Astragalus is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of conditions and illnesses, including upper respiratory infection, fatigue, cancer, and heart disease.
According to modern Chinese medicine, Astragalus is believed to strengthen all the body systems and is especially useful for treating conditions that cause fatigue, similar to Ginseng. It is prescribed for everything from high blood pressure to heart disease and diabetes.
Studies conducted on Astragalus show that it helps to promote and improve immune function, increasing the strength of T cells. In studies on mice, it was found that Astragalus improved the ability of macrophages (white blood cells) to consume bacteria and viruses. For this reason, many cancer patients who are taking immune-suppressing treatments like chemotherapy benefit from supplementing with this herb.
The Health Benefits of Astragalus
Astragalus has a variety of uses, but its primary use is that of a long-term immune system booster. It is loaded with polysaccharides, and it increases the activity of a wide variety of immune cells – macrophages, T lymphocytes, and natural killer cells. Astragalus is used for chronic low immunity and works right in the bone marrow where immune cells are manufactured.
Unlike many herbs that can only be taken the short term to boost immunity like Goldenseal or Echinacea, Astragalus can be used long term with no ill effects or loss of efficacy. If you are prone to catching colds and flu bugs, you can start taking Astragalus early in the season and use it throughout the winter months to help your own immune system defend against illness.
It is such an effective immune booster that several studies have shown it to be effective as a complementary cancer treatment. When used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation (which deplete the immune system), Astragalus has been shown to help patients recover faster and live longer.
How Does Astragalus Work?
Studies done on Astragalus show that its primary active ingredient is a polysaccharide called astragalan B. Astragalan B binds to the outer membranes of viruses, weakening their defenses, which allows the immune system to kick in and destroy the weakened invaders. In addition, Astragalus boosts the numbers and strength of the immune cells.
Astragalus and Heart Disease
Astragalus has shown great promise in the treatment of heart disease and is widely used in China as an effective treatment for relieving the symptoms of angina, congestive heart failure, and coronary heart disease. Its antioxidant properties help to improve circulation while its other active ingredients have been shown to help blood vessels relax and also thin the blood due to their mildly diuretic properties.
Studies have also shown Astragalus to be effective in preventing heart damage caused by viral myocarditis. In other studies, Astragalus was shown to increase lung capacity and reduce chest tightness in those with congestive heart failure. More studies are needed, however, Astragalus is a mild herb that is considered very safe, and it can be an excellent complement to traditional medicine (talk to your health care provider regarding any potential drug interference before taking as Astragalus may compound the effects of some blood-thinning medications).
According to “The American Journal of Chinese Medicine,” astragalus demonstrated cardioprotective effects, significantly improving cardiac function and increasing the survival rate from heart failure. Other research has shown that astragalus enhances the quality of life for those with chronic heart failure. It showed that a dose of 4.5 g of astragalus taken twice daily was effective in improving heart contraction without interfering with other prescribed medicines.
Astragalus for Fighting Colds and Flu
Astragulus has antiviral properties, and it also stimulates the immune system. Astragulus can be taken throughout the cold/flu season to help prevent infection. Unlike Echinacea and Golden Seal, Astragulus can be used for longer stretches without reducing its efficiency.
Astragalus has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. In addition to its healing properties, it is also a “warming” herb that can be soothing to the body. It also boosts energy, which is good for fighting fatigue and other secondary issues associated with cold/sinus issues.
Astragalus is effective at fighting colds for both preventions and in shortening the duration of colds and boosting the immune system. Astragalus enhances the production of T cells, which are the bodies natural defenders against invaders like cold and flu viruses. The benefit of Astragalus is that you can take it prior to becoming ill for prevention, but it is also beneficial for use in the treatment of illness if you do get sick.
Astragalus and Cancer
Astragalus has impressive benefits for the immune system, and because of this, it has been used quite successfully as a complementary cancer treatment. It has the ability to counteract many of the adverse effects of conventional cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, which take a toll on the immune system. Astragalus plays a supportive role by strengthening and boosting the immune system. It is also used to fight overall weakness typically associated with many cancers.
Astragulus is one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese medicine and has a long history of use to prevent cancer, as well as other issues like heart disease, infections, and kidney problems. In China today, this herb is often used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments and is one of the standard treatments for non-small-cell lung cancer. Clinical trials in China have shown a reduced risk of death as well as improved tumor response in studies of Astragalus as a cancer treatment.
Supporting Evidence & Research
Most scientific studies on Astragalus have been performed in labs, and via animal studies; however, a study done in Houston in the early ’80s was performed on cancer patients. In this study, the effects of Astragulus were studied on both healthy subjects and those ill with cancer. The results concluded that T-cell function was restored in 90% of the cancer patients to the same levels as the healthy patients. This study demonstrated the immunostimulant effect of Astragalus. Chinese studies have shown similar results.
Astragalus Side Effects
Astragalus is typically deemed safe in most applications. Overdosing on it can have the opposite of the desired effect, however, and actually suppress the immune system. If you are taking immune-suppressing drugs, it is important that you not take Astragalus. Something else to consider – Astragalus is often used with other herbs, so consider any other herbs present in whatever blend you are taking.
Pregnant and nursing women are advised not to take Astragalus. People who have had a transplant of any kind must avoid the use of this herb. People with immune system diseases such as systemic lupus (SLE), multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis should also avoid Astragalus.
Side Effect Symptoms
Side effects of Astragalus are extremely rare. The ones reported are belly bloat, dehydration, or allergic reaction such as hives or swelling, which need to be reported to a doctor right away.
Astragalus can have negative reactions with the following drugs, so be sure to speak to your healthcare provider before taking it if you are currently using any of the following:
- Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)
- Any Immunosuppressants
Sources: Web MD & RxList
How To Use Astragalus
Astragalus can be used in a variety of forms – teas, tinctures, powders, capsules etc. Fresh or powdered Astragalus root can be brewed into a tea and taken each day. It is important to note that this tea should not be sweetened with sugar as sugar can suppress the immune system, counteracting the effects of the tea. If you need to sweeten it to drink it, use stevia or raw, organic honey for the best results.
Astragalus powder can be placed into capsules – or you can buy supplements already in capsule form. This may mean a less fresh supply, so ensure that the manufacturer has a good reputation before purchasing it in supplement form. You may also find Astragalus is blended with other herbs, which is fine, but ensure any other herbs in the blend are also ok for you to take.
Astragalus is a relatively safe herb with little to no side effects; however, that is not the case with everything. For example, Astragalus is often blended with Echinacea to boost the immune system. Echinacea is only intended to be used for short periods of time. If you are looking for an herb, you can take every day to boost your immunity and give you the energy you would not want to use a product blended with Echinacea.
These recommended dosages are very general and for information purposes only. Always discuss any supplements you take with your health care provider.
Because Astragalus is a supplement and supplements can vary in potency, there is no “set” dosage. It is recommended that you stay below 30 grams per day because high dosages can have a reverse impact on the immune system and suppress it. Keeping your dosage within the recommended range can help ensure that the herb has the desired effect of boosting your immunity.
If you are brewing tea, 3-6 grams per day of dried root to 1/2 liter of water boiled and brewed into tea is the standard suggested dose. Children are able to take this herb (again talk to your childs pediatrician) in 1/3 the adult dosage. For simplicities sake, you may want to opt for purchasing a supplement form either as a tincture or capsule and follow the manufacturers directions.