When someone has bronchitis, the inflamed and irritated bronchial tubes in the lungs may cause symptoms such as a frequent cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, wheezing, and a whistling sound when breathing. (1) If the cough lasts for three months and occurs for two consecutive year or more, the diagnosis is chronic bronchitis. (8)
In the United States, acute bronchitis is among the top ten most common illnesses diagnosed in outpatients and a frequent reason people visit the emergency room, urgent care, or their primary care physician. About 5% of the adult population experience an acute bronchitis episode each year. The bronchitis cough can last for ten days to four weeks with a median cough duration of 18 days. (14) In addition to a medical history and physical exam, blood tests, chest x-ray, CT scan, or lung function tests can be used to diagnose chronic bronchitis. (1) Continue reading to learn more about the causes and natural treatments for bronchitis.
Causes of bronchitis
Inhaling tobacco smoke via cigarettes, cigars, and pipes is the main cause of chronic bronchitis in the United States, with estimates indicating that up to 75% of people with the illness are smokers or have smoked in the past. (1) Besides smoking, other factors can increase the risk of chronic bronchitis, including exposure to:
- Air pollution
- Chemical fumes, dust, or other environmental airborne toxins
- Mold or mildew, especially in the home
- Secondhand smoke (10)
Natural treatment for bronchitis
With treatment, the key focus is on how to get rid of the bronchitis cough. Many natural strategies can help accomplish this goal.
1. Consider medicinal herbs
Topping the list of herbs for bronchitis is curcumin. Curcumin has multiple mechanisms to help improve lung function including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects. It has been shown to help improve several lung illnesses such as acute lung injury, acute respiratory distress syndrome, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis. (3)(9) In a 2014 study involving patients with mild to moderate bronchial asthma, curcuming combined with standard therapy inhalers helped improve airway obstruction, indicated by the significant improvement in forced expiratory volume values. (1)
Another popular antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb for respiratory health is ginger. That’s because ginger has been shown to reduce inflammation in human bronchial epithelial cells, specifically with asthma. (18) Regarding asthma, ginger works similar to bronchodilators as it relaxes smooth muscle in the airways. (16)
Honey is not only a popular home remedy for helping with coughs, it is also backed by science. According to a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis, when it comes to improving symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, honey is superior to usual care including antibiotics. (2)
2. Correct vitamin deficiencies
Another treatment strategy to employ with chronic bronchitis is to correct key vitamin deficiencies, specifically deficiencies in vitamins A, D, and K.
The research is clear that vitamin D deficiency is associated with poor lung function. Patients with chronic lung disease such as asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, and pneumonia have a higher risk of being vitamin D deficient, however further research is needed to determine if vitamin D supplementation can prevent or treat chronic lung disease. (5) That being said, a 2016 randomized clinical trial also showed that high-dose vitamin D reduced the incidence of acute respiratory illness in long-term care residents. (6)
Vitamin A and vitamin K also play a significant role in lung health. A 2020 analysis of NHANES data showed that people with COPD and chronic bronchitis who consumed higher amounts of dark green vegetables high in vitamins A and K were significantly less likely to develop emphysema than those who ate the fewest amount of these nutrients. The researchers concluded that vitamins A and K are important in maintaining and enhancing lung health, which means correcting any deficiencies is critical. (13)
3. Focus on diet
Just as with any health condition, food can either help or harm. This is also true with chronic bronchitis and lung health in general.
Foods to focus on with bronchitis
In addition to increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables, the Mediterranean diet can also help enhance lung health because of its anti-inflammatory effects. In one study, following a Mediterranean diet cut the risk of developing COPD in half. (17) A 2012 randomized clinical trial also showed that there were small but consistent improvements in quality of life and spirometry in patients with asthma who followed a Mediterranean diet. (12) Consuming a Mediterranean diet may even help protect lung function in smokers. (7)
Foods to avoid with bronchitis
In general, because chronic bronchitis is an inflammatory condition, following an anti-inflammatory diet is important. This means reducing consumption of artificially sweetened drinks, high-fat foods, processed meats, refined grains/sugars, and salt. (15) Research suggests that consuming drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup, such as sweetened soft drinks, can reduce lung function and increase the risk of chronic bronchitis. (4)
The bottom line
A natural treatment approach has a lot to offer people with chronic bronchitis. Focusing on food and dietary supplements is a great place to start when it comes to identifying what is the best medicine for bronchitis. If you’re a patient, always consult your integrative healthcare provider before taking new supplements.
- Abidi, A. Gupta, S., Agarwal, M., Bhalla, H. L., & Saluja, M. (2014). Evaluation of the efficacy of curcumin as an add-on therapy in patients with bronchial asthma. J Clin Diagn Res, 8(8).
- Abuelgasim, H., Albury, C., & Lee, J. (2021). Effectiveness of hone for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, 26:57-64.
- Babaei, F., Nassiri-Asl, M., & Hosseinzadeh, H. (2020). Curcumin (a constituent of turmeric): new treatment option against COVID-19. Food Science & Nutrition, 8:5215-5227.
- DeChristopher, L., Uribarri, J., & Tucker, K. L. (2015). Intake of high fructose corn syrup sweetened soft drinks is associated with prevalent chronic bronchitis in US adults, ages 20-55 y. Nutr J, 14, 107.
- Gilbert, C. R., Arum, S. M., & Smith, C. M. (2009). Vitamin D deficiency and chronic lung disease. Can Respir J, 16(3), 75-80.
- Ginde, A. A., Blatchford, P., Breese, K., Zarrabi, L., Linnebur, S. A., Wallace, J. I., & Schwartz, R. S. (2016). High-dose monthly vitamin D for prevention of acute respiratory infection in older long-term care residents: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 65(3).
- Martin-Lujan, F., Catalin, R., Salamanca-Gonzalez, P., Sorli-Aguilar, M., Santigosa-Ayala, A., Valls-Zamora, R. M., Martin-Vergara, N., Canela-Armengol, T., Arija-Val, V., & Sola-Alberich, R. (2019). A clinical trial to evaluate the effect of the Mediterranean diet on smokers lung function. NPJ Prim Care Respir Med, 29:40.
- Mejza, F. Gnatiuc, L., Buist, A. S., Vollmer, W. M., Lamprecht, B., Obaseki, D. O., Nastalek, P., Nizankowska-Mogilnicka, E., & Burney, P. (2017). Prevalence and burden of chronic bronchitis symptoms: results from the BOLD study. European Respiratory Journal, 50(5).
- National Institutes of Health Medline Plus. (2021, August 24). Chronic bronchitis. https://medlineplus.gov/chronicbronchitis.html
- Pahwa, P., Karunanayake, C. P., Rennie, D. C., Lawson, J. A., Ramsden, V. R., McMullin, K., Gardipy, P. J., MacDonald, J., Abonyi, S., Epikenew, J., Dosman, J. A., & the First Nations Lung Health Project Research Team. (2017). Prevalence and associated risk factors of chronic bronchitis in First Nations people. BMC Pulmonary Medicine, 17:95.
- Rana, S. V., Pal, R., Vaiphei, K., Sharma, S. K., & Ola, R. P. (2011). Garlic in health and disease. Nutrition Research Reviews, 24(1), 60-71.
- Sexton, P., Black, P., Metcalf, P., Wall, C. R., & Ley, S. (2012). Influence of Mediterranean diet on asthma symptoms, lung function, and systemic inflammation: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Asthma, 50(1).
- Shen, T., Bimali, M., Faramawi, M., & Orloff, M. S. (2020). Consumption of vitamin K and vitamin A are associated with reduced risk of developing emphysema: NHANES 2007-2016. Frontiers in Nutrition, 7, 47.
- Singh, A., Avula, A., & Zahn, E. (2022). Acute bronchitis. StatPearls. Feb 17.
- Stromsnes, K., Correas, A. G., Lehmann, J., Gambini, J., & Olaso-Gonzalez, G. (2021). Anti-inflammatory properties of diet: role in healthy aging. Biomedicines, 9(8), 922.
- Townsend, E. A., Siviski, M. E., Zhang, Y., Xu, C., Hoonjan, B., & Emala, C. W. (2013). Effects of ginger and its constituents on airway smooth muscle relaxation and calcium regulation. American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, 48(2), 157-163.
- Varraso, R., Fung, T. T., Hu, F. B., Willett, W., & Camargo, C. A. (2007). Prospective study of dietary patterns and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among US men. Thorax, 62(9), 786-791.
- Yocum, G. T., Hwang, J. J., Mikami, M., Danielsson, J., Kuforiji, A. S., & Emala, C. W. (2020). Ginger and its bioactive component 6-shogaol mitigate lung inflammation in murine asthma model. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol, 318(2).