Studies on Asthma and Chinese Herbs

This article has been reviewed by Thanai Pongdee, MD, FAAAAI

In China, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is routinely used as a single form of treatment for many health conditions, or as complementary therapy to conventional Western medical treatment.

Although not currently established as part of mainstream medicine in the United States, Chinese herbs are frequently used in the realm of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatment. 

Several herbal formulas for the treatment of asthma are documented in TCM textbooks and used in TCM practice, yet only a few have been rigorously studied. Recently, several English language publications have reported results of double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies investigating the benefits and safety of TCM herbal products for asthma.

Four randomized controlled studies of Chinese herbal formulas for asthma have been published. (ref. 1-4) The formulas are different in terms of herb composition (except all contained Radix glycyrrhizae). Duration of treatment varied from four weeks to six months. All subjects in the studies using mMMDT, DCT, and STA-1 received standard asthma medications in a step-wise fashion, whereas the study by Wen et al. compared treatment with ASHMI versus prednisone therapy. In these controlled studies, Chinese herbal formulas were safely used and demonstrated improvements in airway function and asthma symptoms. (ref. 1-5)  

Although these studies hold promise for the use of Chinese herbal formulas in the management of asthma, the AAAAI strongly warns against using them as a substitute for your asthma medications.

1. Hsu CH, Lu CM, Chang TT. Efficacy and safety of modified Mai-Men-Dong-Tang for treatment of allergic asthma. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2005 Feb;16(1):76-81.

2. Chan CK, Kuo ML, Shen JJ, See LC, Chang HH, Huang JL. Ding Chuan Tang, a Chinese herb decoction, could improve airway hyper-responsiveness in stabilized asthmatic children: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2006 Aug;17(5):316-22.

3. Chang TT, Huang CC, Hsu CH. Clinical evaluation of the Chinese herbal medicine formula STA-1 in the treatment of allergic asthma. Phytother Res. 2006 May;20(5):342-7.

4. Wen MC, Wei CH, Hu ZQ, Srivastava K, Ko J, Xi ST, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of anti-asthma herbal medicine intervention in adult patients with moderate-severe allergic asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005 Sep;116(3):517-24.

5. Kelly-Pieper K, Patil SP, Busse P, Yang N, Sampson H, Li XM, et al. Safety and tolerability of an antiasthma herbal Formula (ASHMI) in adult subjects with asthma: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation phase I study. J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Jul;15(7):735-43.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology