If you've spent much time at all reading about COPD online, you've probably come across articles and advertisements for “natural” therapies and alternative treatments for COPD. These include things like vitamin supplements, lung detox cleanses, and unconventional medical treatments (like stem cell therapy) that claim to relieve COPD symptoms, regenerate lung function, or even cure chronic lung disease.
These treatments might seem promising at first glance, but the vast majority of “alternative” COPD treatments just don't live up to the hype. Most are unproven, dis-proven, or simply have very little, if any, real health benefits to offer at all.
However, the hope (however false) that these treatments offer is undeniably—and understandably—enticing to many people with COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases. The appeal is even stronger for patients struggling with severe breathing symptoms who don't get the results they want from conventional treatments for lung disease.
Because of this, it's no wonder that many people with COPD and other chronic health conditions turn to “natural” and alternative treatments for relief. Unfortunately, even though many of these treatments (e.g. vitamin supplements) might seem harmless, they can be risky and even dangerous in ways that you might not expect.
In this post, we're going to take a look at some of the most popular “natural” and alternative COPD treatments to see whether they work as advertised and what they're all about. We'll do our best to take an objective approach that considers both the available research on each “treatment” as well as expert reviews and opinions on how safe and effective the therapy is.
We'll also discuss some simple strategies that can help you recognize dubious treatments and unreliable health advice in general. That way you can better protect yourself from all kinds of health and disease misinformation, not just the stuff related to COPD and respiratory disease.
Recognizing & Understanding COPD Treatment Scams
Lots of people are interested in the idea of “natural” or “alternative” medicine, and its a particularly common topic to stumble upon online. And while some of these treatments do have some proven benefits, most of them don't meet the standards required to qualify as a valid treatment for COPD.
Unfortunately, figuring out what works and what doesn't isn't easy, especially in the murky waters of social media and amid the explosion of health product endorsements online. Let's take a closer look at this phenomenon and how it can lead well-meaning people to spread misinformation that exploits the hopes of people suffering from COPD and other chronic health conditions.
Misinformation Can Be Sneaky: Beware of What You Read Online
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You can find ads, articles, and social media posts making untrue claims about dubious COPD treatments in just about every corner of the internet—often right alongside valid information about proven COPD treatments. Without further investigation, it's impossible to tell what's legitimate, what's inaccurate, and what's a downright scam.
This is especially difficult when misinformation is posted with good intent by well-meaning people who believe it to be true. After all, health, disease, and disease treatment are all extremely complex topics that take a great deal of experience and expertise to fully understand.
There are also bad actors who intentionally peddle false treatments in order to take advantage of patients, caregivers, and loved ones seeking alternative solutions for their health problems. They deliberately twist the truth by misrepresenting science and cherry-picking data to make their “treatments” sound more legitimate or effective than they really are.
Unfortunately, the internet is the perfect environment for misinformation to spread and multiply, a fact that scammers and snake oil salesman are all too eager to exploit. It allows them to not only spread their lies with little pushback, but also reach a massive audience of people with minimal effort and expense.
That's why you should never take endorsements for natural, alternative, or novel COPD therapies at their word; always take the time to investigate and verify first. Fortunately, there are plenty of expert resources that can help us better understand the science behind these “treatments” and determine which ones are legitimate and what's too good to be true.
We consulted a large number of academic studies and other expert resources for this guide, and you'll find the links to all these sources sprinkled throughout the following sections. For even more information about COPD treatments and how to manage your COPD symptoms, check out our large repository of practical COPD guides in our Respiratory Resource Center.
The Different Flavors of COPD Treatment Scams
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Natural and alternative COPD treatments (whether legitimate or sham) aren't limited to any particular type or category. Just as legitimate COPD treatments take several different forms (e.g. medication, diet & lifestyle changes, etc), you can find alternative treatments that fit each of those categories and more.
For the sake of this guide, we're going to group the most common natural and alternative COPD treatments into four different categories. This lets us more easily compare alternative treatments with common characteristics and tease out the differences between those that work and those that don't.
Here's a quick summary of the four main types of natural and alternative COPD treatments you're likely to come across online:
- Supplements & Nutrition-Based Treatments: These include specific vitamins, herbs, and other supplements that advocates claim can relieve COPD symptoms or improve the disease itself in some way.
- Lung “Detox” Treatments: These are treatments that claim to cleanse your lungs (and therefore make them healthier & relieve respiratory symptoms) by getting rid of toxins or other supposedly harmful substances from your lungs.
- Lifestyle remedies: These include activities, habits, and lifestyle changes that are claimed to relieve COPD symptoms or otherwise improve the disease.
- Stem Cell Treatments: These are cellular therapies involving stem cells—usually offered by private clinics—that are advertised to reduce lung disease symptoms or reverse the course of COPD.
Measuring The Merits of Alternative Treatments for COPD
It's important to acknowledge that evaluating disease treatments is a complicated and nuanced process. It's involves not only determining if a treatment works, but how it works, how well it works, and if the potential benefits are worth the potential risks.
It often takes years of research and expert analysis to evaluate a new treatment, and the answers are often not clear cut. That's why we have to consider a spectrum of possibilities for natural and alternative COPD treatments, including the possibility that some treatments might have marginal benefits even if they don't live up to the promises that the people promoting the treatments make.
For each treatment we discuss in this guide, we'll present a brief overview of the available research and what that research means for people with COPD. Our goal is to give you a better idea of each treatment's overall effectiveness and whether or not it has proven merit as a treatment for COPD.
Keep in mind that what we've included in this guide is just a snapshot of all the available information out there on these topics. It is not a comprehensive guide, and it's certainly not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
It's always best to consult your doctor or other specialists involved in your treatment who know the most about your particular health needs. They can offer the best advice about what kinds of medications, supplements, and other treatments are right for you.
A Note on Conventional Medicine
Because the point of this guide is to identify unproven or “sham” COPD treatments, we won't be talking much about “conventional” COPD treatments in this guide. Treatments used in standard COPD healthcare—such as inhalers, antibiotics, and steroid medications—have already been thoroughly vetted by experts and are widely accepted as the most effective ways to treat COPD.
In this guide, we're focusing instead on non-traditional remedies: things that are not usually considered to be a standard part of COPD healthcare. Almost by definition, these remedies haven't (yet) met the high standard of evidence that medical experts generally require before incorporating a treatment into conventional medical care.
In this guide, we'll attempt to untangle which—if any—of the most popular natural and alternative COPD remedies actually have any merit, as well as which ones are dangerous, disproven, or downright scams. We'll also discuss some of the common fallacies and science misinterpretations that underlie many these false health claims.
If you're interested in learning more about conventional COPD treatments, we've included links to several guides on the topic below. These guides will give you a more in-depth look at all the major COPD therapies, including the research on why, how, and how well the treatments work.
- How Supplemental Oxygen Therapy Treats COPD
- How Antibiotics Work to Treat COPD Exacerbations
- How COPD Inhalers Work: An In-Depth Look at Long-acting and Short-acting Bronchodilators
- How Steroid Medications Work to Treat COPD
A Note on Self-Prescribing Natural & Alternative Treatments
While we will continue point this out in specific examples throughout this guide, we think think it's important to emphasize how risky is can be to start any kind of natural or alternative treatment on your own. “Natural” does not mean harmless, and even the most benign-sounding natural and alternative “treatments” can come with some serious risks.
For example, one 2015 study found that there is an average of 23,000 emergency room visits every year in the US related to dietary supplements alone. Other studies have found that some “natural” and herbal supplements were tainted with potentially dangerous prescription drugs (you can find a list of these products here on the FDA's website).
That said, many natural and alternative treatments are available right over the counter at your local pharmacy or grocery store. But just because they're widely available doesn't mean they work (or that they're safe), which is why it's always best to talk to your doctor before starting any kind of new health treatment— even if it's just a “natural” vitamin supplement or dietary routine.
Even if you do decide to go ahead and start a new treatment without your doctor's input, it's still very important to let your doctor know. Your doctor needs accurate, up-to-date information about your health to give you the best possible treatment, and that means he needs to know about every medication, vitamin, supplement, natural remedy, and alternative treatment you use.
Nutritional Supplements & Herbal Treatments for COPD: Do They Work?
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If you've ever taken a look at the supplement aisle at your local grocery store or pharmacy, you've probably noticed the rows and rows of supplements on sale. If you take the claims on the bottle at face value, it seems like there's a supplement for everything from anxiety and depression to digestive issues and chronic pain.
Supplements are by far the most popular category of natural treatments. This is no wonder since they're available just about everywhere and make such appealing claims. They're used by wide variety of people—both healthy and unhealthy—to treat an astonishingly wide variety of health conditions and concerns.
Supplements touted as COPD treatments are claimed to bestow a variety of different benefits including better lung function and reduced COPD symptoms like breathlessness and fatigue. Unfortunately, research on these treatments tends to come up with weak, disappointing, or inconsistent results.
That said, many supplements are relatively harmless and inexpensive, which is why so many people are willing to give them a try, even if they don't get concrete results. Polls show that 86% of Americans take supplements, while only 24% of them have a diagnosed nutrient deficiency.
In the following sections, we're going to take a closer look at some of the most popular categories of supplements for COPD. These include: vitamin & mineral supplements, herbal supplements, and anti-oxidant supplements.
Vitamin & Minerals Supplements: 7 Dubious “Natural” Remedies for COPD
Vitamin and mineral supplements are a tricky issue, because they definitely do have a legitimate benefits for some people in some situations. The problem is that they're often useless—and sometimes even harmful—when self-prescribed.
Most supplements are only proven to work when prescribed by a doctor for very specific conditions, such as confirmed nutrient deficiencies and complications of certain diseases. That means that, unless they're specifically recommended by your doctor, over-the-counter supplements are not likely to have any beneficial effect on your COPD.
Generally, most people only need enough vitamins and nutrients to meet the minimum threshold for what their body needs to function. In most cases, taking extra vitamins and nutrients beyond that threshold doesn't “enhance” the body's functioning—they just go to waste.
The same logic applies to “superfoods” and other nutrient-rich foods that are touted as having specific health effects. While eating healthy foods is important, eating any one specific healthy food generally isn't; you can get just as good of results from eating a balanced diet made up of a wide variety of different healthy foods.
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Of course, some people with COPD have nutrient deficiencies, and certain types of nutrient deficiencies are more common in people with COPD. The main problem with vitamin and mineral “remedies” for COPD is that they're not advertised as a treatment for a deficiency—they're claimed to have specific health effects all on their own.
In most cases, those claims are unsubstantiated; though research has found that some vitamins are correlated with improved COPD symptoms, they usually fail to find any causal link between taking vitamin supplements and improvements COPD.
Here's how one research review put it: “Although there are many studies that associate vitamins with improvement in lung function tests, there is no clear evidence of the benefit of vitamin supplements. Most studies regarding supplements showed no benefit of multivitamin supplementation in symptoms, spirometric function or hospitalization for COPD.”
But for the sake of of debunking some common natural COPD remedy myths, let's take a closer look at some of the most common vitamin and mineral remedies touted as treatments for COPD.
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Vitamin D is probably the most frequently recommended supplement for COPD. This is partially because people with COPD have a higher-than-average incidence of vitamin D deficiency, but also because vitamin D is known to play an important role in immune system function and general respiratory health.
Proponents of vitamin D sometimes claim that vitamin D supplements can improve breathing function, reduce exacerbations, and relieve other symptoms of COPD. This idea is supported by research that has found improvements in some patients' COPD symptoms after giving those patients supplements (or injections) containing vitamin D.
However, studies that actually measure patients' vitamin D levels before the start of vitamin D treatment have repeatedly found that the only patients who benefit are the ones who started out deficient in vitamin D. This indicates that vitamin D supplements don't improve general, baseline COPD symptoms, but rather symptoms that have been exacerbated by a vitamin D deficiency.
Even so, there is some discussion in the medical community about whether or not it's worth it to recommend vitamin D supplements to patients as a preventative measure against vitamin D deficiency. That's because minor vitamin D deficiencies (often referred to as “vitamin D insufficiencies”) are relatively common, and because vitamin D supplements are relatively safe in doses up to 2,000 IU (or 50 mcg) daily.
Ultimately, however, the only COPD patients who are likely to benefit from vitamin D supplements are those who are not getting enough vitamin D in the first place. Since most people get up to 90% of their vitamin D from the sun, you might have a higher risk of being deficient if you have don't spend much time outside or you don't get enough of the right kind of sunlight where you live.
If you think you might be deficient in vitamin D, the first step is to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Depending on the circumstances, your doctor might recommend formally testing your vitamin D levels or he might treat you for a deficiency based on your symptoms and risk factors alone.
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Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays an important role in lung function and breathing, and some studies have even found correlation between low magnesium levels and an increased risk of COPD exacerbations. Because of this, it's no surprise that magnesium supplements are frequently touted as a natural treatment for COPD.
Unfortunately, while intravenous magnesium is considered a valid COPD treatment for patients hospitalized with COPD exacerbations, there is no evidence that magnesium supplements have any benefit for people with asthma or COPD. In fact, some research suggests that taking too much magnesium can have respiratory side effects that could be particularly dangerous for people with respiratory diseases.
One the most serious potential side effects is pulmonary edema, which causes the lungs to fill up with fluid and can lead to acute respiratory distress. Another danger of magnesium is that it interacts with many common medications (e.g. by making them less effective), including antibiotics, blood thinners, and medications used to treat osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Because of these and other risks—and the fact that there's little or no evidence of benefit—magnesium supplements are not generally recommended for the general public or for people with COPD. Despite this, research shows that up to one third of COPD patients might be deficient in magnesium, and magnesium supplements are considered to be relatively safe in doses of up to 350mg daily daily (for adults).
However, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't still talk to your doctor before starting magnesium supplements, even if you think that you're magnesium deficient. It's important to get your doctor's opinion on whether magnesium supplements are safe for your condition and to make sure that they won't interfere with any other medications you take.
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Calcium is a mineral that's often included in lists of natural supplements and treatments for COPD. This is likely because it's an important nutrient for preventing osteoporosis, which is a condition that's especially common in older adults and people with COPD.
Unfortunately, this leads some to mistake calcium as a type of COPD treatment, despite the fact that calcium doesn't have any kind of direct impact on COPD or its symptoms. However, osteoporosis can cause injuries and mobility difficulties that can significantly effect your ability to manage your COPD.
If you don't get enough calcium, your bones can start to lose density, which makes them brittle and weak. This can lead to a variety of detrimental health effects—including instability, falls, bone fractures, and loss of physical mobility—that can lead to a downward spiral of poor health and worsened COPD.
The best way to make sure you're meeting your daily calcium requirements (about 1,200 mg daily for older adults) is to eat calcium-rich foods like dairy and calcium-fortified foods. Calcium supplements might also help, but your body can't absorb calcium from supplements as well as it can absorb calcium in food.
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Taking too much calcium can also be dangerous, and even normal amounts can be risky for people with certain health conditions (like hypercalcemia). Because of this, many doctors recommend avoiding calcium supplements if possible and eat plenty of calcium-rich foods instead.
It's important to note that calcium and vitamin D work together to build up bone density, so you need to get an adequate amount of both nutrients to maintain healthy bones. This means that you might still be at risk for osteoporosis if you get enough calcium in your diet but happen to also be deficient in vitamin D.
Unlike vitamin D, however, there is no evidence that being deficient in calcium can worsen respiratory symptoms or affect COPD at all. That doesn't mean that calcium isn't important—it definitely is—but there's no reason to believe that taking calcium supplements will improve your COPD.
If you're worried you might be calcium deficient, the best thing to do is to to talk with your doctor, who can evaluate your risk for calcium deficiency and—if necessary—get you tested and treated. This is also a good opportunity to get screened for osteoporosis if your age or other factors suggest you might be at risk.
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L-carnitine is an amino acid analogue that mimics a natural amino acid produced by the body. This amino acid plays several important roles in metabolism, including breaking down nutrients to fuel bodily functions and helping the body recover after physical exertion.
Research shows diets high in L-carnitine in are associated with several measures of improved exercise performance and recovery. The results of research on L-carnitine supplements, however, has not been very consistent, though there is some evidence that it might have benefits for certain groups of people (e.g. young athletes, older adults, and people with peripheral artery disease.)
One research review, for instance, identified several studies that found L-carnitine supplements were beneficial for increasing muscle gain, reducing muscle soreness, and reducing exercise-related fatigue. Others, however, have found no benefits, and argue that no definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Given this promising—yet inconsistent—data, it makes sense to consider L-carnitine as a potential treatment for COPD patients who struggle to tolerate exercise because of their COPD. There are only a few, small studies on the topic, though they suggest that L-carnitine might be beneficial for COPD patients undergoing exercise training.
One study, for instance, found that COPD patients who took L-carnitine supplements over the course of a whole-body respiratory training program experienced greater improvements in exercise tolerance and breathing strength compared to patients who did the exercise program alone. Another study found that L-carnitine supplementation improved COPD patients' scores on the 6-minute walk test—a common method for measuring exercise endurance.
As far as safety goes, L-carnitine isconsidered to be relatively safe in doses up to 2 grams per day. However, that doesn't mean you won't experience any side effects; gastrointestinal distress including nausea, diarrhea, and upset stomach are common, and some researchers worry L-carnitine could increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Overall, there's just not enough evidence to say whether or not L-carnitine has any definite benefits, though there is some evidence that it could improve exercise outcomes in people with COPD. However, due to the potential for side effects and cardiovascular problems, medical professionals generally do not recommend L-carnitine as a COPD treatment.
Herbal supplements are, essentially, any “remedies” made directly from plants. They can contain a variety of different plant materials—including whole plants, mixtures of plants, and plant extracts—and they can come in a variety of different forms, including pills, teas, ground-up plant matter, alcohol tinctures, and oils (often known as “essential oils”).
Unlike vitamin and mineral supplements, which are limited to the realm of dietary nutrients, herbal supplements can contain a wide variety of chemical substances. Some of these substances are inert (meaning they have no measurable effects on the body), while others contain active ingredients that can have negative, neutral, or beneficial effects.
A lot of people think that herbal supplements are safer or more “natural” than pharmaceutical medications, but unfortunately this isn't always true. In fact, it's precisely this misunderstanding that can lead to dangerous drug interactions or cause people to ignore potentially serious side effects.
In the United States, herbal remedies are poorly regulated; like other supplements, they're not held to the same standards as drugs and medications. This gives herbal supplement manufacturers the leeway to not only make misleading claims without evidence, but also to sell products that aren't what they claim.
Several studies have tested the contents of herbal supplements and found that the contents don't match the ones on the ingredient list. Some had too much or too little of certain ingredients, while one investigation found that 79% of herbal supplements didn't contain any of the plants advertised on the label at all!
Since many herbal supplements are biologically active, this can very dangerous for people managing complex, chronic diseases like COPD. Taking the wrong herbal supplement could make certain prescription medications (including antibiotics) less effective or cause side effects that make it more difficult to manage the disease.
So far, there is not enough evidence to say that any commonly-used herbal product is safe and effective enough to recommend as a treatment. This includes herbal supplements sometimes touted as COPD treatments, including:
Though a few herbs (such as ginseng) have shown some modest benefits in some studies, those benefits only appear in studies that compare patients using herbal treatments to patients who are getting no treatment at all. When those same herbal treatments are compared to conventional COPD treatments, studies find no difference between patients getting conventional treatment plus herbal therapies and patients getting conventional treatment alone.
Because of their proven risks (i.e. drug interactions) and the lack of worthwhile benefits, doctors generally don't recommend herbal supplements to people with COPD. If you're considering taking them anyway, just make sure to discuss it with your doctor and tell him about all the herbs and supplements you use.
Even though we already know that herbal supplements don't really cut it, it's worth taking a quick look at one category of herbal remedies in particular: essential oils. Thought there's very little evidence to back them up as any kind of health treatment, they are still some of the most popular, well-known, and heavily-promoted “natural” treatments out there today.
There's no questions that essential oils are biologically active; they contain a highly-concentrated mixture of organic compounds that can have a variety of different effects in the body. Unfortunately, essential oil advocates tend to exaggerate the modest effects of these compounds and make unproven, fantastical claims about what they can do for your health.
There is a large body of research on essential oils and health, including the merits of aromatherapy and ingesting essential oils as a “supplement” or treatment for disease. Most studies have found that—while some essential oils may have some benefits in some situations—essential oils don't have reliable, specific, or significant enough benefits to warrant their use in medical treatment, including for COPD.
First of all, the contents and characteristics of essential oils vary widely; there's very little that's consistent or standardized about them. Though specific chemicals in essential oils can be isolated and standardized into doses, there's just no reason to do that without any strong evidence that essential oils work.
That said, there are plenty of chemicals that have isolated from plants, studied, and found to treat disease. In fact, that's exactly how many conventional drugs and medications have been developed—they're essentially standardized doses of chemicals that were discovered in plants.
These medications are made to be safer, more effective, and more consistent (for precise dosing) than the raw plant matter and plant extracts from which they were originally isolated. Even if essential oils did contain chemicals with beneficial medical properties, you're much better off taking well-regulated medications containing chemicals that rigorous research has already proven to work.
It's also important to consider that essential oils have some considerable risks. For example, using essential oils in aromatherapy releases volatile organic compounds which are known to irritate the lungs and worsen respiratory symptoms in people with lung diseases like asthma and COPD.
Even topical essential oils (essential oils used on the skin) have also been linked to a variety of negative outcomes, including skin irritation, increased risk of sunburn, hormone imbalance and even epileptic seizures.
You should also never consume essential oils or essential oil supplements because they can be extremely toxic, even in small amounts. In fact, as essential oils have become more popular, there's been a corresponding increase in accidental poisonings from essential oil ingestion and exposure.
Overall, you're much better off skipping the essential oils and herbal medicines and going straight to the better versions—conventional medicines that have undergone rigorous study, safety analysis, and have been determined by a consensus of experts to reliably work.
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Antioxidants make up a large category of chemicals that have been touted for decades as a treatment for a wide variety of health conditions, including COPD. This is based on the theory that anti-oxidants reduce a condition known as oxidative stress which is associated with a wide range of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and COPD.
Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of two important chemicals made in the body: anti-oxidants and reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species break down cells and organic tissues, while anti-oxidants work to curb the action of reactive oxygen species and keep them from damaging too many healthy cells.
Disease and other factors can cause there to be too many reactive oxygen species and too few anti-oxidants, resulting in oxidative stress. Over time, oxidative stress in the lungs and other parts of the body can cause long-term damage; it's even associated with lung function decline in people with COPD.
That's where the idea of anti-oxidants as a disease treatments comes from: theoretically, getting more anti-oxidants (via an anti-oxidant rich diet or taking anti-oxidant supplements) might help restore the balance between anti-oxidants and reactive oxygen species in the body, thereby reducing oxidative stress.
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This has led to an explosion of anti-oxidant products and treatments, from hair and skincare products to smoothies and supplement pills. Though many are labeled non-specifically, some tout specific types of anti-oxidants—of which there are many.
Here's are some of the most common anti-oxidant varieties that you might recognize:
- Essential oils
- Vitamins C, E, and A
- Polyphenols & Flavenoids (turmeric, circumin, resveratrol, catechin)
Unfortunately, despite the fact that a large numbers of studies have researched anti-oxidant treatments, their results have been inconsistent at best. Most studies conclude that anti-oxidants have little to no health benefits, even for diseases that are associated with oxidative stress (including COPD).
Still, some doctors recommend anti-oxidants as an off-label treatment, despite the lack of evidence and the the fact that they aren't risk free. Anti-oxidants can be dangerous in high doses, interact with certain medications, and they're associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.
Because of this, you should always approach anti-oxidant treatments with caution, and you should definitely talk to your doctor before starting any kind of anti-oxidant supplement routine. You should also be skeptical of any health claims you see about anti-oxidants, especially if they don't come from a reliable, expert source.
Other Alternative Treatments for COPD: Do They Work?
Lung Detox Treatments for Smoking & COPD
Lung “detoxing” is one of the most common—and the most dubious—pseudoscientific treatments that get promoted to people with COPD. Lung detox cleanses are also promoted to smokers (and former smokers) as a way to clear out toxins from the lungs, reduce the negative health effects of smoking, and/or to make the lungs recover faster after quitting smoking.
Lung “detox” treatments can come in a variety of different forms, from “detox drinks” to special diets and even substances you are meant to smoke or inhale, including oils, incense, and herbs. No matter what form a lung detox treatment comes in, however, you can be fairly confident that it just doesn't work.
What's more, some detox methods can be dangerous; some detox detox diets encourage unhealthy eating habits, for example, while some detox drinks are made from potentially harmful ingredients. Any detox method that involves burning, vaporizing, or inhaling any substance (e.g. essential oil diffusers) is much more cause lung irritation and worse COPD symptoms than it is to have any sort of beneficial effect.
Unfortunately, there is just no real or plausible way to “remove toxins” or “clean out” your lungs in the way that these detox treatments suggest. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that this kind of detoxification is even possible at all.
The lungs, like most of the body's organs, are self-cleaning; they simply don't need to be “detoxed” to stay healthy and toxin-free. Even if the lungs have been injured (e.g. by smoking), there's no special diet or concoction that can heal them. The only things that can are the body's built-in repair systems—and time.
Unfortunately, that means that there's no quick and easy cure for lung damage, and that pretty much all the lung “detox” remedies out there are nothing but scams. However, that doesn't mean that you're powerless over your lungs' well-being; living a healthy lifestyle and keeping up with your COPD treatments are the best things you can do to keep your lungs healthy and strong.
Even though you can't cure or can't reverse the effects of COPD, you can make sure you give your body and your lungs what they need to function properly—good sleep, regular exercise, nutritious food, and clean air to breathe. You can also prevent further injury by doing your best to avoid lung irritants, including. air pollution, noxious chemical fumes, and smoke.
If you are currently a smoker, your number one priority for lung health should be quitting smoking and staying quit, which is the only proven way to slow down the progression of COPD. Quitting can also make your COPD easier to manage by reducing your respiratory symptoms and reducing your risk of lung infections and COPD exacerbations.
If you've already quit smoking, then all you can do is keep doing your best to stay healthy, take your COPD medications, and follow your doctor's advice for managing your COPD. If you see advertisements or endorsements for lung detox treatments, it's best to ignore them and focus your efforts on proven strategies for taking care of your lungs.
Lifestyle Remedies for COPD
It's not unusual to come across “alternative” lifestyle remedies that claim to treat COPD. These include things like special restrictive diets (e.g. paleo diet), fitness fads (e.g. yoga), and performing daily rituals (e.g. sun-gazing).
While some of these alternative lifestyle “remedies” are perfectly fine and do have some health benefits, most of them are not considered viable COPD treatments for a reason. The reason is simply that there's not enough evidence to prove that making those specific lifestyle changes will actually provide any meaningful benefits for COPD patients—at least, not any that they wouldn't already get from standard care.
For instance, a fad diet or exercise program might have legitimate health benefits, but those benefits often result from the general change in lifestyle rather than that specific diet or exercise routine. You'd likely get the same benefits from any diet or exercise program that encouraged you to eat healthier foods or get regular physical activity.
Because of this, you should be skeptical whenever someone claims that a new or alternative lifestyle habit is “better” or “special” compared to others. Be doubly suspicious of lifestyle trends that claim to treat or improve a specific disease, especially if the the method is unusual or the benefits seem too good to be true.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to living a healthy lifestyle, and even if a particular method isn't “proven” to be the best, that doesn't mean it might not be worthwhile for you. For example, any physical activity that you enjoy and can commit to doing regularly (assuming it's safe and appropriate for your skill level) is better than a “proven” exercise routine that you hate and can't follow through with.
The point is that there are lots of different ways to live within the boundaries of healthy lifestyle, but it's best to focus on proven strategies rather than new and exciting fads. Here's a list of some of the major lifestyle factors that research has shown to be beneficial for people with COPD.
- Regular exercise (as appropriate for your age and physical condition)
- A well-balanced diet
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding respiratory irritants including smoke, air pollution, chemical irritants, and volatile organic compounds (VOC's)
- Pulmonary rehabilitation: a special exercise program designed by experts specifically for people with lung diseases like COPD
These lifestyle changes have been thoroughly studied and vetted by experts who have determined that they meet the standards of evidence required of legitimate medical therapies. By definition, however, these lifestyle treatments aren't “alternative” because they are routinely recommended by doctors as a part of standard COPD care.
When in doubt, you can always consult your doctor or a specialist in the particular field you're looking for advice. They can help you figure out what kinds of improvements you can make to your lifestyle and help you put together a concrete plan for success.
Low-Carb, High Fat Diets
Though it's still a topic of ongoing research, some medical organizations (including the national emphysema foundation and the American Lung Association) have recommend a low-carb, high-fat diet for people with COPD. The evidence to support these recommendation comes from a relatively small but promising body of research showing that the diet can improve lung function in people with COPD and other lung diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis).
The findings of these studies include:
- Low-carb diets result in less CO2 waste production and a lower respiratory rate.
- Low-carb diets improve COPD patient's objective lung function measurements (e.g. in spirometry tests) and increases blood oxygen levels.
- Well-known biological mechanisms (i.e. carbohydrate metabolism, CO2 waste production, and gas exchange in the lungs) can explain how eating a low-carb diet results in improved lung function.
To explain it simply, eating a low-carb diet puts less strain on the respiratory system compared to a diet high in carbs. Here's why:
One of the lungs' main functions is to get rid of carbon dioxide, which is a waste product that is created when your body breaks down the nutrients you eat. And out of the three main types of macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—breaking down carbohydrates creates the most carbon dioxide waste (while fat creates the least).
This means that if you eat a high-carb diet, your lungs have to work harder to process the large amounts of carbon dioxide it creates. A low-carb diet, on the other hand, means less carbon dioxide to process; this makes it easier for the lungs to keep up with the body's metabolism without having to go into overdrive.
Like most treatments, however, eating a low-carb, high-fat diet isn't right for everyone, and it doesn't come without risks. Any restrictive diet can be dangerous if you don't do it correctly, which is why you should talk to your doctor (and consider consulting a professional dietitian) before you begin a low-carb, high-fat diet or make any other major dietary change.
Stem Cell Therapy for COPD
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Stem cell therapy is an emerging field of research that's shown promise for treating a wide variety of diseases. But while valid stem cell treatments exist for some conditions, there is no viable stem cell treatment currently available for COPD.
This hasn't stopped a number of shady stem cell clinics from exploiting patients with unproven, ineffective, and sometimes dangerous stem cell treatments. These so-called “miracle treatments” claim to regenerate the lungs and reverse the course of the disease, two things that no COPD treatment has ever been proven to do.
These stem cell clinics are known for aggressive marketing, pushy sales tactics, and charging exorbitant out-of-pocket fees. And because the treatments aren't FDA approved or covered by insurance, many patients have gone into debt or had to crowd-fund these treatments which—in the end—don't even work.
Fortunately, these unethical practices and dubious stem cell clinics have received more attention and scrutiny in recent years. The author of one Nature article compared the industry to a metastatic cancer, and the FDA published a consumer update warning against experimental stem cell treatments that haven't been FDA approved.
The American Lung Association issued a similar advisory urging patients to beware of all stem cell treatments that claim to treat lung diseases (including COPD, pulmonary hypertension, and pulmonary fibrosis). It states, “Because of the potential for harm, the lack of any proven benefit, and the high fees that many of these programs charge, we caution you not to participate in these or any other unauthorized or unapproved stem cell administrations, unless independent, credible, reliable, and objective sources of information are available to substantiate the information and claims being made.”
Unfortunately, many people have already fallen victim to bogus stem cell therapies, as evidenced by a proposed class action lawsuit against the Lung Health Institute. The lawsuit accuses the private organization of scamming hundreds of lung disease patients at their US clinics, which administer (or have administered in the past) a variety of experimental stem cell therapies and other non-conventional cellular treatments.
Though it's not likely to happen anytime very soon, there is still hope researchers will someday develop a viable stem cell therapy for COPD. Until that time comes, however, you should be extremely wary of any claims you see about COPD stem cell therapy and steer clear of clinics that offer experimental treatments.
While natural and alternative COPD treatments can be very enticing, you should always be skeptical and critical about their claims. Treatments that appear to have merit on the surface often lack the evidence for safety, reliability, and efficacy that's needed to consider them worthwhile.
We hope that the information in this guide will help you avoid all manner of COPD treatment scams. We hope it also encourages you to evaluate alternative health treatments more critically in general, and helps you be more discerning about what kinds of “natural” treatments you use.
Of course, every person has a right to choose their medical treatments and how to manage their health. If you want good results, however, it's best to stick to proven treatments—stuff that's been thoroughly vetted by experts and approved for COPD care.
And perhaps the most important lesson to remember is that you should always include your doctor in any and all decisions you make about your health—especially those regarding COPD and other chronic diseases. Even if you think you have a legitimate solution to a health problem or symptom, getting a proper assessment and tailored treatment plan from your doctor is almost always better than trying to treat it on your own.