At a meeting in Denver, CO of the American Thoracic Society (ATS), the research presented dealt with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
COPD is a serious disease that makes it difficult to breathe. The frightening and miserable symptoms it causes include coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath and the feeling of a tight chest.
Usually caused by smoking and long-term exposure to irritants and pollution, COPD is a major cause of disability and the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.
It can prevent sufferers from even doing basic tasks like walking and cooking.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, there’s “no cure and doctors don’t know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs.”
But here comes good news from the American Thoracic Society meeting.
In two separate studies, scientists have announced breakthroughs that can dramatically help people suffering with COPD. And the treatments are not from Big Pharma, but from a vitamin and an ancient natural treatment.
Traditional Chinese medicine has used a paste known as Xiao Chuan, or XCP, for over a thousand years to help with breathing difficulties, including COPD and asthma.
The primary ingredients of Xiao Chuan are plants native to China, including Ephedra vulgaris, Asarum heterothropoides and Acorus gramineus Soland.
Now, even mainstream medicine is finding out that this herbal paste actually works.
COPD tends to get much worse in cold weather with symptoms triggered by breathing cold air. Some Beijing scientists have found Xiao Chuan can reduce these potentially dangerous winter exacerbations of COPD.
“We performed observational studies of XCP which had shown the paste decreased the frequency of COPD exacerbations, but this study is the first randomized controlled trial showing the effectiveness and safety of XCP in the prevention of COPD exacerbation. “These data confirmed the beneficial effect of XCP on the prevention of winter COPD exacerbations,” said the Chinese lead scientist.
To treat winter COPD and other breathing problems, the paste was applied in the summer on specific acupuncture points on the back. “The herbs contained in XCP and natural remedies may have some immune regulation properties, which in turn may aid in their ability to prevent COPD exacerbations,” Dr. Bian explained.
The researchers worked with 142 research subjects who were split into two groups. One group received either XCP, the other received a placebo paste. Both pastes were applied to the same acupuncture points four times during the eight-week period of July and August.
“Treatment with Xiao Chuan significantly reduced the frequency of winter exacerbation compared with the patients treated with placebo,” Dr. Bian concluded.
“Xiao Chuan patients experienced statistically significant reductions in steroid use and episodes of shortness of breath, and XCP patients also reported an improved quality of life compared to those treated with placebo.”
“Although this treatment has been used in China for thousands of years, no scientific studies had been performed on this conventional Chinese natural therapy,” he added. “This study results helped us standardize the treatment protocol and avoid adverse events in future clinical practice.”
In a separate study, researchers from Belgium revealed data showing that a vitamin D deficiency is common among patients with COPD and supplements of the vitamin may significantly help patients with the breath-robbing disease.
“Our study shows that high doses of vitamin D supplementation on top of a standard rehabilitation program improve the outcome in terms of exercise capacity and respiratory muscle strength,” Miek Hornikx, physiotherapist at the Katholieke University in Leuven, Belgium, said in a press statement.
“Low levels of vitamin D in the blood have been related with muscle weakness, a major target for respiratory rehabilitation and increased risk of falls,” she added.
“Since vitamin D is often depleted in patients with COPD, we wanted to see if vitamin D supplementation would have a beneficial effect on rehabilitation among these patients, perhaps by increasing muscle strength.”
The research team studied 50 COPD patients with a history of exacerbations who had been referred for rehabilitation and randomly assigned them to receive either a monthly dose of vitamin D or placebo. Patients receiving vitamin D were given 100,000 IUs (international units) in a monthly dose (far above U.S. recommended daily allowance of 600 daily IUS of vitamin D).
All the research subjects participated in a pulmonary rehabilitation program for three months. Both at the beginning of the rehabilitation and when it concluded, the scientists measured peripheral and respiratory muscle strength, exercise capacity and vitamin D levels.
Guess what the results were… The patients treated with vitamin D had significant improvement in exercise capacity and respiratory muscle strength compared to those in the placebo group.
“These results support the idea that correcting vitamin D deficiency by adding vitamin D supplements to training programs allows COPD patients to achieve better results from rehabilitation, including improvements in muscle strength and exercise capacity,” Ms. Hornikx said.