March 5, 2012 (Orlando, Fla.) -- A traditional Chinese herbal remedy known as kampo helped to relieve daily asthma symptoms in nearly all of more than 200 people studied, Japanese researchers report.
North American allergy experts tell WebMD that although they find the preliminary findings fascinating, further study is needed before they would recommend the herbs.
Yoshiteru Shimoide, MD, head of the Yoshiteru Shimoide Clinic of Internal Medicine in Kagoshima City, Japan, presented the results here at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (AAAAI).
The number of people in the U.S. with asthma is growing. One in 12 people had asthma in 2009, compared with 1 in 14 in 2001, according to the CDC.
There is no cure, but most people can control their symptoms, reduce the severity of their disease, and prevent asthma attacks by avoiding asthma triggers and correctly using prescribed medicines, such as steroid inhalers, the CDC says.
There's much room for improvement, Shimoide says. He says it was accidentally discovered that kampo herbs could wipe out symptoms in many people while testing the ancient remedy against an allergic skin disorder known as atopic dermatitis.
So his team studied 278 people with asthma who suffered daily symptoms of the disease. Of those, 52 were given standard treatment (typically an inhaled steroid and a bronchodilator), and 226 were treated with kampo herbs.
Symptoms completely disappeared in 94% of patients taking kampo herbs after an average of 16 days, Shimoide says.
In contrast, about three-fourths of those taking standard asthma medications still had daily wheeze and other symptoms.
Side Effects Still Need Study
The study did not look at possible side effects of kampo herbs. But a major problem facing kampo medicine is herbal product quality. There have been cases in which poisonous plants found their way into the herbal mix, resulting in kidney damage, for example.
In kampo medicine, most herbs are taken as a fixed formula. Each individual herb is thought to address a particular imbalance in an ill person.
Herbs used in the current study include Scutellaria root, Coptis rhizome, gardenia fruit, hoelen, cinnamon bark, and Glycyrrhiza (aka licorice) root.