Herbal Remedies and Alternative Treatments for COPD

If you have COPD, you probably turn to medicine, lung therapies, and maybe surgery to manage your illness. But you might also wonder about herbal remedies or other supplements that can help.

Though herbs and supplements can't cure COPD, studies show some may offer relief. Of course, you’ll want to check with your doctor before you take any of these.

NAC (N-Acetylcysteine)

Having a constant cough that usually makes mucus is a common symptom of COPD. People with COPD are always looking for ways to ease that ongoing cough and thin the mucus.

NAC is an antioxidant supplement with mixed reviews in studies.

Some research says NAC can help your lungs work better. It might also:

  • Thin mucus
  • Give you less phlegm
  • Ease your cough

Other studies say that NAC has little effect on those things. Research found that NAC didn't stop flare-ups of COPD from happening. But it does suggest NAC may help you have fewer flare-ups.

Ginseng

This popular herb has thousands of years of medical use behind it. Studies have found that ginseng has some promise in treating COPD symptoms. People who took it were able to breathe and exercise more easily.

Other research found that people with COPD who took ginseng were able to breathe easier and their lungs worked better than those who had no treatment.

Vitamin D

When you have COPD, you may not have enough vitamin D. That makes you more likely to get upper respiratory infections, which can make your COPD symptoms worse. Colds can trigger COPD flare-ups.

Doctors aren't sure if higher levels of vitamin D bring fewer flare-ups and help your lungs work better. In some studies it does. In others, it doesn't.

Your doctor will probably want to check your vitamin D levels. They may suggest supplements if yours are below normal.

Salvia

Also called red sage, Salvia miltiorrhiza is an herb long used in Chinese medicine. Some research says salvia may help protect your lungs during flare-ups.

Echinacea

Some people take this as a supplement to help ward off or ease cold symptoms. Research shows that taking it once you have a cold won’t do much to shorten it. But taking echinacea while you’re well may help keep you from getting sick.

Some research shows that taking echinacea along with other supplements -- like zinc, selenium, and vitamin C -- may ease cold symptoms when you have COPD. It may also help with flare-ups.

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Melatonin

Your body makes melatonin naturally, which helps promote sleep. Some people take melatonin supplements when they have trouble sleeping, hoping that it’ll help them rest better.

If you have COPD, you may have trouble sleeping. There's mixed research on whether melatonin can help. Some studies say it helps make it easier to breathe, so it's easier to sleep.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on July 29, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "COPD."

Journal of Translational Internal Medicine: "Clinical significance of airway mucus hypersecretion in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease."

International Journal of COPD: "The role for N-acetylcysteine in the management of COPD," "Role of N-acetylcysteine in the management of COPD."

Monaldi Archives for Chest Disease: "Ginseng improves pulmonary functions and exercise capacity in patients with COPD."

European Respiratory Journal: "Herbal medicines for the treatment of COPD: a systematic review."

Chinese Medicine: "Panax ginseng therapy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a clinical trial protocol and pilot study."

The Lancet: "Vitamin D3 supplementation in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (ViDiCO): a multicentre, double-blind, randomised controlled trial."

Annals of Internal Medicine: "High Doses of Vitamin D to Reduce Exacerbations in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Randomized Trial."

Chinese Critical Care Medicine: "Effect of depsides salts from salvia miltiorrhiza on functions of platelet and vascular endothelial cell of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in acute exacerbation stage."

Current Pharmaceutical Design: "Salvia miltiorrhiza: A Potential Red Light to the Development of Cardiovascular Diseases."

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Echinacea."

Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics: "Echinacea purpurea along with zinc, selenium and vitamin C to alleviate exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: results from a randomized controlled trial."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Melatonin for sleep: Does it work?"

European Respiratory Journal: "Effect of melatonin on sleep quality of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients."

Journal of Pineal Research: "Melatonin reduces lung oxidative stress in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study."

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