For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an incurable condition characterized by chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema, winter often brings a worsening of symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue and recurrent respiratory infections. Steroids help control symptoms but can have side effects... antibiotics fight infection but increase the risk for antibiotic resistance.

Good news: A recent study has provided scientific evidence of the effectiveness of a topical herbal remedy called Xiao Chuan paste (XCP), which has been used in China for more than 1,000 years to treat COPD and other breathing problems.

Researchers randomly assigned COPD patients to receive either XCP or a placebo paste. As is traditional, the paste was applied to three specific pairs of acupuncture points on the back...the treatment was given four times during an eight-week period in July and August. Then participants were monitored from November through February.

Results: Compared with patients who received the placebo, those who received XCP were significantly less likely to experience an exacerbation of symptoms requiring steroids, antibiotics and/or hospitalization, and they reported a significantly higher quality of life. The only side effect-a mild skin reaction that cleared up without treatment once XCP was discontinued—occurred in just 2% of users.

XCP is made from herbs native to China, including Asarum heterotropoides, Ephedra vulgaris and Acorus gramineus Soland. Researchers theorize that the herbs have properties that affect immune regulation.

You can learn more about XCP by consulting a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine who is knowledgeable about herbal therapies.

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