For more than 2000 years, astragalus has been an integral part of traditional medicine in China, where it's used to balance the life force, or qi. This herb is particularly valuable in fighting disease because of its powerful effect on the immune system.
What it is?
Astragalus contains a variety of compound that stimulates the body's immune system, and in China this native plant has long been used both to treat disease and to prevent it. Botanically, astragalus is related to licorice and the pea. And although its sweet-smelling pale yellow blossoms and delicate structure give the plant a frail appearance, it is actually a very hardy species. Medicinally, the herb's most important part is its root. The plant is harvested when it is four to seven years old; its flat, yellowish roots resemble wide iceblock sticks or tongue depressors. (The Chinese name for astragalus, huang qi, means 'yellow leader', a testament both to its colour and to its importance as a therapeutic herb.) Astragalus root is loaded with health-promoting substances, including polysaccharides, a class of carbohydrates that appear to be responsible for the herb's immune-boosting effects.
What it does?
A tonic in the truest sense of the world, astragalus seems to enhance overall health by improving resistance to disease, increasing stamina and vitality and promoting general well-being. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping the body to correct or prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. It may have antiviral and antibiotic properties as well. A distinct benefit of astragalus is that it can be safely used with conventional medicine and does not interfere with any standard treatment.
This herb is particularly effective in fighting off colds, flu, bronchitis and sinus infections because it prevents viruses from gaining a foothold in the respiratory system. Like echinacea, astragalus can quash germs at the first sign of symptoms. And if an illness does develop, astragalus can shorten its duration and reduce its severity. People who frequently suffer from respiratory illnesses should consider using astragalus regularly to prevent recurrences. It also appears to help minimize the health-damaging effects of excessive stress. Astragalus is particularly useful in preventing illness or alleviating the symptoms of chronic long-term illness.
Astragalus is widely used in China to rebuild the immune systems of people undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer. This practice is now gaining popularity in the West as well. The herb is especially valuable because it increases the body's production of T cells, macrophages, natural killer cells, interferon and other immune-system cells. Astragalus may also protect bone marrow from the immune-suppressing effects of chemotherapy, radiation, toxins and viruses. The herb, with its immune-stimulating action, might be a treatment possibility for people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
In addition, astragalus widens blood vessels and increases blood flow, which makes it useful in controlling excessive perspiration (such as night sweats) and lowering blood pressure. Research has also shown that astragalus can have beneficial effects on the heart.
- Enhances immunity.
- Helps fight respiratory infections.
- Bolsters the immune system in people undergoing treatment for cancer.
- Dried herb/tea.
- Pregnant women should consult their doctor before using this herb.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
For strengthening the immune system: Take 200 mg of astragalus once or twice a day for three weeks, then alternate, in three-week stints, with Echinacea, cat's claw and pau d'arco.
For Bronchitis: Take 200 mg four times a day until the symptoms ease. Choose a product that contains a standardized extract of astragalus with 0.5% glucosides and 70% polysaccharides.
Guidelines for use:
Astragalus can be taken at any time during the dry, with or without meals.
Possible side effects
Remarkably, even after thousands of years of use in China, there are few (if any) negative reports about taking astragalus. The herb appears to have no side effects of any kind.
Facts and Tips
- In China, dried astragalus roots is often sliced and added to soup to sweeten it. The slices are removed before the soup is eaten, as they're tough and hard to chew.
- To help enhance its healing properties, astragalus is often combined with herbs such as ginseng, licorice and echninacea.
Two separate studies conducted in China showed that astragalus can benefit people with heart disease.
- The first study revealed that if astragalus was taken within 36 hours of a heart attack, it could bolster the functioning of the heart's left ventricle, the chamber that pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
- The second study examined whether astragalus could prevent chest pain (angina). The herb was compared to nifedipine, a prescription medication commonly used for this condition. Astragalus produced better results than the drug.
Did you know?
Several North American species of astragalus are highly poisonous to livestock and commonly called 'locoweed'. These New World varieties, however, are very different from the ancient Chinese form that is used in medical treatment.