Leading Herb in Chinese Traditional Medicine
Used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is one herb that you just can't ignore. From improving energy levels to promoting heart health, this root offers benefits for almost every health-conscious individual. So, what is so wonderful about this herb?
Let's find out the answer to this question by learning about the many health benefits of astragalus root. But before we do that let's take a look at what exactly is astragalus root.
What is Astragalus Root?
Astragalus belongs to the legume family, Fabaceae, and there are over 3,000 species of this plant. However, not all of the species of this plant are used for medicinal purposes. The plant is mostly found in China.
According to the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a part of the US National Institute of Health (NIH), there are certain species of this plant which can be toxic for humans. For example, the locoweed species found in the US has been found to cause poisoning in animals. It contains the neurotoxin, swainsonine, which makes it dangerous for humans.
Astragalus membranaceus is the main species of the plant which is used for health and medicinal purposes. It is commonly referred as milk vetch. The Western world acknowledged the benefits of this century-old Chinese herb only in the 1980s. Since then, the root can be found in the form of supplements in almost every known herbal store and has benefited millions of people around the world with its immunity-boosting properties.
The Chinese name of the herb, "huang qi" means "yellow leader". The herb gets its name from the fact that the root is yellow in color and astragalus is one of the leading herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The root of the plant is used to make the medicine. Chinese herbal medicine practitioners used to boil the root to make a decoction. The root is then discarded and the decoction is given to the patient. Herbs such as ginseng are often combined with astragalus to help enhance its potency for the treatment or prevention of various illnesses and chronic diseases.
So, why is astragalus considered to be such a potent medicinal herb? Let's take a look at a few of the health benefits of astragalus now and why it may be the perfect daily herbal supplement for you too.
What are the Health Benefits of Astragalus?
Traditional Chinese medicine considers astragalus to be a sweet and warming herb. It is considered to have beneficial effects on many organs of the body. It is also a fantastic restorative tonic.
Astragalus contains a specific chemical that slows down the aging process inside the cells of the body.Dr. Mehmet Oz reports that it does this by stimulating an enzyme called telomerase (hTERT). Telomerase is responsible for lengthening telomeres, which protects the DNA of your cells, thereby increasing its lifespan. Aging has a damaging effect on the length of your telomeres, thus, increasing your susceptibility to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and even cancer.
When you regularly consume astragalus supplements, it stimulates the production of telomerase. This in turn maintains or lengthens telomeres, thus, slowing down the effects of the aging process on the cells of your body. The herb may, therefore, protect you from various diseases such as heart attacks, atherosclerosis, strokes, diabetes, and cancer.
The herb's antioxidant properties may also offer further benefits for people looking for better cardiovascular health by balancing cholesterol levels.
A 2011 study reported in the Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine found that astragalus improves heart functioning and the quality of life in patients with chronic heart failure at moderate doses. While further research is required, it can definitely be said that the herb offers potentially strong benefits in improving heart health.
Astragalus is also an adaptogen, that is, it improves your resistance to physical, mental and emotional stress. Regular use of this herb will boost your immune system and prevent diseases as well as reduce the damaging effects of daily stress.
Besides being a potent immunity booster, this natural supplement has antibacterial and antiviral properties. This is why it is commonly used as part of various herbal combinations for preventing as well as treating colds, flu, and other upper respiratory disorders. It may also help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Its ability to lower blood sugar may be useful for people suffering from type 2 diabetes
A study conducted on mice published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2013 found that when combined with rubus coreanus, astragalus membranaceus may help in the prevention and treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis.
Astragalus is used in Chinese medicine for the treatment of hepatitis in combination with other potent herbs. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that extracts taken from the astragalus membranaceus and salvia miltiorhiza together suppress the progression of hepatocellular carcinoma in rats, the most common form of liver cancer.
The herb may also improve blood counts in people with aplastic anemia. Aplastic anemia is a condition in which the body's bone marrow does not make enough new blood cells.
The herb has been found to offer protection from cancer. It also reduces the side-effects of cancer treatment. A study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules in 2013 found that astragalus membranaceus polysaccharides showed anti-tumor activity and improved immune response in rats with liver cancer.
University of Maryland Medical Center reports that US researchers have been studying astragalus as a potential herb for improving the immune systems of cancer patients going through chemotherapy or radiation treatment. It has been found that the root may help in reducing the side-effects of cancer treatment and it may help in decreasing fatigue and promoting appetite. In short, astragalus may help cancer patients recover faster and may also improve their lifespan.
This potent Chinese herb has also been found to protect the kidneys and helps treat kidney disease. It is also considered to stimulate the spleen, lungs, urinary bladder and the liver. Astragalus may help in detoxification and cleansing of the body as well as help in the treatment of bladder infections. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help in conditions such as fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.
Are There Any Side-Effects of Astragalus Supplements?
The benefits of astragalus have ensured that it is becoming an increasingly popular herb used in various herbal formulations. If you stick to recommended daily dosages of the herb, the chances of any side-effects are almost zero.
However, like any other herb, a little bit of care must be taken if you are planning to take this supplement on a regular basis. This is especially important if you are planning on taking other herbs and medications along with astragalus.
According to the NCCAM, astragalus may interact with medications such as cyclophosphamide, which suppress the immune system. So, avoid taking this herb with immuno-suppressing medications. The herb may also interact with corticosteroids.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the root prevents the easy elimination of lithium from the body. This may lead to highly dangerous levels of the drug causing potentially serious side-effects. So, avoid taking astragalus supplements if you are taking lithium on a continuing basis.
Besides this, pregnant and lactating women should avoid using this herb since it may affect the health of the fetus. You should also avoid giving this herb to children since research has not established it efficacy and safety with kids. Make sure to consult your health practitioner if you are taking regular medications for any chronic disease to rule out possible interactions with any drugs.
What is the Recommended Dosage of Astragalus?
Generally safe for adults, astragalus is easily available online or in health food stores. You can buy the herb in the form of the root, extract, tablets or capsules, or tincture. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends a dosage of 250-500 mg in powdered form or as an extract.
You can also purchase the dried root and prepare your own decoction to get the above-mentioned astragalus benefits. About 3-6 g of dried root is boiled in 12 oz water for about 10-15 minutes. Remove the root and drink the decoction for treating colds and other respiratory infections and enjoying other health benefits. You can also buy Astragalus Tea from Amazon.
So, now that you know about the potential astragalus health benefits, what are you waiting for? Check out some products and buy the one that you think suits best for you. You may also want to try out an herbal formulation that contains astragalus along with other medicinal herbs such as ginseng. Just stick to the right dosage and avoid taking it with other medications and you are surely going to notice its benefits for your health in a few weeks.
Try a few other herbs too:
US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Astragalus Fact Sheet
Dr. Mehmet Oz, Astragalus Root: Is This Right for You?
Yang QY, Lu S, Sun HR. Clinical effect of Astragalus granule of different
dosages on quality of life in patients with chronic heart failure. Chin J Integr
Med. 2011 Feb;17(2):146-9.
Jung Koo H, Sohn EH, Kim YJ, Jang SA, Namkoong S, Chan Kang S. Effect of the
combinatory mixture of Rubus coreanus Miquel and Astragalus membranaceus Bunge
extracts on ovariectomy-induced osteoporosis in mice and anti-RANK signaling
effect. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Dec 12.
Hu X, Rui W, Wu C, He S, Jiang J, Zhang X, Yang Y. Compound Astragalus and
Salvia miltiorrhiza extracts suppress hepatocarcinogenesis by modulating
TGF-β/Smad signaling. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Dec 12.
Yang B, Xiao B, Sun T. Antitumor and immunomodulatory activity of Astragalus
membranaceus polysaccharides in H22 tumor-bearing mice. Int J Biol Macromol. 2013
University of Maryland Medical Center, Astragalus
Read more articles