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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 23:40 GMT 00:40 UK
Herbal asthma remedies 'unproven'
Lung capacity test
Many asthmatics take herbal treatments
There is little evidence to show that herbal remedies actually reduce the symptoms of asthma, researchers have found.

A recent survey from the National Asthma Campaign indicates that around two-thirds of those with mild asthma and around three-quarters of those with severe symptoms use herbal remedies - to control the illness or relieve wheezing and breathlessness.

A team from the University of Exeter examined the results of 17 clinical trials which tested the impact of herbs on asthma.

There is no fully convincing evidence for any of the herbal preparations described

University of Exeter researchers

Six of the trials focused on traditional Chinese medicines, and eight on Indian Ayurvedic medicines.

Three other trials looked at a Japanese Kampo medicine, marijuana, and dried ivy leaf extract.

Analysis of the data showed that most of the trials were of poor quality and lacked criteria required for a thorough scientific appraisal, say the researchers.

And among those that indicated some positive benefits, the flaws were such to cast doubt on the validity of the results.

Writing in the journal Thorax, the Exeter team say: "There is no fully convincing evidence for any of the herbal preparations described."

Side effects

They also warn that none of the herbal remedies referred to is likely to be free of side-effects. Some even interfere with prescribed drugs.

The jury is still out on the effect of herbal treatments for asthma

Dr John Harvey, British Thoracic Society

For instance, Gingko biloba, widely considered to be one of the safest of herbal medicines, has a range of possible side-effects as well as the potential to interfere with anticoagulant drugs.

The researchers say properly designed research is urgently needed to assess the real safety and treatment value of herbal medicines for asthma.

Dr John Harvey, of the British Thoracic Society (BTS), said: "The jury is still out on the effect of herbal treatments for asthma.

"Some remedies seem to have benefits - but none are totally free from side-effects or potential adverse reactions with other treatments."

Dr Harvey said there was no doubt that complementary therapy was becoming more popular with asthma patients.

"The time is right then for more rigorous trials to quantify the true role they can play alongside conventional drug treatments.

"This research is vitally needed so that patients can be far clearer about the safety and benefits of different herbal remedies. "

Seeking an alternative

Fiona Costello, asthma services manager for the National Asthma Campaign said: "We very much understand that people with asthma would ideally like an alternative to having to take regular medication to control their symptoms.

"Whilst we share their concerns, we have a duty to balance these concerns with the evidence currently available on how effective non-drug treatments are in controlling asthma symptoms.

"In general, complementary therapies, such as herbal medicines, have not been scientifically researched as extensively as conventional medicines."

Asthma is increasingly rapidly throughout the developed world.

The number of cases of the disease, which affects the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs, has risen by more than 50% in developed countries in the last 25 years.

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