Asthma and allergies involve abnormal production of immunoglobulin E antibodies, according to Western researchers. A simplified model of the immune response includes two parts, Th1 inflammatory and Th2 antibody. Allergic disorders appear to be ‘too much Th2, ‘while inflammatory disorders appear to be ‘too much Th1.’ There are many Western drugs that suppress the immune system by a variety of mechanisms, but it has been a challenge to modulate the relative strength of Th1 and Th2 responses without too much overall immune suppression.
In a recent review article, a team from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported that herbal formulas from Chinese Traditional Medicine may do a better job of balancing the function of the immune system.
Chinese herbs are used either alone or in combination with standard (Western) medicine. Clinical trials have shown positive results for five Chinese herbal formulations in treating asthma:
1. Anti-asthma herbal medicine intervention (ASHMI), formula with three herbs. This is the only one that has been tested alone in the U.S.
2. Modified Mai Men Dong Tang (mMMDT), with five herbs. When added to standard asthma therapy, this formula improved lung function, compared to standard asthma therapy plus placebo.
3. Ding Chuan Tang (DCT), with nine herbs. This formula improved airway stability as an add-on therapy.
4. STA-1, with 10 herbs. This is a combination of mMMDT and Lui-Wei-Di-Huang Wan (LWDHW). Patients used less standard asthma medication and had improved symptoms with this formula.
5. Sophora flavescens Ait. This herb alone reduced the need for inhaled corticosteroids and beta-agonists.
ASHMI has been the best studied. In trials comparing this formula with prednisone, both treatments produced significant improvement in lung function for patients with asthma. The prednisone group had slightly better lung function than the ASHMI group, but gained 2.8 kg over four weeks of treatment. The ASHMI group had a much smaller weight gain of 0.8 kg. In addition, prednisone suppressed serum cortisol levels in asthmatic patients who had cortisol below normal to start with.
Patients taking ASHMI returned to normal cortisol levels.
These herbs are not available from the average health food store, but you may have a Chinese pharmacy in your area. Most licensed acupuncturists in the U.S. are also qualified to recommend or prescribe Chinese herbs. To locate a practitioner, check the web site of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: http://nccaom.org.
Xiu-Min Li, MD and Laverne Brown, PhD, ‘Efficacy and mechanisms of action of traditional Chinese medicines for treating asthma and allergy’, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Feb; 123(2): 297-308.
Xiu-Min Li, Md, ‘Traditional Chinese herbal remedies for Asthma and Food Allergy’, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007 July; 120(1): 25-31.
Author: Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.