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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

  • There have been reports that Asian ginseng causes high blood pressure, breast tenderness and menstrual irregularities. These reports are currently unfounded and could have been caused by another medication or herbal product.
  • Always talk to your health care provider before taking any type of herbal or alternative medicine as serious side effects may occur.
  • Licorice Root

    Peeled licorice root is available in dry or powdered forms. Licorice root also comes in pill form or as a liquid extract. It can also be found with glycyrrhizin (the main, sweet tasting compound in licorice) removed. This type of product is known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DLG.

    What Is Licorice Root Used For?

    • Although licorice root is thought to be an effective expectorant, traditionally is has been used for sore throats, bronchitis, stomach ulcers and infections.

    What the Scientists Say

    • There is limited data to support the beneficial effects of licorice on lung health or stomach ulcers.
    • Several studies have indicated that the glycyrrhizin in licorice root may reduce complications from hepatitis C, but there is a lack of evidence to support this claim.

    Common Side Effects and Cautionary Advice

    • Large amounts of licorice root containing glycyrrhizin may cause high blood pressure, sodium and water retention and low potassium levels. This can lead to heart problems. DLG is believed to have fewer side effects.
    • The safe use of licorice root for more than four to six weeks has not been thoroughly investigated.
    • When taken in large doses, licorice root can affect the hormone levels in the body. This includes cortisol levels (the body's own, natural hormone) or levels of steroid medication such as prednisone.
    • Pregnant women should not use licorice root or consume products containing licorice because of the risk of preterm labor.
    • Always talk to your health care provider before taking any type of herbal or alternative medicine as serious side effects may occur.

    Astralgalus Root

    A staple of Chinese medicine, astralgalus root has been used for centuries to boost the immune system and treat many common ailments. The root of this plant is typically used in soups, teas, capsules or liquid extracts.

    What Is Astralgalus Root Used For?

    • Used historically along with other herbs to support and enhance the immune system. Very popular in China in treating hepatitis C and as an adjunct treatment for cancer.
    • Thought to be beneficial in treating the common cold, upper respiratory infections and heart disease.

    What the Scientists Say

    • There is limited, supporting evidence for using astralgalus root for any health condition. However, there is some evidence(from small or preliminary studies) that suggests it may improve heart function and benefit the immune system.
    • There is some evidence to support that astralgalus root, used in combination with the herb, glossy privit, may be beneficial as an adjunct treatment for cancer, but these studies were not well-defined.
    • The NCCAM is helping to fund studies which are examining the health benefits of astragalus root, particularly on the immune system.

    Common Side Effects and Cautionary Advice

    • Generally considered safe for most adults, however, it is possible that this information is limited because the herb is generally used in combination with other herbal products.
    • May interact with other medications that suppress the immune system, such as the drug cyclophosphamide.
    • People should avoid using certain astralgalus species such as "locoweed" that are grown in the United States.
    • Always talk to your health care provider before taking any type of herbal or alternative medicine as serious side effects may occur.


    Ginger - the word brings to mind aromatic flavors which naturally appeal to our senses. 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 and ease a sore throat.

    What Is Ginger Used For?

    • Has been used in Chinese medicine to treat GI problems, including stomach ache, nausea and diarrhea. It has also been used for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and diarrhea.
    • Many over-the-counter digestive, anti-nausea and cold and flu supplements contain ginger extract as an ingredient.

    How is Ginger Used?

    The underground stems of the ginger plant are commonly used for cooking or baking and for medicinal purposes. Common forms found in many health food stores includes fresh or dried root, capsules, tablets, liquid extract and teas.

    What the Scientists Say

    • Some studies suggest that ginger is helpful in preventing pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting but are mixed as far as ginger being effective for relieving nausea caused by motion sickness, chemotherapy or surgery.
    • It remains unclear whether ginger actually benefits rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or joint and muscle pain.
    • The NCCAM continues to investigate whether ginger interacts with other drugs, such as those used to suppress the immune system. It is also examining if it is safe and effective to use for other health purposes, its potential anti-inflammatory benefits and if it is useful in reducing nausea in patients on chemotherapy.
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