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Asthma: Alternative Treatments

MagazineJune 2007 (Vol. 18 Issue 3)Asthma: Alternative Treatments

Click here for your free Asthma Factsheet

Click here for your free Asthma Factsheet.


Herbal medicine

Since around 2800 BC, the needle-like branches of Ma-Huang , a plant found in China, have been used successfully used against asthma of a light-to-medium severity. In the 16th century, the physician pharmacologist Li Shih-chen listed it as an asthma treatment in his massive reference work, which is still seen as the authoritative reference for Oriental herbal medicine.

In 1926, Merck, the drug company, produced a synthetic version of the alkaloid ephedrine, the active ingredient of Ephedra. This, like the herbal plant remedy itself, has been widely used, and both have been critically investigated over the years. However, the natural version has proved to have several advantages over the man-made product: It is better tolerated by the patient, causing fewer heart problems like palpitations and hypertension.

If the Ma-Huang root is included in the preparation made from this plant's branches, heart problems are reduced. Proprietary asthma drugs made from synthetic ephedrine, including Benylin and Sudafed, are well known for their strong stimulant effect on the heart.

Khellah, a member of the carrot family growing wild in Egypt and around the eastern Mediterranean, can prevent asthma attacks, or significantly reduce their frequency and severity. Khellah is rapidly absorbed if taken by mouth, so injections are not needed. Usually regarded as a preventative rather than a therapy, its antispasmodic action lasts for around six hours, longer than modern asthma drugs. Toxicity is extremely low and there are practically no side effects, even when taken over a long period.

The latest orthodox drug derivative of Khellah is disodium chromoglycate (DSCG), marketed by Fisons as Intal. It is meant to stave off an asthma attack, but may cause a cough, throat irritation and bronchospasm in some patients.

Myrrh is a useful treatment when taken along with other asthma relieving drugs in cases where the asthma is caused by catarrhal infection of the respiratory tract and bronchioles. It has been shown to be effective against 20 strains of microbial organisms, including those regarded by orthodox medicine as multidrug-resistant.

Homoeopathy

Homoeopathy has the most scientific proof of all the alternative practices as a successful treatment for asthma. The most impressive clinical trials on alternative treatments for asthma were those conducted by Dr David Reilly of the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital in Scotland. In his final study of 28 patients with allergic asthma, mostly from housedust mites, those given homoeopathic immunotherapy for their chief allergy showed improvements in respiratory function and bronchial reactivity tests for up to eight weeks after treatment. The fact that Dr Reilly has carried out three nearly identical trials and produced positive results in all three lends further weight to his findings, and strengthens the evidence that homoeopathy works.

In a French study of 182 children aged two to eight, the homoeopathic remedy Poumon histamine 5CH produced a striking decrease in the number of severe asthmatic attacks. In the study, the children were monitored for three months before giving them the remedy for three months. Severe attacks were reduced by four-and-a-half times while those given a placebo were hardly changed at all.

Desensitisation

Intradermal neutralisation therapy, or desensitisation, is a technique that consists of testing a patient's skin with various concentrations of suspected allergens, either inhaled or ingested as food. Reactions may occur during the allergen test when the strongest concentrations are used, so the patient is then tested with successively weaker extracts until a neutralising concentration is identified. This concentration is the strongest concentration that doesn't provoke a positive wheal reaction.

The practitioner then makes up a cocktail of neutralising amounts of the offending allergens and administers this cocktail either under the skin or the tongue, depending on the patient's age and other factors. The benefit is usually evident within a matter of days.

Some patients may respond to simple neutralisation with a cocktail of inhaled allergens and may need no further treatment. After about a year of neutralising injections, patients are usually completely desensitised. Others may become symptom-free on an elimination diet, and still others may have both food and inhalant allergies, and need to be neutralised before they attempt an elimination diet.

The most complicated of all are patients with both kinds of allergies who are also nutritionally deficient in, say, magnesium, or vitamin B6 or B12. These deficiencies can be determined by sweat tests, hair-mineral analysis, tests for red blood cell magnesium and function tests on blood specimens (for vitamin B deficiencies).

Immunotherapy

Korean investigators have found that immunotherapy using Japanese hops can reduce asthma symptoms in pollen-induced asthma. Humulus japonicus is a common weed in Korea, and one of the major causes of autumnal asthma and hayfever-like symptoms.

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