Complementary and Alternative Therapies for COPD

Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on July 29, 2019

If you have COPD, you probably turn to medicine, lung therapies, and maybe surgery to manage your illness. It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations. You might also wonder if mind-body therapies or supplements could help.

These methods cannot cure COPD, but studies show some may offer relief. Always check with your doctor before you take any of these, so you know what’s safe for you to try. Also, avoid anything that promises a cure, calls itself a “secret” treatment, or goes against your doctor’s advice.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture may help with quality of life when given in addition to standard COPD treatments. That’s the finding of a Chinese study of 65 people with COPD who got acupuncture or a sham treatment using needles for 8 weeks, along with their regular COPD treatments.

Acupuncture involves using very fine needles to stimulate certain points in the body. It’s part of traditional Chinese medicine and is widely available in the U.S. It’s been studied for many conditions, but there hasn’t been that much research on its use with COPD.

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In the Chinese study, those who got the real acupuncture treatments had less shortness of breath after walking for 6 minutes. They also they reported better quality of life than those who got the sham needle treatments.

Exactly how acupuncture helped isn’t clear. If you decide to try it, ask the practitioner about their credentials and experience. Also, plan on having several sessions.

Massage

Massage may help relax tight chest muscles. But there is not enough research to know if massage directly helps with COPD. There haven’t been enough studies on the topic.

However, massage can help with stress and relaxation in general. If that’s true for you, it may be something to consider as part of your self-care.

Yoga

Both a form of exercise and of meditation, yoga benefits people with COPD in several ways. As a form of exercise, it can help with lung function and shortness of breath. And it can lower stress and help with anxiety and depression.

NAC (N-Acetylcysteine)

Having a constant cough that usually makes mucus is a common symptom of COPD. People with COPD often look 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

But 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 herb has been used for thousands of years for various medicinal reasons. Some early, small studies have found that ginseng might have promise in treating COPD symptoms.

But a more recent, larger study showed that ginseng was no better than a placebo for people with moderate to severe COPD. So it’s not likely to be helpful if you have COPD.

Vitamin D

Many people with COPD have low levels of  vitamin D. That’s linked to being more likely to get upper respiratory infections, which can make COPD symptoms worse. Colds can trigger COPD flare-ups.

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

Your doctor may want to check your vitamin D levels and 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. But there hasn’t been enough research to tell. There aren’t studies that support salvia’s use for COPD or any other health condition.

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. That, in turn, may help with flare-ups. But echinacea hasn’t been specifically studied for COPD.

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

Sources

SOIRCES:

American Lung Association: “Complementary Therapies for COPD,” “Yoga, Tai Chi and Your Lungs: The Benefits of Breathing through Exercise.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Acupuncture: In Depth,” “Massage Therapy: What You Need to Know,” “Sage.”

Medicine: “Acupuncture for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”

Medicina: “Manual Massage Therapy for Patients with COPD: A Scoping Review.”

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."

International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: “Effect of Panax Ginseng (G115) Capsules versus Placebo on Acute Exacerbations in Patients with Moderate to Very Severe COPD: A Randomized Controlled Trial.”

The Lancet Respiratory Medicine: "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."

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease: “Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (2020 Report).”

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