effective treatment for many health conditions, either in-and-of themselves or as adjunct therapy to mainstream medicine. Yet, it's only in recent years that mainstream medicine has begun to fully examine and realize this possibility.

Although the effectiveness of herbal medicine has not yet been established beyond a reasonable doubt, herbal remedies for COPD are increasing in popularity. Could it be that our grandmothers' were actually right?

Brief History of Herbal Medicine

Herbs have been used and appreciated by man for medicinal purposes since the dawn of time. Depiction of medicinal herb use has been located in Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings long before their use was ever recorded in the chronicles of medical history.

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, "herbs and spices have a traditional history of use, with strong roles in cultural heritage, and in the appreciation of food and its links to health". Additionally, there are claims that herbs have many medicinal properties that can alleviate symptoms and prevent disease.

The benefit of medicinal plants continues to provide new and important leads in the fight against many diseases, including HIV/Aids, Alzheimer's, malaria and pain. Of late, several studies have even suggested that herbal remedies can help improve lung function in patients who have COPD. Studies done among COPD and asthma patients who used alternative medicine suggest that two of the main reasons they use herbal remedies is because of their [perceived] harmlessness and symptomatic relief.

The following lists include several common herbal remedies believed to be beneficial for people with respiratory conditions and COPD. Remember, however, the effects attributed to the different herbs are not, as of yet, scientifically proven. Always talk to your health care provider before taking any type of herbal or alternative treatment, as serious side effects may occur.


Used for centuries to boost the immune system, echinacea is thought to help prevent upper respiratory infections related to the flu and common cold, reduce swollen lymph glands and help soothe sore throats. One study found that using Esberitox® N, a liquid extract made from echinacea, and two other herbs, helped to improve FEV1.

How is Echinacea Used?

Echinacea is an above ground plant. For medicinal purposes its roots are used fresh or dried to make teas, squeezed (expressed) juices, extracts or topical preparations. The herb is also available in pill form.

What Is Echinacea Used For?

  • Used traditionally to prevent colds, flu and other infections.
  • Believed to stimulate immune system to help fight infection.
  • Less commonly used topically for wounds and other skin problems.
  • What the Scientists Say

  • Study results are mixed but most indicate it does not appear to prevent colds or other infections.
  • Some studies suggest that echinacea may be beneficial for treating upper respiratory infections (URIs).
  • The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) continues to support the study of echinacea for the treatment of URIs and its potential benefit to the immune system.

Common Side Effects and Cautionary Advice

  • Can cause allergic reactions including rash, increased asthma symptoms and anaphylaxis.
  • People are more likely to have an allergic reaction if they are sensitive to plants in the daisy family.
  • People with asthma or atopy are more likely to have an allergic reaction to echinacea.
  • Always talk to your health care provider before taking any type of herbal or alternative medicine as serious side effects may occur.</

Asian Ginseng

Traditional, Chinese medicine teaches us that ginseng has its own, unique healing powers. In one, double blind study, Panex ginseng was found to be far superior to that of placebo in improving lung function, including FEV1. Several other studies compared the Shen Mai injection, in which the main ingredient was Panex ginseng, to no treatment at all. Significant improvements were found in all outcomes, including FEV1 and vital capacity.

What Is Asian Ginseng Used For?

  • Used traditionally to support overall health and the immune system.
  • May improve the health of people recovering from illness.
  • Has been used to gain increased stamina and a sense of well-being, improving both physical and mental performance.
  • Is believed to effectively treat erectile dysfunction, hepatitis C and menopausal symptoms.
  • May help control blood pressure and lower blood sugar.
  • May have the potential to treat people with chronic lung infections.
  • What the Scientists Say

  • To date, research results on Asian ginseng have not been conclusive enough to prove the herb's benefit to health and wellness. Further research is needed to support these claims. Most studies have been small or flawed to some degree. Some claims of health benefit have been based on the herb's effects on animals.
  • Some studies have shown that the herb helps lower blood glucose. Others support the herb's possible benefit to the immune system.
  • The NCCAM continues to support studies that will help better understand the health benefits of Asian ginseng. Areas of further interest include its interaction with other drugs and its potential to treat those with chronic lung infection, Alzheimer's and impaired glucose tolerance.
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