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Table of Contents > Articles > Complementary and Alternative ...
Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Asthma

You may be familiar with the shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing of asthma. Today, over 17 million Americans suffer from this chronic illness in which the airways become inflamed, making it difficult to get air in and out. The airways may be further restricted when an irritant, or trigger, causes bronchial spasms to occur. Asthma symptoms are often worse during sleep and may be intensified by emotion.

Asthma may be triggered by exposure to airborne allergens (such as mold) and pollutants (such as tobacco smoke), food allergies, and respiratory infections. People more likely to get asthma include those with a family history of allergies or asthma, those of African- and Hispanic-American race, and those of low socioeconomic status. Even things like changes in humidity or temperature and behaviors that affect breathing (such as exercising or laughing) can bring on an asthma attack.

Treatment focuses first on determining and then avoiding environmental triggers. Conventional therapies aim at preventing and controlling symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchodilators, and antibiotics when asthma is the result of a bacterial infection. Listed here are the numerous complementary and alternative therapies that may be beneficial as well.

Nutrition (Note: Lower doses are for children.)

  • Consider eliminating food allergens from the diet. Common food allergens include milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, food colorings, and additives.Talk to your doctor about determining food sensitivities through an elimination trial or a food allergy test.
  • Reduce foods in the diet that may contribute to inflammation, including saturated fats (meats, especially poultry, and dairy), refined foods, and sugar.
  • Increase intake of fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes, onions, and garlic.
  • Vitamin C (250 to 1,000 mg two to four times a day) taken one hour before exposure to an allergen may reduce reactions. This also applies to exercise-induced asthma.
  • Vitamin B6 (50 to 200 mg/day) may improve symptoms, particularly in children.
  • Magnesium (200 mg two to three times a day) relaxes air passages in the lungs.
  • Hydrochloric acid supplementation may be helpful. Deficiency of this nutrient appears to be connected to increased food sensitivities.
  • N-acetyl cysteine (50 to 200 mg twice a day) and selenium (50 to 200 mcg/day) protect lung tissue from damage.


  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is a powerful antioxidant and contains theophylline, which may ease asthma symptoms. Drink 1 to 2 cups/day. If you are already taking a medication that contains theophylline, be sure to speak to your physician prior to adding green tea to your diet.
  • For long-term lung support, combine equal parts of the following herbs in a tea and drink 3 to 4 cups/day: Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina), elecampane (Inula helenium), plantain (Plantago major), and skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia). Do not take licorice if you have high blood pressure. Prolonged use of coltsfoot can damage the liver; look for a "pyrrolizidine alkaloid-free" label.
  • Essential oils that may be helpful include elecampane, frankincense, lavender, mint, and sage. Add 4 to 6 drops in a bath, atomizer, or humidifier.


Some of the most common homeopathic remedies for asthma are listed here. Usually the dose is 12X to 30C every one to four hours until symptoms improve. For acute situations, 3 to 5 pellets of a 12X to 30C remedy every one to four hours until acute symptoms resolve is generally recommended. Be sure to consult an experienced homeopath for the correct remedy and potency for your individual needs.

  • Arsenicum album for asthma with restlessness, anxiety, and fear.
  • Ipecac for asthma with a constantly constricted chest accompanied by incessant coughing, which may lead to vomiting.
  • Pulsatilla for asthma with pressure in the chest.
  • Sambucus for acute nighttime asthma.

Other Therapies

Asthma symptoms typically worsen with stress and anxiety. Mind-body techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, tai chi, yoga, and stress management may help reduce frequency, duration, and severity of symptoms. Therapeutic massage may also help reduce stress and therefore asthma symptoms. Studies have shown biofeedback, hypnotherapy, and manual manipulation to be helpful. Acupuncture may also reduce the frequency and intensity of asthma attacks.


Integrative Medicine Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs & Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

Review Date: April 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

Green Tea
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
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