Are There Herbal Treatments for Pulmonary Fibrosis?

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Pulmonary fibrosis, or PF, occurs when the lining of your lungs becomes so scarred it cannot carry oxygen to the rest of your body. Each year approximately 48,000 American cases are diagnosed, according to the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis website. Herbs including marshmallow, ashwagandha, ginseng and suma are thought by some to relieve symptoms. Your doctor can advise you on whether herbs might be useful for you.

Pulmonary Fibrosis

Fibrosis, or scarring, happens when excess connective tissue gets deposited in the lungs. PF is an idiopathic disease, one with no known cause. PF may have roots in heredity, smoking, viruses, and industrial and environmental toxins such as silicone, insecticides and asbestos. PF is progressive and thought to be incurable. Your doctor may suggest medication, supplemental oxygen, pulmonary therapy or lung transplantation.

Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

Your physician may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids and cytotoxics to treat PF. For herbal options, ashwagandha is a subtropical fruit used for inflammation, writes David Winston in the 2007 volume “Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.” In addition, ashwagandha has a calming effect on the body, which can help you adapt to the stress of a chronic disease. The schisandra fruit, frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine, can help with asthma, coughs and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, Winston says. In addition, schisandra is thought to help with inflammation, nervousness and insomnia. Winston's assertion about schisandra's anti-flammatory properties is supported by a study reported in an April 2010 "Inflammation."

Herbs to Ease Fatigue

Exhaustion is a frequent symptom of any chronic lung disease, and may be provoked by oxygen deprivation and stress. Ginseng and suma are two plants that may help boost your energy. Ginseng root, an herbal stimulant, can improve stamina and ongoing fatigue, according to herbalist Michael Castleman, author of “The New Healing Herbs,” published in 2010. It also is thought to enhance cognition and immunity to colds. The suma plant hails from the tropics, where it is recommended to reduce nervous tension, boost immunity and provide oxygen to cells. According to Leslie Taylor, naturopath and author of the 2005 book “The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs,” suma, or Brazilian ginseng, also possesses tonic, anti-cancer and libido-stimulating properties. Taylor’s claim of suma’s effect on cancer is backed by a study that appeared in the March 2010 issue of “Experimental and Toxicological Pathology.”


Suma appears to have estrogenic properties, notes Taylor. If you have a hormone-sensitive cancer, such as breast, cervical, uterine or prostate cancer, you should avoid suma. Ginseng is a stimulating herb and may increase the effect of other stimulants such as caffeine and guarana. While schisandra seems to cause few side effects, you may experience loss of appetite, indigestion and rashes, cautions Castleman. Schisandra and ashwagandha are contraindicated for pregnant and nursing women. Talk to your doctor before using any herbal remedy, especially if you have health problems or are taking medications. Do not attempt to self-treat, and do continue to work with your doctor for treatment.