Introduction: TCM Asthma Treatment – A Real Alternative?
Using inhalers is a common approach for managing asthma and can be effective in improving breathing and symptom control. However, in the Asia-Pacific region, many people suffering from asthma tend to rely on quick-relief medications, which may not offer the best long-term solution.
If you or your loved one is grappling with allergic asthma symptoms, you might be interested in exploring more natural and holistic methods to alleviate these symptoms and reduce dependence on inhalers.
In this article, we will look into the steps that lead to asthma symptoms and explore how allergic asthma differs from other allergic reactions.
Moreover, we will shed light on the potential of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a holistic approach to managing allergic asthma and review 5 mechanisms of action of key TCM herbs.
Summary: Why Considering TCM to treat Allergic Asthma?
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a holistic approach to asthma management, addressing not only symptoms but also the root causes and individual patterns associated with asthma. By addressing these aspects, TCM provides a complementary approach to asthma care, aiming for both symptom relief and improved overall well-being.
It can be especially beneficial if you have faced limitations or side effects with Western medicine interventions and are seeking a more natural, holistic and personalized approach to asthma management.
Key Advantages of using TCM in allergic asthma:
■ Holistic, personalized and natural approach
■ Complementary to Western medicine
■ Reduces reliance on inhalers and medications
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What is Allergic Asthma?
If you or your child are dealing with asthma and considering your treatment options, it is important to understand what allergic asthma is.
Asthma is like your body’s overprotective alarm system. If you have been told you have “allergic asthma”, it means your asthma is triggered by things that most people would not even notice.
Here are the various steps leading to experiencing asthma symptoms:
Step 1: Allergen Encounter
Allergens are found all around you – both inside your home and outside. Inside, it could be dust mites, mold, or even fresh paint on your walls. When you step outside, it might be pollen or dust in the air.
When you breathe in these triggers, your body sometimes treats them like invaders, and that is when you might experience an overreaction.
Step 2: Immunoglobulin E (IgE) Overdrive
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an antibody your immune system makes. In small amounts, it is a normal reaction, but when your body thinks there is an invasion (like when you encounter a trigger), it starts making way too much IgE.
Step 3: Mast Cell Activation
Imagine IgE as a messenger that alerts your body’s defense cells, called mast cells, to explode. When mast cells explode, they release all sorts of substances, like histamines and leukotrienes, into your system. These substances can make your airways go haywire and make it hard for you to breathe.
Step 4: Inflammatory Onslaught
Now, let’s talk about Interleukin 5 (IL5), which is like the leader of an army of white blood cells called Eosinophils. In allergic asthma, IL5 sends way too many Eosinophils to your lungs. They flood your airways, making them narrow and restrict the airflow. This can make you feel like you are struggling to breathe, and you might start wheezing or coughing up mucus.
In a nutshell, allergic asthma is all about your body overreacting to certain triggers and causing your airways to go on the defensive.
How does Allergic Rhinitis cause Asthma?
Allergic rhinitis (AR), often known as hay fever, is a very common chronic disorder in children and often co-exists with asthma in both children and adults. Asthma is detected in as many as 38% of individuals who have allergic rhinitis.
Think of allergic rhinitis as the opening act in the asthma drama. While asthma primarily affects your airways, allergic rhinitis sets the stage by targeting your nasal passages and sinuses. Much like allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis is triggered by common allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or mold spores. Both allergic rhinitis and asthma share the same physiological response as described above.
Why This Connection Matters
Understanding how allergic rhinitis can lay the groundwork for asthma is essential. By managing allergic rhinitis effectively, you can potentially reduce the risk of it evolving into allergic asthma. This is where holistic approaches like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) come into play, offering solutions to address both conditions and promote overall well-being.
What are the 3 most common treatment options for Allergic Asthma?
What are the Symptoms of Allergic Asthma?
Some of the most common approaches to managing allergic asthma include:
Inhalers deliver medication directly to your airways, targeting inflammation and bronchoconstriction. Here are the main types of inhalers used:
Short-Acting Beta-Agonists (SABAs):
These inhalers provide rapid relief during asthma attacks by quickly relaxing and opening the airways, easing symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath.
Long-Acting Beta-Agonists (LABAs):
LABAs work hand-in-hand with inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) to maintain long-term control. They keep the airways open, reducing asthma symptoms over an extended period.
When you rely on inhalers to control your asthma, you may find that sticking to a consistent dosing schedule can be challenging, especially if you use multiple inhalers or medications. Like any medication, inhalers may also have side effects.
Oral corticosteroids can be delivered in the case of severe flare-ups or when other treatments prove insufficient. They act by suppressing inflammation throughout the body.
You might have heard of medicines like Zyrtec or Cetirizine – these are anti-histamines, which help counteract the effects of histamines released during an allergic response. There is also Montelukast, a medication that helps fight those pesky leukotrienes, although it can come with some side effects.
What are the 5 main symptoms of allergic asthma?
During an asthma attack, you may experience the following symptoms:
(1) SHORTNESS OF BREATH: You might find yourself struggling to catch a full breath. This is a clear signal that your airways are tightening up, making it harder to breathe.
(2) COUGHING: You are frequently coughing, especially when lying down to rest or at night.
(3) WHEEZING: Wheezing, a faint whistle as you breathe, is a common companion of allergic asthma. It is caused by the narrowing of your air passages and the turbulent airflow that results from it.
(4) CHEST TIGHTNESS: You feel tightness in your chest as if something is constricting or pressing upon it.
(5) ANXIETY AND RACING HEART: Asthma can play tricks on your mind too. Anxiety may creep in as you struggle to breathe, and your heart may race faster than usual, adding to the unease.
While these symptoms are characteristic of allergic asthma, they can also manifest in other forms of asthma.
How do these symptoms differ from any other allergic reaction?
While allergic asthma primarily targets your respiratory system, leading to symptoms centered around breathing and your airways, an allergic reaction can have a broader impact, affecting your skin, gastrointestinal tract, and more.
Allergic reaction symptoms can vary but typically include hives, itching, redness, swelling, sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, and even gastrointestinal distress.
When to consider Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat asthma?
Western medicine has made significant advancements in asthma management and has been life-saving for many patients. However, for those who experience limitations or adverse effects, exploring complementary approaches like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can offer a holistic perspective.
Based on our experience, many asthma patients consider TCM after relying solely on Western medicine interventions like inhalers, bronchodilator pills, and even monoclonal antibody biologics in severe cases. They often mention the following limitations:
- Side-effects: Long-term reliance on medications may increase the risk of comorbidities or side effects. Patients using bronchodilators may experience jitteriness, increased heart rate, and other side effects, while monoclonal antibody biologics can have adverse reactions like injection site reactions, headaches and respiratory infections.
- Lack of holistic care: Western medicine does not address the root causes of asthma such as inflammation, immune system imbalances, or environmental factors. As medications only provide temporary relief, they need to be used frequently, especially during asthma attacks. Some patients even develop a psychological reliance on these quick-relief medications and use them when they might not be needed.
- Inadequate stress management: Stress is a known asthma trigger, and Western medicine interventions often do not provide comprehensive stress management strategies, which can be crucial for some patients.
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treat asthma?
Chinese medicine has a rich tradition in addressing a diverse range of respiratory conditions, such as both allergic and non-allergic forms of asthma. Conventional Western medicine primarily focuses on symptom management and bronchodilation, whereas TCM practitioners focus on understanding the root causes and individualized patterns associated with asthma. They aim to not only alleviate symptoms but also enhance your overall health and well-being.
This holistic approach to treating asthma focuses on rebalancing the body’s vital energy (Qi) and identifying specific patterns of disharmony, such as lung Qi deficiency or excess phlegm.
TCM treatments include acupuncture to stimulate energy flow, herbal medicine to alleviate symptoms and reduce inflammation, dietary recommendations tailored to the individual, breathing exercises, lifestyle adjustments and other long-term maintenance strategies. When necessary, TCM practitioners also collaborate with Western medicine providers to provide comprehensive asthma care.
According to research, TCM herbal formulations for asthma have been shown to provide several therapeutic benefits. These benefits include reducing airway hyper-reactivity, decreasing inflammation in the lungs and calming muscle contractions around the airways. A study from Taiwan also showed that TCM reduced the risk of asthma hospitalization in school-age children.
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TCM for Allergic Asthma: 5 ways to naturally help treat asthma with Chinese herbs
If you or your loved one relies on an inhaler to breathe better, it might be time to discover the natural wonders of TCM herbs. These herbs play the role of a personalized support team for your immune system, working to calm the inflammation in your lungs.
Imagine a mix of herbs. Some can gently open up your airways, others soothe inflammation without the need for steroids, and a few nudge your immune system in the right direction. While this happens, we aim for a harmonious immune system that helps you rely less on your inhaler, bringing you one step closer to easier breathing.
TCM herbs can act in 5 ways to help treat allergic asthma:
[One] By balancing immunity: TCM Herbs target Th1/Th2 Imbalance
In allergic asthma, there is an imbalance in the immune system (Th1/Th2). In particular, Th2 becomes too active. This leads to the release of substances like Interleukins IL4, IL5, and IL13, which make allergic reactions worse:
- IL4 and IL13 create more Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies, which trigger histamine release and worsen allergies.
- IL13 directly affects the airways, making them more sensitive and causing extra mucus.
- IL5 activates white blood cells, which gather in the lungs and make inflammation worse.
On top of this, a protein called GATA-3 makes the immune system imbalance (Th1/Th2) even more problematic. Certain herbs have been found to reduce the GATA-3 protein, which is a key player in asthma:
- Radix Astragali and Panax Ginseng are known to help with Qi Deficiency Asthma by balancing the immune system.
- Fructus Psoralea is gaining attention for its role in allergic asthma treatment. It contains Psoralen and Bavachinin, which can lower GATA-3 levels.
- Fructus Cnidii Monnieri, often used for eczema itch, contains Osthol, which can help balance the Th1/Th2 immune response.
A study by Li and Brown (2009) found that Chinese herbs can treat asthma by adjusting the Th1 and Th2 responses without weakening the immune system. They do this by reducing IL5 levels, which calms allergic reactions. Additionally, these herbs boost TH1 cells’, enhancing the body’s defence against viral infections.
[Two] By reducing lung inflammation: TCM Herbs target MAPK and NF-kB Signaling Pathways
Another way to treat allergic asthma is to target these 2 enemies:
- Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK): MAPK sets off the inflammation alarm in your body.
- Nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB): NF-kB encourages the production of pro-inflammatory genes. In allergic asthma, NF-kB gets extra active in the lungs and airway linings.
Studies like those by Zhang et al. in 2013 and Yang et al. in 2015 have shown that managing the activation of MAPK and NF-kB pathways can improve allergic asthma.
Some Chinese herbs targeting MAPK include:
- Scutellaria Baicalensis
- Panax Ginseng
- Flos Magnolia
- Crocus Sativus
- Artemisia Annua
When targeting NF-kB, these Chinese herbs will be considered:
- Scutellaria Baicalensis
- Radix Astragali
- Artemisia Annua
[Three] By managing chronic lung damage: TCM Herbs raise Treg/Th17 Ratios
Treg cells are what we want more of because they help our immune system tolerate harmless triggers. Th17 cells also play a crucial role in chronic lung conditions. When you are dealing with allergic asthma, especially in its chronic or more severe forms like Steroid-resistant or Neutrophilic Asthma, Th17 levels tend to rise.
In many chronic health issues, the balance between Treg and Th17 cells is disrupted. For instance, in conditions like Primary Immune Thrombocytopenia (ITP), Treg levels drop, while Th17 levels rise during acute phases. This pattern is also observed in other inflammatory conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Gouty Arthritis.
There are specific herbs that can help elevate Treg levels, leading to an improved Treg/Th17 balance:
- Radix Astragali
- Panax Ginseng
- Crocus Sativus
- Ligusticum Chuanxiong
[Four] By inhibiting inflammation: TCM Herbs inhibit Mast Cell Degranulation
As we saw earlier, mast cells are key players in asthma. When these mast cells burst, they unleash a series of inflammatory substances such as histamine and leukotrienes, causing trouble in the lungs.
The Chinese herb Scutellaria, often regarded as an anti-allergy herb, is armed with Oroxylin A, which acts as a stabilizer for mast cells, preventing their explosion and, in turn, reducing inflammation in the lungs. For a more detailed explanation, check out the video below.
[Five] By slowing airway changes: TCM Herbs slows down Airway Remodeling in Lung Inflammation
Airway remodeling refers to the structural changes that occur in the airways of individuals dealing with chronic allergic asthma. These changes can include thickening of the airway walls, more muscle, bigger glands, new blood vessels, and alterations on the outer layer of the airway.
Airway remodeling is a prominent feature in allergic asthma and becomes even more pronounced in cases of neutrophilic asthma.
Certain herbs have demonstrated their ability to mitigate allergen-induced airway remodeling. Two such herbs include:
- Scutellaria Baicalensis
By slowing down the process of airway remodeling, TCM can potentially reduce long-term lung damage.
Which foods help during TCM for asthma?
While TCM dietary recommendations can vary as they are tailored to fit your specific condition, here are some general dietary principles that may be beneficial for asthma management in TCM:
- Ginger: Known for its anti-inflammatory and bronchodilatory properties
- Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory effects.
- Green Tea: Rich in antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation.
FOODS RICH IN OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
- Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel)
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables provides essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall health and may help reduce inflammation.
WARM AND COOKED FOODS
TCM often recommends consuming warm and cooked foods rather than cold or raw foods. Warm soups, stews and steamed dishes are considered easier on the digestive system.
Which other forms of asthma are there?
Type 2 Asthma
So far, the article has been speaking mostly of Allergic Asthma. Allergic Asthma is in a bigger category of Asthma called Type 2 Asthma. In More than 50% of Asthma is Type 2 Asthma, characterized by an exaggerated IgE-mediated response and an overdrive in eosinophil production.
Non-Type 2 Asthma
Non-Type 2 Asthma, occasionally called Type 1 Asthma, is most commonly known as Non-Eosinophilic Asthma. Put simple, this is the kind of Asthma that is less due to an allergens and more due to other factors causing chronic bacterial infection of the airways. Risk factors include, smoking, vaping, pollution at work, infections as well as obesity.
Neutrophilic Asthma is a kind of Non-TYpe 2 Asthma, often termed Non-eosinophilic Asthma (NEA). It means that neutrophils are found in your blood sample, and while this is common with a one-off infection, it is dangerous to have asthma associated with persistently high levels of neutrophils.
Neutrophilic Asthma is often longstanding and chronic. It is commonly associated with asthma that shows up in adulthood, people who smoke and a poor response to treatment. There is destruction of the airway smooth muscle and causes permanent irreversible change in lung function.
What is important know is that the use of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) is a common treatment for Asthma. However, if you have Neutrophilic Asthma, the use of inhaled steroids does not help and may even exacerbate your condition.
Als0, there is a known overlap between Neutrophilic Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
If you have Neutrophilic Asthma and is not responding well to existing treatment, you can consider support using Chinese herbs.
Brittle Asthma is a rare and severe form of asthma characterized by unpredictable and sudden severe asthma attacks that do not respond well to standard asthma treatments. It is often considered a subtype of severe asthma. This condition is called “brittle” because of its unpredictability and difficulty in controlling symptoms. While TCM may not be the primary treatment for brittle asthma due to the urgency and severity of the condition, it can be used as a complementary approach.
Asthma classified according to Symptoms
Asthma can also be classified according to symptoms:
- Cough-variant asthma
- Exercise-induced asthma
- Night-time asthma
Different Types of Asthma and how they can benefit from TCM
Now that you have read this article, you probably have a better understanding of the different types of asthma. We have simplified everything for you so you know how TCM can help with each category of Asthma:
How Allergic Asthma can benefit from TCM
Because Allergic Asthma is related to an immune system that is out of balance, TCM is able to balance out the immune system in the 5 ways explained above. Part of the function of TCM herbs is also to reduce inflammation without using steroids.
How Neutrophilic Asthma can benefit from TCM
In Neutrophilic Asthma, it is no longer just about allergens and allergic reactions. Evidence suggests a more than significant role of bacteria in this variant of asthma. Already, Asthmatics have more airway bacterial burden than non-asthmatics. But airway bacterial burden is even more so in Neutrophilic Asthma.
The neutrophilic phenotype of Asthma also contains certain differences, including
- Less eosinophils
- More Th17/IL17 association airway neutrophilic inflammation
- Increased steroid resistance
The strategy for managing this is ensuring that the final herbal formulation contains herbs that tackle this unique pathology. Selective use of antimicrobials is part of the overall plan, as is the inclusion of herbs that target mucus formation.
How Cough-Variant Asthma can benefit from TCM
What is interesting here is that we need to determine the type of cough from a TCM point of view. We DO NOT believe the answer is in the protocolish use of cough suppressants and decongestants. In terms of our toolkit, we have a plethora of herbs that can be selected so that everything from cough to bronchodilation to inflammation to an excessive immune response is addressed.
How Exercise-induced Asthma can benefit from TCM
In terms of herbs used, we need to address to Qi of the individual in question, and when we select herbs, we are thinking whether it is Spleen Qi or Kidney Qi that needs more support
How Night-time Asthma can benefit from TCM
Night-time Asthma exists in most asthma patients. This is why the inhaler is often used just before sleep. How you will know you are improving when using TCM herbs for asthma is when you feel safe to forego that puff and see if your body can manage on it own.
Conclusion: Consider TCM as a complementary and natural approach to help treat Allergic Asthma
Allergic asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition which can have a significant impact on your respiratory health. While conventional Western medicine offers effective treatments for allergic asthma, there are limitations and potential side effects associated with long-term reliance on medications.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a holistic alternative that focuses on rebalancing the immune system, reducing inflammation and promoting overall well-being. TCM herbs can act in 5 natural ways to treat allergic asthma:
- Balancing Immunity: TCM targets Th1/Th2 imbalance to mitigate allergic responses.
- Reducing Lung Inflammation: TCM decreases inflammation in the lungs by reducing MAPK and NF-kB levels.
- Managing Chronic Lung Damage: TCM addresses ongoing inflammation in chronic lung conditions.
- Inhibiting Inflammation: TCM inhibits mast cell degranulation, reducing inflammatory damage.
- Slowing Down Airway Damage: TCM can potentially slow down airway remodeling, reducing long-term lung damage.
TCM, as part of your asthma management plan, can help you find relief from symptoms and offer a path toward better respiratory health.
Asthma is not just an allergic condition, it is also an inflammatory condition that becomes chronic. If you need help in treating Asthma for yourself or your child, feel free to drop us a line!
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