Chinese Herbs for Asthma – 12 Super Herbs to treat Asthma Effectively!
We have discussed in another article 5 ways through which Chinese herbs alleviate an asthmatic condition.
In this article, we will share 12 Chinese herbs and how they help if you suffer from Asthma.
Remember that the strength of Chinese herbal medicine is not demonstrated by putting all these herbs together in a mechanistic manner.
All of these herbs have active ingredients that affect that many pathways, but for them to work well together, the crux is in herbal formulation or how the herbs are put together. This is why a trained herbalist is crucial when using these herbs.
Before we start, perhaps let’s cover some basics on how Asthma is managed.
The common pharmaceutical approaches to managing Asthma
Traditional therapeutics focus on sympt0m control. The symptoms are bronchospasm (tight airways) and airway inflammation. The pharmaceutical approach is:
- Use bronchodilator to reduce bronchospasm, hence ‘opening up’ the lungs. These are the LABAs or long-acting beta agonists
- Use steroids to take away inflammation
This is what you get in an inhaler these days – a bronchodilator and steroid two-in-one (2-in-1).
There can be other pharmaceutical interventions too. These include long acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMAs), Leukotriene modifiers (e.g. Singulair), theophylline, etc.
A Lesser-known approach to Managing Asthma
A Th1/Th2 imbalance is a common feature in all atopic conditions. This means that allergic conditions like allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma and atopic eczema all present with an immunological imbalance where Th2 cell are in excess of Th1 cells.
To elaborate further but in a simple way, we have Th2 cells in excess, producing 3 cytokines:
IL4 and IL13 have alot to do IgE secretion. When IgE is secreted from B-cells, they attach to mast cells, which explode and release histamine and other inflammatory mediators.
The scary thing is that this can happen even in the absence of a trigger, which means allergic asthma can end up being chronic even after your dusty room is now clean, or even though you no longer burn incense sticks in the house.
IL5 has alot to do with eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. In Asthmatic Bronchitis and other allergic conditions, there will be alot of eosinophils in the blood.
These eosinophils move to the inflammed areas to fight the bad guys and contribute to the allergic response — this is why they are not particularly helpful.
And what does IL5 do? It enhances eosinophil accumulation. This means it just helps more eosinophils mature in the bone marrow and migrate to the lungs — to cause more allergic damage.
Chinese herbs for Asthma tend to manage Th2 excess. Put very simply, Chinese herbs are a very natural way to reduce IL4, IL5 and IL13 levels. Let find out more below
Apricot Seed, Cinnamon Twig and Pinella selectively inhibit Th2, balancing out the immune system
Apricot Seed, Cinnamon Twig and Pinella can ameliorate symptoms of asthma by inhibiting IL4 levels, consequently reducing IgE secretion.
Once IgE is reduced, airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR) and airway eosinophilia is reduced, which leads to deeper breaths and less inflammation.
These three Chinese herbs for Asthma are crucial in the treatment of allergen-exacerbated asthma.
Ephedra, Scutellaria and Ginger inhibit IL4 and IL13, while at the same time helping with bronchodilation
Chinese herbs for Asthma include those that inhibit more than one cytokine. Ephedra, Scutellaria and Ginger are 3 herbs able to inhibit both IL4 and IL13. This makes them great to use in treating allergic asthma.
Once IL4 and Il13 are inhibited, the inflammatory cascade is subdued, because IgE production is dampened down by quite a bit!
These three Chinese herbs for Asthma are also known herbal bronchodilators. What does that mean? Have you heard of Salbutamol, Salmetarol and Ventolin? These are pharmaceutical drugs that help the lungs open up.
Ephedra is a known beta-adrenergic agonist, which means it helps the lungs open up. Herbalists know how to use this herb with care, as dosage matters. Scutellaria and Ginger also possess this bronchodilatory action.
These three herbs not only clear out inflammation, they also open up the lungs!
Platycodon and Cortex Mori inhibit IL5, in addition to inhibiting IL4 and IL13
Both Platycodon and Cortex Mori are able to inhibit Il5. Platycodon is associated with reduced phlegm production and inflammation. Cortex Mori is associated with reduced airway hypersensitivity.
When a herb is able to inhibit IL5, it is able to prevent excessive accumulation of eosinophils in the lungs. This means that in addition to helping reduce the inflammatory load in allergic asthma, these herbs must be included when treating idiopathic eosinophilic asthma.
What is even more beneficial about these Chinese herbs for Asthma is that Platycodon reduce Th17 while Cortex Mori increases Treg.
Th17 cells are in excess in chronic lung conditions like Steroid-resistant Asthma or Neutrophilic Asthma. As for Treg cells, we want more of them, because, to make it simple, they ‘keep the immune system in balance.’
Aster and Magnolia Bark help to relax the airway by inhibiting the Calcium Channel:
Aster is similar to Platycodon (mentioned above) in function. It is able to:
- Inhibit the release of cytokines IL4 and IL13 to reduce IgE secretion and mast cell degranulation.
- Reduce levels of IL5, hence reducing eosinophilic accumulation.
- Inhibit IL17 levels, which reduces bronchial hyper-reactivity.
This Chinese herb for Asthma relaxes the tracheal ring by reducing the concentration of intracellular calcium. This is done through inhibition of the calcium channel.
Magnolia Bark is widely used for the treatment of chest tightness and asthma. It is also used to relax the throat and the stomach.
This Chinese herbs for Asthma can also inhibit calcium channels, which lead to muscle relaxation and subsequent bronchodilatation. Magnolol and honokiol, 2 major phenolic compounds found in the bark of Magnolia, are the crucial ingredients here.
Fritillaria Bulb is a potent Mast Cell Inhibitor
Mast cells when degranulated will release inflammatory mediators, the best known of which is histamine.
Fritillaria is known clinically for its ability to treat cough. It has anti-tussive and expectorant effect via known isolates Peimine, Isoverticine, Ebeiedine and Ebeiedinone. The best known formulation that includes Fritillaria is called Chuan Bei Pi Pa Gao.
What is less known is Fritillaria’s ability to inhibit mast cell recruitment in inflammatory sites. For the inflammatory response to be chronic, we require the release of immature mast cells precursors from the bone marrow through the blood, into the tissues for full maturation.
In the case of chronic Asthma, Fritillaria is able to inhibit this process, which means it stops a long-running inflammatory cascade in its tracks.
Earthworm is a Leukotriene Antagonist
Lastly, let’s talk about a slug, which is also a Chinese herb for Asthma!
Earthworm, called Lumbricus or Pheretima, is part of the Chinese phamacopoeia. It is able to inhibit IL4, IL5 and IL13 like many of the herbs mentioned above.
More importantly, it works through a pathway similar to how Singulair works. Singulair is a well-known pharmaceutical intervention which is a Leukotriene-inhibitor. Earthworm is not only good for treating allergen exacerbated asthma and eosinophilic asthma; it is helpful when treating aspirin-induced asthma too!
When we use herbal therapy, we are taking a multi-pronged approach to treatment. It is slightly more complex than how pharmaceutical drugs are prescribed, because pharmaceutical drugs have only that many compounds and limited ways to mix and match them.
Each TCM herb is made up of multiple active ingredients. Some herbs are more deeply researched, some active ingredients are better known.
In this article, we have categorized and highlighted some of the more potent herbs used in the treatment of Asthma. You do not have to use Chinese herbs in isolation. TCM herbs are often used in tandem with prescriptive drugs and health supplements. If anything, they tend to improve your condition. In more optimal situations, some patients end up keeping their inhaler with them at all times, but do not have use it.