Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
• Chronic Bronchitis, COPD, Emphysema
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a permanent lung condition caused, most often, by cigarette smoking. It starts with a wheezing cough and gradually progresses to a shortness of breath that accompanies even the slightest exertion, such as dressing or eating. COPD encompasses both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Emphysema consists of the destruction of the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs and the weakening of the support structure around them. This leads to a collapse of the small airways in the lungs, especially on inhalation, and reduces the body's ability to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
Chronic bronchitis consists of chronic inflammation of the airways, causing a persistent productive cough. This inflammation also impairs the body's ability to exchange new air for old. COPD also involves spasm of the airways similar to what occurs in asthma. Finally, occasional flare-ups occur when bacteria grow in the lungs, leading to acute exacerbation of symptoms.
Because cigarette smoking contributes to both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, anyone who has COPD should stop smoking. Quitting smoking won't reverse the condition, but it might stop COPD from getting worse. Airborne irritants such as chemical fumes exacerbate symptoms and should also be avoided. Standard treatment for COPD includes using bronchodilators, such as ipratropium and albuterol, to reduce muscle spasms, and corticosteroids to control inflammation in the airways. Acute flare-ups are treated with antibiotics. Severe COPD may require continuous oxygen therapy.
Malnutrition is common among people with COPD and seems to correspond to the severity of the condition.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) may improve breathing in people with COPD.
NAC is a specially modified form of the dietary amino acid cysteine. Regular use of NAC may diminish the number of severe bronchitis attacks. A review and meta-analysis of available research focused on 8 reasonably well-designed double-blind, placebo-controlled trials
NAC was once thought to aid lung conditions by helping to break up mucus. However, continuing research has tended to cast doubt on this explanation of its action.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Evidence from three double-blind placebo-controlled studies enrolling a total of 49 individuals suggests that the supplement L-carnitine
Eucalyptus is a standard ingredient in cough drops and in oils sometimes added to humidifiers. A combination
A mixture of extracts from
The effects of other antioxidant supplements on COPD haven't yet been studied.
Evidence from several studies suggests that the standard approved diet, low in fat and high in carbohydrates, worsens exercise performance and lung function in people with COPD, whereas a
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Various herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For more information on these potential risks, see the individual drug article in the Drug Interactions
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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