Dr. Li is among a group of doctors who believe that herbal medicine can help treat food allergies and asthma. In fact, some doctors argue that these herbal treatments may do a better job of treating asthma and food allergy than the regimens currently prescribed by doctors in this country.
Researchers have developed an armament of medicines to help people live with asthma, and inhaled steroids are the primary treatment. The downside to steroid treatment is that it can cause negative side effects. "If you use even inhaled steroids very long, it could possibly affect growth and immune-suppression," says Li. And that's one reason parents are showing such strong interest in alternative treatments like herbal medicine. Last year, one study found that 60% of children with asthma have received an alternative medicine.
Research breakthroughs: Allergy immunology researchers are hard at work testing herbal medicine in a clinical setting. Such alternative treatments are a matter of great scholarly interest right now. At Mount Sinai alone, Dr. Li is overseeing two FDA-approved clinical studies, one with benefits for asthma sufferers and one for people with food allergy.
Li and her colleagues have developed a promising formula they call Anti-Asthma Herbal Medicine Intervention (ASHMI). "The goal of our testing is to see if this formula can reduce or replace cortical steroids," says Li. In phase one of the trial, they tested for safety; the results showed that ASHMI was safe, and well-tolerated by the patients. In phase two, the researchers will test the formula's efficacy - in other words, "whether ASHMI can reduce or even replace cortical steroids," says Li.
Li's team has produced another formula, Food Allergy Herbal Formula 2 (FAHF 2), which is designed to help people who are allergic to peanut, tree nuts, fish or shellfish. Unlike current responses to food allergy, which respond only after the patient has ingested the food and is having an allergic reaction, FAHF 2 would work preventively. "Our formula can block allergic reactions to food," says Li, "and we're finding that the dose can last six months."