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Alternative Treatments for Pulmonary Disease

*** Note that this is general information and is not intended as medical advice.
If you have questions about the topics in this Q&A, take this information to
your next appointment with your own physician and decide with him or her
how best to serve your needs.

Commonly asked Questions with Answers from Dr. Robert Sandhaus, M.D., Ph.D., F.C.C.P.

My doctor tells me alternative therapies are no good
Herbal remedies for pulmonary problems
Breathing methods offered in seminars from other countries
Is there an asthma cure?
Vitamin O
Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids helpful in pulmonary disease?


My doctor tells me alternative therapies are no good

Whenever I hear about something other than a "traditional" medicine for lung disease, my doctor tells me it's no good. C'mon, aren't the big drug companies just saying that these new medicines are no good in order to keep us locked into buying their products?

* * * * *

I think everyone wants to find ways to help or cure disease that are mild, "natural," and non-injurious. When you combine these quests with the fact that many "old wives" remedies turn out to lead to new "traditional" medications, there is a tendency to want to head toward alternative treatments especially if more traditional therapies are either not working well for you or are causing side effects that seem worse than the disease. The problem is, know what works and what doesn't — for you — and in choosing from among the myriad agents and claims of success.

The reason most docs are much more comfortable with "traditional" medications and therapies is that they have been tested, evaluated, approved, and often retested over and over, to find the best doses and combinations. The initial source of these medications may well have been an herb or other agent that might now be considered "alternative." Other medications are designed based on a scientific understanding of disease mechanisms and actions. These two methods of discovering new drugs are well represented in asthma therapies. Still, asthma deaths have been rising and there are many individuals who still have recurrent symptoms in spite of regular use of traditional medications.

Given the above, it would be great to have a natural or herbal remedy that one could take that would make their asthma get better or go away. One may exist somewhere. The question is how would we know? Alternative medications don't have to undergo the traditional testing and retesting; study and re-study, that traditional medicines do. In general, the success stories are either by word of mouth or by an "expert" trying to sell a product or program, often with dramatic claims of success. It seems unlikely that all the claims and stories are true, otherwise there would be a lot of cured asthmatics out there. So how do you choose? I just don't have an answer to that question.

There is a growing appreciation that some herbal or alternative medications can actually lead to quite significant side effects and, especially, dangerous interactions with other medications, whether traditional or alternative.

Finally, there is the question of whether docs actually know how to cure asthma but won't do it because they want their patients to keep coming back to provide income or drug companies just want to sell their medications. Certainly, drug companies do want to make money! But, especially in asthma, this is more patient-driven than doctor-driven. I can tell you from experience that offering the cheaper alternative is often met with extreme shock and surprise. No one opts for the older meds.

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Herbal remedies for pulmonary problems

What's wrong with using herbal remedies for pulmonary problems? Herbs are natural so they can't hurt me, isn't that right?

* * * * *

Herbs may be just fine. Nevertheless, the fact that something is an herb doesn't guarantee it is either safe or effective. As mentioned above, herbs can interact with other medications both natural and traditional. Don't forget that most poisons were initially isolated from plants and herbs.

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Breathing methods offered in seminars from other countries

What about some breathing methods offered in seminars? They come from countries other than the United States. Are we in the United States just being self-centered, believing that only we have all the answers?

* * * * *

Breathing exercise and training have an important place in many pulmonary diseases, especially asthma. Many pulmonary rehabilitation programs incorporate a variety of methods into their instruction. Several studies have evaluated non-traditional breathing methods such as Yoga and Buteyko as an adjunct to asthma therapy. The studies have shown mixed results. In part, this appears to be due to the fact that some methods, like Buteyko, have no standardized methodology and often include components that are educational and nutritional. While studies have shown less bronchodilator usage in patients instructed in some form of Buteyko, there has been no change in their lung function or exercise tolerance. Often the control group also has a strong positive response, although not as dramatic as the treatment group, suggesting that just getting into a program that takes an interest in your overall health is beneficial to an asthma patient.

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Is there an asthma cure?

I've seen some books that talk about asthma being curable. Is my doctor telling me this isn't possible just to keep me coming to him and buying medicines to keep him and the drug companies in business? In just one quick search I found 23 books that came up when I entered "Asthma Cure."

* * * * *

What can I say? I hope the whole world is cured of its asthma by one of these programs. The only thing that surprises me is that they don't claim that several major scientific studies have proven their effectiveness.

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Vitamin O

What about Vitamin O? I got something in the mail quoting people about it helping them breathe a lot better?

* * * * *

Now I'm really going to sound like a traditional doctor. This is probably the biggest scam ever put over on desperate patients with lung disease. And the Federal Trade Commission agrees because it has already fined several companies hundreds of thousands of dollars for false advertising. "Activated oxygen in a liquid form. . . a few drops will deliver increased oxygen to the blood. . . saline pulled from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean." Give me a break! The good news is that it is highly unlikely that this will have any side effects on anything but your wallet.

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Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids helpful in pulmonary disease?

What about Omega-3 Fatty Acids? I've been hearing more about that helping people with pulmonary disease. Mary Pierce talked about it years ago and now I'm hearing that they really are helpful in pulmonary disease, or is that more related to prevention?

* * * * *

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are a necessary dietary component and there is growing evidence of its anti-inflammatory and other beneficial effects. Its actual role in lung disease is unclear at this time but, since asthma and many other lung diseases have inflammation as a prominent component, this may well prove an effective adjunctive therapy. Besides, I'd never disagree with Mary Pierce!

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© Copyright 2006–2009, Jane M. Martin, CRT
http://www.breathingbetterlivingwell.com

 

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Dr. Robert Sandhaus

Dr. Robert Sandhaus is Professor of Medicine and the Director of the Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Program at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Colorado. He is the Clinical Director of the Alpha-1 Foundation and the Medical Director and Executive Vice President of AlphaNet based in Miami , Florida.

 

 

   
 
 


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