Herbal Decongestant

What Is It?
Several herbs can help relieve the swelling and stuffiness that make sinusitis, the common cold, or other respiratory complaints so uncomfortable. Most of these herbs work by opening up clogged nasal passages to ease breathing. And while they can certainly be bought and used individually, a blend of these botanicals provides the unique healing qualities of many different herbs–in just a single pill.

The mainstay for decongesting just about anything is the herb ephedra (also called by its traditional Chinese name Ma huang). This herb appears in most quality herbal decongestants. Its synthesized form, ephedrine, is actually the basis for many prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Look for products made with Chinese ephedra (Ephedra sinensis), which contains the most effective compounds.

In addition to the ephedra, herbal decongestants may include any of the following:

Ginger, dong quai, turmeric, and/or feverfew for their anti-inflammatory properties

Garlic as a natural antibiotic

Eyebrightand marshmallow to soothe irritated mucous membranes

Licorice to stimulate the adrenal glands and serve as a natural anti-inflammatory

Elderberryto act as an antiviral and anti-inflammatory

Echinacea as a general immune booster

Peppermint leaves and stems to supply the powerful decongestant, menthol, and eucalyptus leaves and branch tips to provide the decongestant, eucalyptol

Goldenseal to calm inflamed mucous membranes, boost levels of germ-fighting chemicals, and battle both viruses and bacteria directly by activating white blood cells

Dosage Information

Take 2 capsules every 4 hours as needed. Look for at least 100-150 mg ephedra per capsule, standardized to contain 5% to 6% ephedra.

General Interaction

Take care not to inadvertently increase your dose of ephedra by taking it with decongestant, cold or allergy medications that might contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.

If you are using other medications or nutritional supplements, especially over-the-counter “weight loss” or “energy enhancing” products, read the labels carefully. These products frequently contain ephedra. You’ll need to add this amount to the amount in your herbal decongestant to be sure you are within allowable daily dosage totals for ephedra.

Overall, the best approach for anyone concerned about possible interactions with a specific drug or dietary supplement is to refer to the separate herb entry in our WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library.

Cautions

Ephedra in particular is powerful substance found in many herbal decongestants and must be used with care. In fact, it has been the subject of government investigation to confirm its safety in over-the-counter products. Do not exceed the dose recommended on the label. See the ephedra entry in the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for more detailed information on this herb and the cautions associated with it.

Ephedra should only be used for acute sinus problems and nasal congestion that don’t respond to other treatments.

While ephedra is effective for relieving nasal congestion, it can raise blood pressure and lead to nervousness and insomnia in some people.

See individual entries in the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for cautions on specific ingredients contained in the particular herbal decongestant you buy.

Ailments-Dosage

Sinusitis 1-2 capsules every 4 hours as needed of a balanced blend of that usually contains ephedra as well as other botanicals, such as ginger, licorice, turmeric, feverfew, or dong quai

Doctor Recommendations
David Edelberg, M.D.

The herb ephedra (also called by its traditional Chinese name ma huang) is the mainstay for decongesting just about anything. Its synthesized form, ephedrine, is actually the basis for many prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Ephedra (often listed as pseudoephedrine) is also the active ingredient in any good herbal decongestant. Look for products made with Chinese ephedra (Ephedra sinensis), which contains the most effective compounds. In addition to the ephedra, herbal decongestants may include any of the following:

Ginger, dong quai, turmeric, and feverfew for their anti-inflammatory properties

Garlic and goldenseal as natural antibiotics

Eyebright and marshmallow to soothe irritation of mucous membranes

Licorice to stimulate the adrenal glands and serve as a natural anti-inflammatory

Elderberry to act as an antiviral and anti-inflammatory

Echinacea as a general immune booster You could certainly buy and use any of these herbs individually, but the beauty of a combination product is that you get the unique healing qualities of many different herbs–but only have to buy (and swallow) one pill.

OTHER SUGGESTIONS

It’s important that you remember that ephedra is powerful substance. You need to be careful not to double your dose by taking it with decongestant medications that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (check the label of any over-the-counter cold remedies for these ingredients as well). You’d also be wise to avoid anything containing caffeine. If any of the common side effects (nervousness, insomnia, heart palpitations, or paleness) becomes troublesome, reduce the amount of ephedra in your combination pill. There are a number of formulas available.

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