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Asthma and Chronic Lung Diseases- Getting Healthy Naturally


Rosalba Courtney ND, DO, PhD

Natural Health Strategies for Asthma and Chronic Lungs Disease

Medical treatments for asthma and chronic respiratory diseases, such as COPD and Emphysema have improved over the years and many people can live full lives with minimal symptoms. However as many as 50% people with chronic asthma (1)  do not have good control of their breathing or their health either because they don’t regularly take their prescribed medications or because prescription medications are not enough to fully control their symptoms.  COPD is a chronic and progressive condition that needs a comprehensive strategy to ensure ideal health outcomes.  Many people with these conditions want to do as much as they can be live well,  often  seeking out complementary medicines and natural therapies such as breathing training, diet, herbs, massage and other therapies. 

Complementary natural medicine treatments for asthma and COPD include herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, breathing therapy, relaxation, mindfulness, hands-on therapy, strength and fitness training, Yoga and Tai Chi.  There is research evidence for effectiveness of many of these therapies, some stronger than others.  Making sense of what to use and when can be very confusing for the consumer and the guidance of a trusted experienced integrative health practitioner who is up to date on the research is very helpful for navigating these waters.  

Focus on the basics-

For people with asthma and chronic respiratory disease its important to start by optimizing basics such as diet, exercise and stress reduction. These lifestyle factors all work together to reduce inflammation, improve immune function, enhance energy metabolism, reduce breathlessness and prevent deteriorating health. 


Making sure your diet is high in fruits, vegetables, good fats, unprocessed grains and legumes and good quality protein while being low in processed foods, sugars and chemical additives is essential. 


Exercise that promotes general strength and fitness is also essential. Many people with chronic respiratory illness avoid exercise, yet improved fitness and muscles strength are proven strategies for reducing breathlessness, maintaining energy and reducing inflammation.

Relaxation, Meditation, Stress Reduction

Regular practice of relaxation, meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction techniques also have a huge influence on inflammation, health and the impact that the respiratory diseases have on your quality of life.  People with respiratory illness have about 4x higher incidence of anxiety and panic disorder so having a toolkit of self-regulation strategies to calm the brain and balance the nervous system is particularly important. 

Breathing therapy

Breathing exercises can also be very helpful in the management of asthma.

Breathing retaining, relaxation and manual therapy can improve dysfunctional breathing.   Research has shown that after breathing training asthmatics often have less symptoms, less medication and better quality of life (2-4).

Dysfunctional Breathing  

Dysfunctional breathing  increases symptoms and reduces quality of life in many people with chronic respiratory illnesses.

When a person has dysfunctional breathing the following  things can occur-

  • ·        Breathing muscles become tense, weak and poorly co-ordinated
  • ·        The rib cage becomes tight and does not expand well
  • ·        The diaphragm becomes tense, short and weak
  • ·        The  upper rib cage and shoulder muscles become the dominant breathing muscles
  • ·        Chemical regulation of  breathing becomes  abnormal leading to chronic  hyperventilation and pH abnormalities.
  • ·        The lungs become hyperinflated
  • ·        Also there is often  a mismatch between how much air a person thinks they need and the actual amount they actually require.  Dysfunctional breathing leads to    It lead to disproportionate breathlessness and other symptoms that do not respond to asthma medication.

 Hyperventilation, which is one type of dysfunctional breathing can make the airways more inflamed and susceptible to spasm in response to triggers.

 Integrative Breathing Therapy –

Integrative breathing therapy is comprehensive breathing retraining that works on several levels to correct dysfunctional breathing. It trains breathing by resetting the motor control of breathing muscles,  normalising CO2 setpoints and  set-points of breathing and  breathing of the brain, nervous system and breathing control system to restore functional brething.  These can be combined with relaxation, strength and fitness training and manual therapy such as osteopathy, massage and physiotherapy.

Treatment begins with a thorough assessment for presence of acute or chronic hyperventilation, breathing pattern disorders, poor breathing habits and stress related breathing issues.

After breathing assessment patients are taught a range of breathing techniques that are modified as necessary to ensure that all key aspects of breathing functionality are optimized.  

Integrative Breathing Therapy is available in individual sessions and after initial assessment you can also complete the IBT program in a small group class.


1.            Demoley P, Gueron B, Annunziata K, al e. Update of asthma control in 5 European countries. European Respiratory Review. 2010;19:150-7.

2.            Grammatopoulou EP, Skordilis EK, Stavrou N, Myrianthefs P, Karteroliotis K, Baltopoulos G, et al. The Effect of Physiotherapy-Based Breathing Retraining on Asthma Control. Journal of Asthma. 2011;48(6):593-601.

3.            Thomas M, McKinley, R.K., Freeman, E., Foy, C., Prodger, P., Price, D.,. Breathing retraining for dysfunctional breathing in asthma; a randomised controlled trial. Thorax. 2003;58:110-5.

4.            Cowie R, Underwood MF, Reader PG. A randomised controlled trial of the Buteyko technique as an adjunct to conventional management of asthma. Respiratory Medicine. 2008;102(5):726-32.


References (9)

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