Supplements, Herbal Treatments, and Antioxidants

Some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) use supplements, herbal treatments, or antioxidants as complementary therapy for treating their symptoms. Complementary therapy means they are used along with prescribed medicines and COPD treatment plans.1

It is very important for people to talk with their doctor before starting any supplements, herbal treatments, or antioxidants. This is because they can interact with some medicines in a way that may cause side effects or affect the way the medicines work. It is also possible to overdose on vitamins and supplements by taking too much. This can cause serious health problems.1

It is a good idea to be critical of any claims of an alternative medicine option that can cure or fully treat COPD. Many claims are not backed by science and may be trying to take advantage of people. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about a COPD treatment.1

What supplements are used for COPD?

The body needs certain vitamins and nutrients for its cells to function. Vitamins and nutrients are naturally found in the foods we eat. But some people may not get enough of them just through food. Your doctor may advise you to take supplements to ensure you are getting enough vitamins and nutrients.2

Some of the vitamins and nutritional supplements that may be helpful for people with COPD include vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids. People with COPD can have low levels of vitamin D. This may be because they do not get enough sun, which is an important source of vitamin D. It also may just be a natural side effect of aging.3,4

Some research has shown that vitamin D may be able to reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups. However, this is not proven. Vitamin D has been proven to help improve bone health. If blood tests show that you do not have enough vitamin D, your doctor might prescribe supplements. There are many food sources that naturally contain vitamin D, including:3,4

  • Fatty fish such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon
  • Lean meats
  • Cheese
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Beans

Omega-3 fatty acids are another substance naturally found in food. Omega-3 fatty acids have many important roles in our bodies. They may be able to help people with COPD, but this is not proven. Omega-3 fatty acids occur in foods such as:4,5

  • Fish including salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds and pumpkin seeds

Fish oil supplements are an alternative way to get omega-3 fatty acids. Talk with your doctor about whether they are right for you.4,5

Which herbal treatments are used for COPD?

Herbal treatments are a natural form of medicine that may be helpful for some people with COPD. Always discuss herbal treatments with your doctor before starting to take them. Herbal treatments are made from plants that may have health-related benefits.2
Herbal treatments that may help people with COPD include:2,4

  • Ginseng
  • Turmeric
  • Natural expectorants like ginger, eucalyptus, and peppermint

Ginseng is an herb that may help prevent lung infections. This can help prevent complications for people with COPD. However, it can interact in a harmful way with many types of medicines. For this reason, it is important to take ginseng only under the supervision of your doctor.4

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin. Curcumin is thought to help reduce inflammation and swelling. Some people believe it can help reduce swelling in the airways caused by COPD.2,4

Expectorants are a type of medicine that helps make mucus thinner and easier to cough up out of the lungs. This can help people with COPD clear their airways and breathe easier. Many herbs are thought to be natural expectorants, such as ginger, eucalyptus, or peppermint. Honey is also a natural expectorant.2,4

Which antioxidants are used for COPD?

Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against free radicals. Free radicals are created by our bodies, but they may damage and weaken cells in the body. Free radicals are thought to have a role in many diseases.6

Vitamins A, C, and E all act as antioxidants and may help people with COPD. These vitamins are naturally occurring in food. People who eat a healthy, balanced diet likely eat enough of these vitamins. However, some people with COPD may be advised to take supplements if they are not getting enough of those vitamins through food.4,6,7

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) also works as an antioxidant. It also triggers the production of other kinds of antioxidants. It can be used as a supplement or prescribed as a medicine for people with COPD.2,4

Some studies have suggested that NAC may relieve COPD symptoms. It also may thin mucus, which makes it easier to cough up. However, other studies have shown that NAC may not actually be that effective in relieving COPD symptoms. More research will be needed to learn more about the effects of NAC.2,4

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Written by: Juliette Daily │ Last reviewed: November 2021