Can Asthma Patients Benefit from Herbs and Non-Vitamin Dietary Supplements?

Published online: November 1, 2017

Asthma patients might seek complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for health promotion and disease prevention. As the most commonly used CAM, herbs and/or non-vitamin dietary supplements (NVDS) have been reported to be used by 17.7% and 4.9% of adults and children with asthma, respectively. Despite the high prevalence of herbs and/or NVDS use in patients with asthma and the potential beneficial effect on asthma management, there have not been any nationally representative studies to assess their impact on clinical outcomes in patients with asthma in real-world settings.

In an article recently published in The Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Huo and Qian estimated the utilization patterns of herbs and/or NVDS use among adult and pediatric patients with asthma in the U.S., and also examined the associations between herbs and/or NVDS use and asthma-related clinical outcomes. This retrospective, cross-sectional study used the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) datasets, including a total of 2,930 adults (18 years and older) and 1,923 children/adolescents (4-17 years old) with asthma. Self-reported herbs and/or NVDS use, patient characteristics, and asthma-related clinical outcomes such as asthma episodes and emergency department visits were identified.

The authors found that about 21.2% of U.S. adult and 7.2% of pediatric patients with asthma reported using herb and/or NVDS in 2012. The top three commonly used individual herbs and/or NVDS among adult asthma patients included fish oil (13.31%), probiotics or prebiotics (3.89%), and glucosamine (3.98%). The top three commonly used individual herbs and/or NVDS among children/adolescents with asthma included fish oil (2.62%), melatonin (1.91%), and probiotics or prebiotics (1.50%). Herb and/or NVDS users were more likely to be female, non-Hispanic white, living in the West region, having higher family income and having comorbidities compared to non-users. Herbs and/or NVDS users were less likely to have asthma-related ED visits compared to non-users among adult patients with asthma, but not among pediatric patients with asthma. The findings suggest that the prevalence of herbs and/or NVDS use is high among both adult and pediatric patients with asthma in the U.S. Potential benefits of these supplemental medications on asthma-related ED visits might exist for adult patients with asthma. Practitioners should closely monitor patterns of herbs and/or NVDS among patients with asthma to help balance its benefits and risks regarding patient wellness and clinical outcomes.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice is an official journal of the AAAAI, focusing on practical information for the practicing clinician.

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