The air you breathe passes through the nose into the trachea (or windpipe). The trachea divides into smaller hollow tubes called bronchi and bronchioles, through which air passes into the lungs. From the lungs the air, mainly oxygen, is delivered into the bloodstream and through it to the various parts of the body.
When the muscles in the bronchi and bronchioles constrict and the inner lining or mucosa of these air passages becomes swollen, you will have difficulty in breathing, and that is called asthma. Asthma can be either allergic or non-allergic.
Allergic asthma is the reaction to an irritant that has been inhaled – typically pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites. This stimulates the immune system, which causes inflammation of the airways. The triggers for non-allergic asthma are anxiety, stress, smoke, cold air, or even a virus, and in some people, exercise. Asthma attack, which can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days, is characterized by breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness and cough.
You should visit a doctor immediately if you have any symptoms like extreme breathlessness, bluish colour of face and lips, severe anxiety, excessive sweating, drowsiness and confusion. Asthma has no cure, but its symptoms can be managed either with conventional therapy or with the herbal remedies discussed below.
Herbal Remedies For Asthma
No herbs have definite proven efficacy in the treatment of asthma, but several herbs have shown promise. In fact, herbs are the primary form of treatment in some countries. Always discuss with your doctor before using any new herb because they can have troublesome side effects and interactions with any drugs you may be taking.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus, Coltsfoot)
Butterbur is a shrub that grows throughout the year, and grows in North America, Europe and Asia. The flowers, leaves and root of this herb have medicinal value. The active ingredients of the extracts are isopetasin and petasin. These are thought to decrease the spasm of smooth muscles and also inflammation.
Butterbur also helps by clearing the mucus from the airways. Butterbur is usually consumed as tea or from a commercial preparation. The dose for its liquid extract is 30-40 drops 2-5 times/day. Since butterbur contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, it can lead to liver damage and even liver cancer if used for prolonged periods.
So, avoid preparations containing over 1 ppm of these alkaloids. Other side effects include headache, fatigue, indigestion, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking it. There are no studies done on drug interactions with butterbur.
Dried Ivy Extract
Ivy is used in gardens, and grows in Europe and Asia, and is naturalized in the US. The part of Ivy that is used medicinally is the leaf. The active ingredients in the extract are saponins like hederacoside C and alpha-hederin, flavonoids, sterols, and polyalkynes like falcarinol and falcarinone. These act by reducing the inflammation. The dosage is 6 teaspoonfuls/day. Recommended dosages do not have any major side effects. Some individuals can have allergy to it. Its safety in pregnancy has not been determined.
Gingko (Gingko biloba)
Gingko biloba is a large plant, also known as maidenhair tree, and is native to Southeast Asia, but also grows in Europe and North America. Active ingredients of the extracts of its leaves are flavonoid glycosides (quercetin and mercetin) and terpenoids. These act by reducing the inflammation.
The dosage is 40-200 mg/day or 30-40 drops 3-5 times/day. Side effects are increased risk of bleeding, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, restlessness and palpitations of the heart. Some people can be allergic to it. It is best avoided by pregnant women.
Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica)
Ma huang has a long history of use in China. The active ingredients are ephedrine as well as pseudoephedrine. These expand the airways, making it easier to breathe. They also dry up the mucus secretions. You can take 1 cup of its decoction 2-3 times/day. Alternatively, you can take 2-3 tablets of its extract 2-3 times/day, or 1 or 2 dropperfuls of its tincture 2-3 times/day.
Serious adverse effects have been reported with its usage. These include insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, increased blood pressure, and sometimes even death. So it has been banned in some countries like the US. It is contraindicated in pregnant women and those with high blood pressure.
Boswellia (Boswellia serrata)
Boswellia is a purified resin derived from the gum of the flowering plant Boswellia serrata, native to Asia and Africa. Boswellia has a long history of use in Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine (known in it as Salai guggal). The active ingredients are boswellic Acids, which act by reducing the inflammation.
Commercial preparations contain 60-65% of boswellic acid. Consult the product insert for dosage. Usually, it should be used only for 8-12 weeks. It has very few side effects, which include skin rash, nausea and diarrhea. It should be avoided by those taking cholesterol-lowering drugs or certain analgesics (NSAIDs).
Tylophora (Tylophora indica)
Tylophora is a vine or climbing plant. Its dose is 250 mg 1-3 times/day. It is contraindicated in pregnant women, and those having high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart failure.
Saiboku-to is a Japanese herbal medicine or tonic. It consists of several herbs, such as Asian ginseng, Chinese skullcap, licorice and ginger. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory action. Studies have shown its efficacy, including the beneficial effect of allowing one to reduce the doses of steroids. It can interact with other drugs, so consult your doctor before using it.
Forskolin (Coleus forskohlii)
Coleus is a plant belonging to mint family. It is native to Asia. It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine. Forskolin is an anti-inflammatory chemical.
Dose of preparations containing 18% forskolin is 50 mg 2-3 times/day. It is contraindicated in pregnant and breastfeeding women, and in those with chronic kidney or liver disease.
Khella (Amni visnaga, Bishop’s weed)
Khella is an Egyptian herb. The seed of this plant has medicinal use, from which liquid is extracted. It acts by dilating the airways. Its dose is 15-30 drops 2-3 times/day. It works well in combination with lobelia.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata, Indian tobacco)
The parts of this plant having medicinal use are the leaves and flowers. The active ingredient is lobeline, which is a respiratory stimulant. Its dose is 10 to 15 drops twice or thrice daily. It can cause nausea and vomiting.