Astragalus, or Huang-Qi has been used by Chinese herbalists for centuries and it is still incorporated in many of their traditional herbal formulas. It is widely used in China for chronic hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy in cancer. The most common variety of Astragalus used in herbal medicine is Astragalus Membranaceus and biotech firms in US and China use its root to derive Telomerase from it (I wrote the article on TA-65 and its properties previously). However, despite its popularity in Asia, not enough clinical trials has been done in the West to support the evidence of Astragalus’ beneficial impact on the immune system and no independent tests have confirmed that Astragalus supplements activate telomerase in humans.
In traditional medicine it has been used as an immune system, lung, liver and spleen tonic. As an adaptogen herb, Astragalus helps to reduce stress, increase energy levels, aid digestion, increase resistance to disease and even improve memory and learning abilities. All of these makes it a very popular general well-being tonic, especially during winter months. Astragalus has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms and raise white blood cell count. More specifically, it helps to:
- stimulate phagocytic (white blood cell) activity
- produce interferons (IFNs) – proteins made and released in response to the presence of pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites or even tumor cells. Interferons trigger the defenses of the immune system that eradicate pathogens or tumors
- produce natural killer (NK) cell activity, which play a major role in the rejection of tumors and cells infected by viruses
- increase T-cells activity which play a role in the immune response
These immune boosting qualities of Astragalus may also be beneficial during and post-chemotherapy treatment.
- As an immune system stimulator, it is effective to ease common cold and flu symptoms. Might also be used to boost immune system in cases of certain types of cancer, HIV, etc.
- As an adaptogen it helps to combat stress, increase energy levels and beneficial for chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and anemia.
- Works as lung and upper respiratory tonic. Helps with allergic rhinitis and asthma.
- Aids the flow of bile and improves liver function. Used to treat chronic hepatitis in Chinese medicine.
- Stimulates circulation and works as a vasodilator.
- Heart tonic. Lowers blood pressure.
- Lowers blood glucose which makes it good for diabetes sufferers.
- Astragalus also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and aids wound healing.
- Stimulates digestion.
Side Effects And Precautions :
Astragalus is considered safe for most adults and there are no well known side effects. It may interact with medications that suppress the immune system, e. g. cyclophosphamide. It is not recommended to use with corticosteroids. Because it lowers blood sugar level and blood pressure it is not recommended for anyone with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) and low blood pressure. And of course, if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, you should always talk to your doctor before taking any medication, including herbs.
As a standardised extract capsules, look for 4′-hydroxy-3′methoxyisoflavone 7-sug – 250-500mg, taken one to three capsules per day.
As a liquid alcohol tincture: 15-20 drops a day.
Also available as herbal tea.
Injectable forms are used in hospital or clinical settings in Asian countries.
Available in creams and ointments for topical applications.