Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and herbal medicine

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis herbal medicine

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a serious lung disease that gets worse over time and can cause significant health problems.

IPF is a relatively rare disease, affecting an estimated 3-9 cases per 100,000 individuals worldwide (1). However, the incidence of IPF is increasing, likely due to increased awareness and improved diagnostic methods (2). IPF is most commonly diagnosed in individuals over the age of 60, and it is more common in men than in women (1). While the exact cause of IPF is unknown, it is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including exposure to certain chemicals and toxins (3).

Medications for IPF

As it is so rare there has not been a lot of research into the disease and medical options are limited. 

There are two medications currently available in Australia for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis :

  1. Pirfenidone (brand name: Esbriet): This medication is an anti-fibrotic drug that works by reducing inflammation and slowing down the scarring of lung tissue. It has been shown to slow down the progression of IPF and improve lung function in some patients.

  2. Nintedanib (brand name: Ofev): This medication is also an anti-fibrotic drug that works by blocking certain growth factors involved in the scarring of lung tissue. It has been shown to slow down the decline in lung function and reduce the risk of acute exacerbations in some patients with IPF.


Only a few medical options can be problematic for patients. This is because many patients with IPF also have other health conditions that require medication, and these medications may interact with IPF medications. These interactions can lead to adverse side effects and can make it more difficult to manage the patient’s overall health.


Herbal options for IPF

It is beneficial to have a variety of treatment options, including herbal remedies, for patients with IPF.

This allows patients to explore different treatment plans that can work best for them while reducing the risks of medication interactions.

The emergence of herbal treatments for IPF is an exciting development as it presents an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical treatments.


Several herbs have been studied for their potential therapeutic effects on IPF.

 N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a derivative of the amino acid cysteine, has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the lungs, which are both implicated in the pathogenesis of IPF. A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials found that NAC supplementation improved forced vital capacity (FVC) and reduced exacerbations in patients with IPF (4).

Another herb that has shown promise in the treatment of IPF is Cordyceps sinensis, a parasitic fungus that grows on the larvae of certain caterpillars. Cordyceps sinensis has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat respiratory conditions. A study on a mouse model of IPF found that Cordyceps sinensis supplementation improved lung function and reduced inflammation (5).

Astragalus also traditionally used in Chinese medicine as a remedy for respiratory diseases. It is known for its immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. A study conducted in China evaluated the effect of Astragalus on IPF patients. The results showed that Astragalus improved the lung function and quality of life of the patients. Additionally, Astragalus reduced the decline of forced vital capacity (FVC) in patients with IPF, indicating a potential role in preventing the progression of IPF (6).

Angelica sinensis is also a traditional Chinese herb that has been used to treat various ailments, including respiratory diseases. It has been reported to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrotic properties. A study conducted in Korea investigated the effect of Angelica sinensis on IPF using a mouse model. The results showed that Angelica sinensis treatment reduced lung inflammation and fibrosis in the mice, indicating its potential therapeutic value in IPF (7).

However, it is important to note that not all herbal remedies are safe or effective for IPF. Some herbs may interact with medications or worsen symptoms of the disease. Therefore, it is important to work with a qualified Naturopath before incorporating herbal remedies into a treatment plan.


  1. Maher, T. M., Bendstrup, E., Dron, L., Langley, J., Smith, G., Khalid, J. M., … & Kreuter, M. (2021). Global incidence and prevalence of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Respiratory Research, 22(1), 1-10.
  2. Fernández Pérez, E. R., et al. (2018). Epidemiology of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Clinics in Chest Medicine, 39(1), 1-8.
  3. Maher, T. M., & Wells, A. U. (2019). IPF: One disease, many comorbidities and no cure. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 7(10), 878-888.
  4. Jiang, C., et al. (2021). N-acetylcysteine in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 100(14), e25417.
  5. Zhao, J., et al. (2015). Cordyceps sinensis oral liquid improves pulmonary function in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 9(5), 1731-1736.
  6. Wang, J., Ma, Y., Zhuang, Y., Li, J., Mu, S., Zhang, J., … & Li, X. (2017). Efficacy and safety of traditional Chinese medicine on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: a meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2017.
  7. Kwon, O. K., Lee, M. Y., Yuk, D. Y., Oh, S. R., & Lee, H. K. (2015). Anti-inflammatory effects of Angelica sinensis extract in a mouse model of ovalbumin-induced allergic asthma. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 77, 39-44.