Chinese Herbs and the Treatment of Allergic Asthma

23 April 2008

An oral combination of Chinese herbs could be as effective as conventional medicines at alleviating asthma symptoms but without such severe side effects, report American and Chinese researchers. The researchers, from the world famous Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York along with Weifang Asthma Hospital and Weifang School of Medicine in China, sought to investigate alternatives to corticosteroids, the “cornerstone” of Western asthma treatment. Since corticosteroids can cause side effects, such as greater susceptibility to infections due to immune suppression and reduced growth velocity, they said that there is a need for additional effective treatments with fewer side effects.

In China, traditional medicine is part of mainstream practice, and has been used for centuries for treating a wide range of disease, however relatively little clinical research has been carried out into traditional Chinese medicine for asthma, say the researchers. For the double-blind placebo-controlled study published in the September issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (vol. 116, issue 3), they investigated the effects of a combination of Chinese herbal extracts (dubbed ASHMI - antiasthma herbal medicine intervention).

The trial involved 91 subjects with moderate to severe persistent asthma. They were admitted to hospital for the four-week duration. Forty-six patients were randomly assigned to receive ASHMI as well as placebo tablets similar in appearance to prednisone, an oral administration of the hormone cortisone. The 46 patients in the placebo group received 20mg of prednisone per day, plus placebo resembling ASHMI. The researchers measured participants' lung function, side effects and serum cortisol, cytokine and igE levels before and after treatment. The effects of prednisone and ASHMI on lung function were “slightly but significantly greater” with prednisone. However unlike prednisone, ASHMI was seen to have no adverse effects on adrenal function, and had a beneficial effect on TH1 and TH2 cytokine levels. In addition, fewer patients receiving ASHMI experienced gastric discomfort compared to those receiving prednisone, and the prednisone patients showed significant weight gain after four weeks of treatment. “Taken together, the findings of this study show that ASHMI is effective and well-tolerated in nonsteroid-dependent patients with moderate-severe persistent asthma,” wrote the researchers.

They said that the mechanisms underlying its “remarkable” effects are largely unknown but that they are likely to be the result of synergistic or additive effects of the complex nature of its constituents.

: Herbal Medicine

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