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Homeopathy for asthma

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

homeopathy for asthma

Story at-a-glance -

  • Asthma is a chronic lung condition affecting your ability to breathe and exchange oxygen; symptoms may range from mild to severe and may happen rarely or daily. Depending on the type of symptoms experienced, homeopathic medicines may help relieve symptoms
  • Homeopathic practitioners often focus on treatment of the whole person and not just a single symptom or disease, as does Western medicine, so expect to spend about an hour for your first visit so the practitioner may gather enough information
  • According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is the leading chronic disease in children and the top reason children miss school days; every day, 10 Americans die from asthma, many of those deaths may have been avoidable
  • Research has found those suffering from asthma may become more resilient to air pollution and experience fewer symptoms when they eat a diet high in omega-3 fats. This adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting dietary intake has an influence on your body's response to pollution

Asthma is a chronic condition affecting the airways. Inflammation makes your airways swell, triggering wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and may happen rarely or every day. For most people, the condition starts during childhood and becomes a lifelong condition.

The goal of conventional medicine is to manage symptoms and avoid exacerbations, which are called asthma attacks. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),1 7.9% of adults and children currently hold a diagnosis of asthma.

The children's age group most affected is 5- to 14-year-olds, of whom 9.7% have asthma. Boys have a greater incidence than girls, but women have a greater incidence than men. Conventional treatment2 is aimed at managing symptoms to allow the individual the ability to engage in normal everyday activities, and realistically is only a stopgap measure.

The types of treatments used will depend upon age, severity and response to the treatment option. Many with asthma use daily medication for long-term control and short-term relief inhalers during an asthma attack. In addition to identifying environmental factors triggering asthma attacks, homeopathic treatments may offer enough relief to reduce or eliminate pharmaceutical drugs.

However, while asthma is amenable to homeopathic treatment, the British Homeopathic Association3 recommends treatment with a homeopathic professional and not self-treatment to find the best remedies for your specific condition.

History of homeopathy

The practice of homeopathy was popular in the U.S. and Europe in the 1800s. Some of its strongest advocates were European royalty, American entrepreneurs and literary giants. However, while gaining popularity, it has become the object of opposition from established Western medicine.4

Homeopathy began with the discoveries of Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who coined the word homeopathy to refer to pharmacological principles. The basis is a "law of similars," previously described by Hippocrates and utilized in many cultures, including the Mayan, Chinese, Greek and Native American cultures.

By the time Hahnemann was 24 he could read and write in at least seven languages and ultimately translated over 20 major medical textbooks. The premise Hahnemann worked under was identifying small doses of compounds triggering biological changes.5

Coincidentally, in 1798 the discovery of giving small doses of cowpox to immunize against smallpox was generally accepted, while Hahnemann's work was not.

Many of the initial practitioners in homeopathy graduated from prestigious medical schools, yet orthodox medicine was threatened because homeopathic practitioners offered an integrated and systematic approach for therapeutic practice and were sharply critical of the use of conventional drugs.

Homeopaths believed masking an individual's symptom, as opposed to treating the underlying condition, could create deeper and more serious disease,6 which history has shown to be the true in many cases. By 1882 the American Medical Association (AMA) had purged their ranks of all homeopathic practitioners.

They also established a code of ethics asserting any physician would lose their membership if they even consulted with a homeopath. At the time, without membership in a local medical society a physician no longer had a license to practice medicine.

Despite this oppression, the practice thrived in the 1800s and early 1900s. However, while popular among the rich and poor alike,7 the most likely reason it survived was the success homeopathic treatment enjoyed in treating infectious epidemic diseases during the 1800s.

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Basics of homeopathy

Statistics showed the death rate in homeopathic hospitals were one-half to one-eighth those found in orthodox medical hospitals. In 1849 during the cholera epidemic, Cincinnati homeopaths were so successful they published a list of those who were cured and those who died. Only 3% of their patient population died while from 48% to 60% of those under orthodox medical treatment died.8

After the 1900s, the AMA became increasingly effective at suppressing the practice and by 1910 the Carnegie Foundation issued the infamous Flexner Report, an evaluation of medical schools. The report gave homeopathic colleges poor ratings based in part on faculty who continued in clinical practice and schools offering courses in pharmacology, which was not considered worthwhile.

As a result, those who graduated from schools without a high rating were not allowed to take the medical licensing examination. The decline of homeopathic practice may also have been associated with poor economic viability as it demands more time with the patient.9

In Hahnemann's practice, he based treatment on the totality of symptoms and prescribed one medication at a time. However, as the practice of homeopathy progressed, others prescribed medicines for specific symptoms as opposed to the underlying condition.

Currently, homeopathic remedies are essentially nanomedicines. The premise on which homeopathic treatments have been made for over a century is that the more diluted the remedy, the more effective it becomes. These nano doses may penetrate the blood-brain barrier and cellular membranes with greater ease, without triggering a defense mechanism.10

Additionally, there are no side effects and no adverse reactions. To date there are more than 300 double-blind placebo-controlled trials on homeopathy published in peer review medical journals, including:

The Lancet11

BMJ (British Medical Journal)12,13

Chest (the publication of the American College of Chest Physicians)14

Pediatrics (publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics)15

Cancer (journal of the American Cancer Society)16

Pediatrics Infectious Disease Journal (publication of the European Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases)17

European Journal of Pediatrics (publication of the Swiss Society of Pediatrics and the Belgium Society of Pediatrics)18

Asthma affects millions

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, and it may vary from person to person. Researchers believe it is the result of a strong immune response to an allergen in the environment, such as seasonal proteins or pet dander. These make their way into the airway, where the immune system reacts strongly.

According to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America,19 African-Americans in the U.S. die from asthma at a higher rate than people of other ethnicities. It is the leading chronic disease in children and the top reason children miss school days. In 2013, 13.8 million school days were missed that could be attributed to asthma.

Every day, 10 Americans will die from asthma, and many of those deaths may be avoidable with proper treatment and care. Adults are four times more likely to die from an asthma attack than a child, and women are more likely to die than men. According to the CDC,20 the economic burden of asthma is greater than $80 billion per year in medical expenses, days missed from work and school, and death.

However, researchers believe these numbers are likely higher21 as data only included individuals treated for asthma, defining this as having at least one medical encounter for asthma or prescription filled within the calendar year. Additionally, the information in the study did not account for nonmedical costs such as transportation and diminished productivity at work or school.

Signs and symptoms of asthma include chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing, which triggers a whistling sound as you exhale. Attacks may happen suddenly and may be life-threatening.22

Symptoms may get worse with viral infections, can be triggered by exercise, allergies, cold air or hyperventilation, and may be worse at night or early in the morning. Those living with asthma may find their symptoms increase and decrease over time, or even within the same day.

Homeopathic remedies for asthma

Your homeopathic professional will identify a remedy to help your body reduce or eliminate breathing difficulties associated with asthma. As a result, you may expect to spend about an hour with your homeopathic practitioner as they determine the best medications to try first. Homeopathic remedies commonly prescribed for asthma include:23,24,25,26,27,28

Ipecacuanha — Prescribed for sudden wheezing and cough with constant gagging and vomiting, the medication is from a creeping shrub, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, native to Brazil. Patients presenting with a chest rattle, symptoms worsening in warm humid weather or heat, sweating, feeling clammy or nauseous may benefit.

Arsenic album — This may be prescribed for difficulty breathing at night, thirstiness accompanied by frequently sipping water and anxiety related to breathing difficulty. The person may feel exhausted but restless and anxious. They have more difficulty breathing while lying down and symptoms are usually more intense between midnight and 2 a.m.

Natrum sulphuricum — This is prescribed for asthma occurring in damp weather when the patient is reporting thick, green sputum.

Nux vomica — This is prescribed for asthma symptoms that happen with an upset stomach; attacks are worse in the morning, after eating or during dry weather.

Lobelia inflata — This is prescribed when there is over inflation of the lungs and shortness of breath out of proportion to wheezing. It may be triggered by anxiety, leading to working unnecessarily hard to breathe, or in smokers.

Asthma attacks during labor and delivery may be helped with Lobelia inflata. Those who get relief also find cold, damp weather tends to make their asthma worse, while slow, deep breathing makes it better.

Antimonium tartaricum — This has traditionally been used as an emetic, inducing vomiting. Doses used in homeopathy are infinitesimally small and this may be used with some benefit in children and the elderly when the symptoms are associated with an infection and a lot of mucous. Other symptoms may include respiration that is rapid and difficult, and mucus that is expelled with difficulty.

Sambucus nigra — The extract from the elderberry is also used as an antiviral. In homeopathy it may be beneficial to those who feel like they are suffocating at night or whose symptoms are worse between midnight and 3 a.m.

Natrum sulphuricum — This is useful in children and adults in asthma symptoms worse near 4 a.m., during damp weather and before menstruation.

Pulsatilla — This may used when asthma symptoms appear when the person gets warm or eats rich foods. Yellow-colored mucus with gagging and choking and tightness in the chest in the evening or night relieved by cool fresh air may indicate you will benefit from Pulsatilla.

Spongia tosta — When there is a hard, barking, dry cough associated with the asthma it is a strong indication for this remedy. The person may find warm drinks are helpful or sitting up with the head tilted backward. The symptoms are more common before midnight at night.

Balanced omega fats may reduce symptoms of asthma

If you struggle with asthma, also consider your omega-3 intake. Your body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, most Americans eat a diet too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3.29 A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine30 demonstrated children diagnosed with asthma who had higher levels of omega-3 fat also had fewer asthma symptoms.

In the study,31 data was gathered from 135 children from age 5 to 12. Roughly one-third of the children had mild symptoms of asthma, one-third had moderate and one-third had severe symptoms. Data on diet, symptoms and inhaler use were gathered through questionnaires.

The researchers were focused on exposure to air pollution and subsequent asthma symptoms. They found children with higher intake of omega-3 had a lower asthma response to indoor air pollution and appeared to be more resilient. The study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting dietary intake has an influence on your body's response to air pollution and may help reduce asthma symptoms.