Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Natural products to assist asthma sufferers

4 comments
Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, breathlessness and tightness in the chest. Photo / 123RF.com
Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, breathlessness and tightness in the chest. Photo / 123RF.com

Dear Sandra, my daughter suffers with asthma, which is often attached to chest infections. Having a natural product to assist her would be ideal, after years of antibiotics & nebulizers. Is there anything you can suggest?

Thanks for your question. Asthma can take a huge toll on children and parents alike. It is the leading cause of sleep disturbance, missed school days and hospital admissions in children. New Zealand has some of the highest rates of childhood asthma, with more than one in four children diagnosed with some form.

Common symptoms include wheezing, coughing, breathlessness and tightness in the chest. Recurrent chest infections and respiratory illnesses tend to affect the asthmatic child at a much greater rate than the non-asthmatic; so supporting the immune system is an essential part of effective asthma management.

Plant medicines, if used regularly, can safely and effectively assist with symptom relief whilst helping to prevent the respiratory tract infections that can trigger and worsen asthmatic attacks. I do not recommend plant medicine as a substitute for a prescribed inhaler. Plant medicines can be used alongside conventional medication to support and alleviate symptoms and improve overall health. This will lead to improved asthma management over the longer term.

Moving beyond symptom relief, it is a good idea to work out a treatment plan together with your leading medical healthcare provider and a registered medical herbalist to help the child grow into a healthy adult.

Important plant medicines for asthma include:

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): approved by the Commission E monograph of the German Ministry of Health as a broncho-spasmolytic (reduces spasm in the bronchial tract as experienced in asthma), it is expectorant and antibacterial to help prevent and treat respiratory infections such as bronchitis, coughs and whooping cough that can aggravate asthma.

Grindelia (Grindelia robusta): used for respiratory conditions characterised by spasm, Grindelia is a strong broncho-spasmolytic, helping to relieve the wheezing, coughing and bronchial restriction associated with asthma.

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata): contains anti-inflammatory constituents that reduce airway inflammation, soothe the respiratory tract and reduce coughing episodes. A cough syrup containing both Grindelia and Plantain was found to be significantly more effective than placebo in treating children's coughs in a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial.

Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis): the most important respiratory herb for dry and unproductive coughs, bronchitis, catarrh and asthma. Marshmellow protects the mucous membranes from further damage and soothes the nose, throat and mouth. With both anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, it can provide significant relief to children experiencing chest pain caused by asthma or respiratory infections.

Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica): Frequent nighttime waking is a common occurrence in asthmatic children, and poor sleep can hinder recovery. Californian Poppy can be used where symptoms worsen at night. It is a gentle sedative that reduces pain and bronchial spasm, and eases restlessness. Unlike chemical sedatives, there are no safety concerns for use in children and infants.

Plant medicine for children is best given in a traditional syrup base to minimise the bitter taste of some medicinal plants and encourage compliance. Always follow guidelines when giving professionally compounded herbal medicines to children. There are specially formulated natural children's chest relief products available, or use ¼ to ½ dose of an adult's plant-based cough syrup depending on the age and size of the child.

If symptoms worsen or do not improve, consult your leading healthcare professional.

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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