Q and A: Asthma and Lupus

Ephedra is safe for asthma when used in traditional ways.

| May/June 1999

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Medical herbalist Terry Willard and medical doctor D. Paul Barney respond for this issue.

Children and asthma

Q: I’m a physician, and I work primarily with asthmatic children. I’m very interested to know your recommendations for herbs that act as broncodilators, muco­lytics, or natural antibiotics.
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A: My favorite botanicals to use in treating asth­matic patients are reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), ephedra, goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and coptis (Coptis chinensis).

Reishi mushroom is, by far, the most important remedy for asthma. I have found that stress is a common trigger for asthma attacks, especially in children, and Chinese herbalists would say that reishi helps ease stress by resolving disturbed sheng qi (mental spirit) and by loosening a knot in one’s chest. Reishi is also one of the best botanicals for allergic reactions, a major cause of asthmatic attacks, because it increases resistance to allergens so that a person can handle more exposure. I use 200 mg of a 15:1 extract, twice daily.

Ephedra, known in Chinese as ma huang, is the best bronchodilator—many pharmaceuticals have been patterned after chemical models of this herb. Ephedra is a bit controversial because it has been abused as a weight-loss herb, but one of its alkaloids, ephedrine, works wonders for asthma. Ephedrine has a neurotransmission effect similar to epinephrine, but can pass through the digestive tract and still be active. However, it can make a person somewhat hyper, as though they’ve had too much coffee. Combining ephedra with reishi can minimize this effect, so I often use them in combination. The dosage range for ephedra is 150 to 400 mg, two to three times daily.

Both goldenseal and coptis are good mucolytics (substances that thin mucus) and natural antibiotics. Goldenseal, which has a reputation as “king of the mucous membrane,” ­contains two major alkaloids, hydra­stine and berberine, both of which are strong antibiotics. Because goldenseal is an at-risk species (see page 47 for more information), I use only cultivated, organically grown goldenseal. Coptis and barberry (Berberis vulgaris) also contain berberine and are good alternatives if you can’t find cultivated goldenseal. The dosage range for any of these three herbs is 200 to 600 mg, two to three times a day.

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