When you think of asthma treatment, an inhaler might pop first into your mind. However, recent studies have explored the efficacy of herbs as complementary therapies. Some are common kitchen herbs, such as turmeric and ginger, and some you might be less familiar with, such as the Chinese herb epimedium.
Nevertheless, these herbs hold significant potential as asthma therapies alongside or in replace of standard pharmaceutical options.
Turmeric as a Therapy for Asthma
A randomized controlled study in 2014 explored turmeric as a therapy for bronchial asthma patients. The study randomized 77 patients to receive standard therapy with or without curcumin capsules for 30 days.
These capsules contained 500 mg of curcumin, an active constituent of the spice turmeric. The study measured asthma outcomes by changes in forced expiratory volume over one second (FEV1).
The researchers found that the curcumin capsules helped improve airway obstruction due to the significant improvement in average FEV1 values.
In 2019, a randomized controlled trial found exciting results for asthma in children and adolescents. This study provided a group of children with persistent asthma with either a placebo or 30 mg/kg/day of turmeric for 6 months.
The participants who received turmeric not only had better disease control after 3 months and 6 months when compared to the placebo but also had fewer episodes of waking up in the middle of the night due to asthma and used their inhalers less frequently.
Icariin Against Airway Remodeling
Icariin is a major active ingredient in the Chinese herbal medicine Epimedium. A 2019 study explored the role of icariin in anti-airway remodeling. This effect holds the potential to prevent the negative changes that occur in asthma.
This animal study found that the icariin could reduce allergic asthma through the inhibition of a pathway called the MAPK/Erk pathway. And this pathway is what controls smooth muscle activity, a player in an asthma attack.
Through animal models, these researchers were able to specifically identify how the herb modulates asthma. A study in humans is now necessary to evaluate whether this activity is enough for a clinical benefit to be seen in humans.
Airway remodeling is an emerging target for pharmaceutical interventions for asthma. However, instead of developing a new pharmaceutical, researchers might want to turn to research on herbs already exhibiting that behavior.
Another tasty herb involved in lung inflammation is ginger. Ginger contains 6-shogaol, a bioactive component with anti-inflammatory behavior.
In 2020, an in vivo study found ginger to augment two pathways involved in asthma. One pathway involved relaxing airway smooth muscle while the other inhibited chronic inflammation. While we cannot jump from an in vivo study to human recommendations, in vivo studies help us understand where exactly the herb is producing an effect.
Licorice as a Therapy
Glycyrrhiza uralensis, commonly known as licorice, is a traditional Chinese medicine herb with anti-inflammatory and immune regulatory activity. An animal study in 2006 evaluated the specific changes induced by licorice in mice models of asthma.
The researchers found licorice to alleviate asthmatic features such as lung inflammation and infiltration of white blood cells into the lungs. The study concluded that these features could be effective in developing a better therapy option for humans.
A review in 2019 summarized in vitro and in vivo studies of glycyrrhizic acid as a therapy for allergic asthma. The studies similarly found reductions of pro-inflammatory players, which could correlate to reductions in asthma symptoms. While further clinical studies are necessary, the summary positively supports glycyrrhizic acid as a potential herbal therapy for asthma with lower adverse effects than current pharmaceutical options.
Anti-Asthma Herbal Formula
A double-blind randomized controlled study in 2005 evaluated an anti-asthma herbal formula (ASHMI) for asthma in comparison to standard prednisone tablets. Prednisone is a pharmaceutical often prescribed for asthma due to its immune-suppressing effects.
The study found both therapies to be effective in improving lung function. Researchers based improved lung function on increased FEV1. Notably, the ASHMI capsules had no adverse effects on adrenal function, which the prednisone tablets did produce.
An animal study five years later further evaluated this anti-asthma formula (ASHMI) to note specific changes in allergic lung inflammation. Since corticosteroids can lead to significant adverse effects, especially in older populations, the researchers were hoping to identify a safer therapy option.
The study evaluated characteristics of allergic asthma in an aged mouse model of asthma. The mice models that received ASHMI had significant reductions in several features of asthma. These outcomes suggested positive involvement of ASHMI in protective pathways against asthma.
Asthma Relief through a Bigger Picture
Asthma patient and physician
Similar to many therapies, an effective therapy for asthma may require a greater picture of a patient’s health. A randomized controlled trial in 2016 targeted asthma relief in children through herbs that targeted tonifying Qi and the kidney and replenishing the spleen.
The randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled trial, placed 60 participants, aged 2 to 5, in either a herb that received TCM herbs, or a placebo group. Over 12 months, the participants counted their number of asthma attacks. Compared with the placebo group, the number of asthma attacks was significantly lower in the group that received the herbs.
The current research displays these herbs effectiveness in pathways involved in asthma progression and symptoms. Further research will hopefully expand on the above in larger human studies to demonstrate clinical efficacy.