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ASTHMA AND CHINESE MEDICINE

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By Franchis Adam

This alternative treatment is often called holistic therapy and includes exercise, massage, chiropractic therapy, diet, and relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises which focus on the use of abdominal or belly muscles have been helpful for relaxation and the reduction of anxiety. Many patients have
found benefits in yoga or Chinese tai-chi. Changes in diet that allow loss of excessive weight may be helpful in reducing shortness of breath. diet high in magnesium may be helpful in controlling asthma. Although some benefit has been found with supplements of vitamin C, in general, vitamin supplements,
antioxidants, and fish oil are not very helpful in asthma.

Chinese Medicine

Many asthmatics have sought help through Chinese medicine. One of the most common treatments is acupuncture. This ancient form of therapy is of little value in an acute asthmatic attack. Some
mild benefit in the control of chronic asthma has been reported by individual patients but further study is needed.

Chinese herbal preparations usually include ephedrine (ma huang) which is a less effective bronchodilator than the B2-adrenergic agonists. This stimulant may have significant adverse effects
(tremors, insomnia, palpitations) and should be avoided. Large doses of ephedrine may also produce urinary hesitation and occasionally the inability to urinate. Gingko extracts and other
herbal remedies such as forskolin have little value in asthma. A traditional form of Chinese medicine called kanpo is popular in Japan but has no proven benefit in asthma.

Western Herbal Remedies

Although a number of asthma drugs such as cromolyn (khella) have evolved from herbal sources, there are no American or European herbs that are of proven value in the treatment of asthma. A
number of herbs such as coltsfoot, mullein, hyssop, and elecampine have been recommended by herbalists but do not appear to relieve asthma. These agents do have an effect on the
mobilization of mucus and help patients expectorate excess secretions. This effect may account for the improvement noted by some asthmatics.

Pseudoscience

A number of bizarre remedies with no scientific value have been advocated for the treatment of asthma. These include the administration of hydrogen peroxide, magnetic healing, chelation, and crystal therapy. Patients must be alert to fraudulent practices such as alternative drug preparations which
may actually contain potent corticosteroids.


Why Alternative Therapies Appear to Work

It has been established that measurable health benefits can occur from an inactive agent (placebo) that patients take in the belief that it may be helpful. A significant placebo response, which may equal that of a proven drug, may occur in at least 30 percent of asthmatics. A "reverse placebo effect" in which
asthmatics developed bronchospasm when they Were given a bronchodilator which they were told was a bronchoconstrictor has also been documented.

In view of this high degree of suggestibility, it is not surprising that alternative therapies can produce a subjective improvement in asthma, especially when the patient is a strong advocate of a particular discipline or treatment.

Choosing the Proper Therapy

The traditional treatment of asthma is the combination of avoidance of asthma triggers and a medication regimen that is constructed for each individual patient. Although alternative forms of treatment are popular, these practices have mild effects and may be harmful. Patients should consult with their
physicians before beginning any unorthodox form of therapy. In some instances, such as changes in diet and exercise, alternative therapies may be used to supplement traditional medicine.

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