(NaturalNews) At the national meeting of the American Thoracic Society (ATS), currently underway in Denver, much of the research presented has dealt so far with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
COPD is a serious and progressive disease that makes it difficult to breathe. The miserable symptoms it causes include coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
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. The disease can prevent sufferers from even doing basic tasks like walking and cooking. And according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, there is "no cure and doctors don't know how to reverse the damage to the airways and lungs."
But here comes good and unexpected news from the ATS meeting.
In two separate studies, scientists have announced breakthroughs that can profoundly help people suffering with COPD. And the treatments are not from Big Pharma but involve 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 XCP are plants native to China -- including Ephedra vulgaris, Asarum heterothropoides and Acorus gramineus Soland.
Now 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. But Beijing scientists have found XCP can reduce these potentially dangerous winter exacerbations of COPD.
"We had 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," study author Yongjun Bian, MD, clinical researcher in the respiratory department of Gunag'anmen Hospital in Beijing, said in a media statement. "These data confirmed the beneficial effect of XCP on the prevention of winter COPD exacerbations."
To treat winter worsening of 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 randomized 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 XCP significantly reduced the frequency of winter exacerbation compared with patients treated with placebo," Dr. Bian concluded in the media statement. "XCP 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 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 and doctoral studentin the department of pneumology 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.
The results? 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.