At the last national convention of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) in Denver, a majority of the studies brought forth so far dealt with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
A progressive and serious disease that makes breathing difficult, COPD leads to miserable symptoms such as tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and coughing producing of copious amounts of mucus.
A major cause of disability, COPD is the 4th biggest cause of death in America and is caused by longstanding exposure to pollution and irritants and smoking. This condition may hinder sufferers from performing even basic tasks such as cooking and walking. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has stated that COPD has no known cure and doctors have no idea how to reverse the damage to the lungs and airways that this disease causes.
However, unexpected but positive news also came out of that convention.
Scientists have reported breakthroughs in two separate studies that may significantly help COPD sufferers. One amazing thing about this is that the treatments do not come from the Pharmaceutical industry but instead come from an age old natural treatment and vitamin therapy.
For more than a thousand years, Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been using a paste known as HCP (Hsiao Chuan) to treat breathing difficulties associated with asthma and COPD. The main ingredients of HCP are Acorus gramineus Soland, Asarum heterothropoides, and Ephedra vulgaris. These plants are all indigenous to China.
Modern Western medicine is only now discovering that HCP really works. In cold weather, COPD symptoms seem to worsen as they are aggravated by the breathing of cold air. Beijing researchers have found in one study that HCP helps lessen these potentially lethal winter aggravations of COPD.
Gunag’anmen Hospital in Beijing respiratory department clinical researcher Dr. Yongjun Bian, who headed the study, states that “Our team had conducted observational studies of HCP that showed the paste lessening the number of COPD aggravations, but this research is the first randomized controlled trial ever revealing the safety and efficacy of HCP in helping prevent the COPD aggravations.” Bian added that “The data validated HCP’s beneficial effect on preventing COPD aggravations during winter.”
For resolving COPD aggravation and other breathing difficulties in winter, specific acupuncture points on the back was applied with HCP in the summer. Dr. Bian explained that “HCP contains herbs and other natural remedies that exhibit immune regulating qualities that in turn, help in the paste’s ability to inhibit COPD aggravations.”
The study involved 142 participants who were randomly divided into two groups. One group was given a placebo paste and the other was treated with HCP. The two pastes were applied four times to the same acupoints for around eight weeks (July to August).
Commenting about the outcomes, Dr. Bain says that “The application of HCP to the acupoints led to a significant reduction in the number of winter exacerbation compared to the subjects treated with placebo.” He adds that “Patients treated with HCP showed significant decreases in episodes of shortness of breath and steroid usage, these patients also experienced a much better quality of life compared to the those given placebo treatment.”
He added that “No empirical investigations have ever been performed on HCP in spite of the fact that this therapy has been used in China for thousands of years.” “The outcomes of this study made us able to avoid adverse events in future clinical practice and standardize the treatment protocol.”
Another study conducted in Belgium had data showing that among COPD patients, vitamin D deficiency is a common problem and vitamin supplementation can significantly help these patients overcome breathing difficulties.
Katholieke University in Leuven, Belgium doctoral student in the department of pneumology and physiotherapist Miek Hornikx states in a press statement that “Our research reveals that large doses of vitamin D supplements combined with a conventional rehabilitation program led to a much better result in terms of respiratory muscle strength and exercise capacity.”
Ms. Hornikx added that “Muscle weakness, which is a major reason for increased risk of falls and a main target for respiratory rehabilitation, is related to inadequate amounts of vitamin D in the blood.” “We sought to see if supplementation of vitamin D would benefit these patients in terms of rehabilitation, possibly by increasing muscle strength since vitamin D is usually depleted in people suffering from COPD,” she added
A total of 50 people with COPD participated in the study. Having been for referred for rehabilitation, these people were randomly assigned to receive either placebo or a dose of vitamin D each month. The patients were given a dose of 100,000 international units each month. This was way above the US’s 600 recommended daily allowance.
A pulmonary rehabilitation program for three months was given to all the participants. At the start and end of the study, the researchers measured vitamin D, exercise capacity, and respiratory and peripheral muscle strength levels. Results showed that patients given vitamin D experienced substantial improvement in respiratory muscle strength and exercise capacity compared to people in the placebo group.
Steven Goldfarb, L.Ac. is a board certified and licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Goldfarb Chiropractic and Acupuncture Center in West Orange, NJ.