Natural health strategies for asthma and chronic lung disease

Natural health strategies for asthma and chronic lung 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.

Many people with these conditions want to do as much as they can to be 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. 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 it’s important to start by optimising 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 retraining, 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 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 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 set-points and set-points of breathing and of the brain, nervous system and breathing control system to restore functional breathing.

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
  • stress related breathing issues.

Breathing techniques

After breathing assessment patients are taught a range of breathing techniques, modified as necessary for the individual to ensure that all key aspects of breathing functionality are optimised.

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.

Dr Rosalba Courtney

Dr Rosalba Courtney

Dr. Rosalba Courtney is a highly experienced Osteopath, Naturopath and Breathing Therapist with over 35 years experience. An important part of her work involves helping adults and children with breathing and sleep disorders. She is available by appointment at Lotus Health.

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