Astragalus has a long history in Chinese medicine. It is still being used for Hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. Today in the western world it has been rediscovered as a “super herb”. This article gives a detail of the various beneficial aspects of this “super herb”.
What is Astralagus?
Astragalus is a large genus of around 3,000 species belonging to the legume family Fabaceae. This plant is a native to the temperate regions in the Northern hemisphere. Common names include milk vetch (most species), locoweed (some species in North America) and goat’s thorn. Astragalus root is a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where it is also known as Huang Qi.
It is also used as a “Qi tonifier” in the oriental system of medicine .
Most Astragalus supplements contain Astragalus membranaceus and are marketed as life-prolonging extracts for human use.
The root is the only part of the plant used medicinally and is usually harvested from 4-year old plants. Herbalists call astragalus an “adaptogen”.
My Experience With Astragalus
Astragalus is a potent Th1 and immune stimulant. It improves blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body. It is not advised if you have an overactive immune system already. I used to take it at night because it made me tired, but I don’t do that anymore.
Most people with CFS and chronic inflammation will not do well with astragalus. It depends on if you have chronic inflammation due to a chronic infection or due to food sensitivities, for example.
If you’re suffering from immunodeficiency or cancer, then this is the right herb for you.
Below, I give a bunch of different good options to buy Astragalus, but some people want to to know which one I recommend.
Potentially Active Chemical Constituents
Polysaccharides are the most important functional constituents in Astragalus and responsible for the antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory capabilities of this herb .
Astragalus also mainly contains flavonoids which show antioxidative qualities and help prevent heart disease and immunodeficiency viruses. Other constituents include amino acids, folic acid, etc and minerals like selenium, zinc, and copper .
Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) exerted its cellular effects by activating the Src/MEK/ERK pathway .
Promotes protein expression of Bax, decreases protein expression of Bcl-2 gene, and markedly increases the Bax/Bcl-2 ratio .
Promoting heart function
Immune cell activation
Inhibits the synthesis of extracellular matrix and balance the MMP/TIMP-1 system .
- Boosts the Immune system
- Helps prevent cold and flu
- Good antioxidant
- Great for cancer, and reduces the side effects of chemotherapy
- Great for the Heart
- Great for the Kidneys
- Increases Red blood cells and oxygen delivery
- Enhances energy
- Interacts with medicines taken to suppress the immune system
- Powerfully enhances Th1 immunity, so be careful if you have an autoimmune-like condition
- Many people report getting headaches if they take too much
- Some people report insomnia
Other traditional indications include wasting disorders (a process in which disease causes muscle and fat tissue to “waste” away), night sweats, chronic ulcerations and sores, numbness and paralysis of the limbs and edema .
Astragalus is also traditionally used as an antidiarrheal or a laxative.
23 Science-Based Health Benefits of Astragalus
1) Is an Antioxidant
Astragalus treatment in 43 patients with acute heart attack reduced blood cell-free radicals, blood fat peroxidation, and increased superoxide dismutase levels.
Extract of this herb protects rat heart mitochondria against fat peroxidation.
2) Is an Anti-inflammatory
Both oral and colonic Astragalus (A. membranaceus) treatments exhibited significant protection against DNBS (2,4-Dinitrobenzene sulfonic acid)-induced colitis (inflammation of the inner lining of the colon) in rats .
3) Boosts the Enzyme Telomerase
TA-65Ⓡ is a natural telomerase activator purified from the root of Astragalus. Use of this natural product in animals showed a decline in percent senescent cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells .
In the absence of telomerase, telomeres shorten with time and stress, contributing to aging and disease.
Isomers extracted from Astragalus slowed down telomere shortening rate, reduced DNA damage and improved DNA repair ability (various factors which are responsible for the delay in aging) .
4) Helps Protect the Heart
Intravenous injection of Astragalus increased the total effective heart function rate by 74.2% in patients with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) .
In another study Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) injected into 19 patients with Congestive heart failure reduced symptoms of chest distress and dyspnea (shortness of breath) in 15 of 19 patients . There was also a significant improvement in left heart activity, end-systolic volume and end-diastolic volume .
92 patients with Ischemic heart disease treated with Astragalus experienced significant relief from angina (chest pain) and also an improvement in the effective rate of EKG (Electrocardiogram) by 82.6%. In another study on angina pectoris, 20 patients given Astragalus for two weeks had an increase in the heart output .
Astragalus (A. membranaceus injection) combined with conventional treatment appeared to be more effective in the treatment of viral myocarditis (Six RCTs) .
Research in animals/lab studies:
Astragalus decreased free radical release and apoptosis in cultured heart muscle cells and was therefore protective against daunorubicin toxicity .
Astragalus (Astragaloside) improved post-ischemic heart function and reduced reperfusion arrhythmias in rat hearts. There was also an increase in the blood flow to the heart muscle .
A. mongholicus when given to rats with high lipids resulted in a significant decline in the levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. It is thereby likely to reduce heart diseases associated with high lipid content and oxidative stress .
(Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition which mainly affects the glands that produce saliva and tears, though it can also affect the joints).
Astragalus can improve endothelial-dependent vasodilator function in obese rats .
Note: In vascular diseases, endothelial dysfunction is a systemic pathological state of the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels).
5) Activates the Immune cells
In one study, 8 grams of Astragalus given orally to 14 healthy volunteers for 2 months significantly increased interferon-inducing ability of blood cells. In another study, Astragalus extract given to healthy adults for 20 days increased blood IgM, IgE, and cAMP .
Viral myocarditis patients showed enhanced T3, T4 and T4/T3 cell ratios suggesting an increased immune response when given an extract of Astragalus orally .
Research in animals/lab studies:
Astragalus polysaccharides (APS) activated B cells and macrophages in mouse and human tumor cell lines .
They (APS) are a potent adjuvant for the hepatitis B subunit vaccine and can enhance both humoral and cellular immune responses .
Astragalus has been shown to have immunologic benefits by stimulating macrophage and natural killer cell activity and inhibiting T-helper cell type 2 cytokines .
6) Reduces the Side Effects of Chemotherapy and May Help Prevent Cancer
Astragalus based Chinese herbal medicine combined with platinum-based chemotherapy improves survival, increases tumor response, improves performance status, or reduces chemotherapy toxicity in cancer patients .
Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) could enhance the immune function, promote production and, maturation of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in chronic myelogenous leukemia patients .
Treatment of Astragalus integrated with vinorelbine and cisplatin (VC) had significantly improved Quality of life (QOL) in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (RCT) .
Research in animals/lab studies:
Astragalus induced apoptosis of liver tumor cells and had a significant anti-tumor effect on liver cell carcinoma .
Astragalus saponins (AST) promoted apoptosis in human colon cancer cells and tumor xenograft without any side effects that were produced by the conventional chemotherapeutic drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) .
Injection of this herb suppressed apoptosis of mesothelial cells . Total AST also inhibited human stomach cancer cell growth, decreased the invasion ability and induced the apoptosis of gastric cancer cells.
Inhibits cell proliferation through accumulation in S phase and G2/M arrest with concomitant suppression of p21 production and inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinase activity .
7) Helps Prevent Infections
Astragalus (A.membranaceus) helps in treating recurrent tonsillitis in children .
It is used as an immune stimulant in treating and preventing colds and upper respiratory tract infections .
A herbal mixture containing Astragalus given daily in conjunction with interferon to adults with chronic bronchitis reduced the incidence and duration of Upper Respiratory Tract infections (URTIs).
Astragalus polysaccharide had immunomodulatory effects on cells exposed to Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) and Classical Swine fever virus (CSFV) .
Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) treatment reduces H9N2 Avian Influenza virus replication and promotes an early humoral immune response. In China, APS is widely used as an immune adjuvant .
A. membranaceus has an inhibitory effect on herpes simplex virus type 1(HSV-1) .
Astragalus inhibited viral replication while improving abnormal electric activity in the heart muscle tissue of mice infected with Coxsackie B-3 virus .
Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) possessed anti-HAdV-3 (human adenovirus type-3) capabilities. It inhibited HAdV-3 replication and HAdV-3 induced apoptosis .
Animal studies demonstrated oral administration of Astragalus root extract to mice infected with Japanese encephalitis virus increased survival rate by 30-40% .
Sulfated Astragalus polysaccharide (sAPS) had activity against the cellular infectivity of infectious bursal disease virus, and the sulfated modification enhanced its antiviral activity .
Astragalus polysaccharide has an inhibitory effect on the replication of hepatitis B virus (HBV) .
Astragalus had shown antibacterial activity against Shigella dysenteriae, Streptococcus hemolyticus, Diplococcus pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus .
It showed significant antifungal activity against Trichophyton verrucosum in a guinea pig model of dermatophytosis .
Astragalus (A. baibutensis) showed remarkable antitrypanosomal activity against T. brucei rhodisience and T.cruzi. However, it also exhibits some cellular toxicity in mammalian cells .
8) Is Effective in Wound Healing
Topical application of Astragalus (gum tragacanth) accelerated skin wound contraction and healing in rats .
Astragalus (astragaloside IV) could promote ulcerated wound healing in cultured mouse keratinocytes .
Mechanism: It decreased Catenin beta-1 (a protein that coordinates cell-cell adhesion and gene transcription) to increase skin cell (keratinocyte) migration and proliferation.
Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) has shown to be a promising natural product with both healing and anti-scar effects for wound treatment. These findings suggest the use of Astragaloside IV in the treatment of injury .
Mechanism: astragalus mediated keratinocyte proliferation and migration via regulation of the Wnt signaling pathway .
9) May Combat Stress
Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) may reduce immobilized stress-induced anxiety and inflammation in mice .
Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) and cycloastragenol suppressed ROS-associated Endoplasmic reticulum stress .
10) Helps Prevent Respiratory Problems
Astragalus played a role in preventing the recurrence of asthma in children. A combination of astragalus and hormones showed better effects .
Granules of Astragalus may reduce the incidence of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) in children with nephrotic syndrome .
11) Helps Prevent Diabetes
Zhang et.al showed that Astragalus improved fasting blood glucose levels, glomerular filtration rate (GFR), urinary albumin rate and thickness of the glomerular basement membrane in diabetic rat models .
Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) could increase pancreatic beta cell mass in type 1 diabetic mice .
12) Is an Anticonvulsant
Mechanism: Anticonvulsant effects may be mediated by its protective actions against oxidative damage and improving mitochondrial dysfunction .
13) Is Neuroprotective and Prevents Memory Loss
Extract of this herb improves nerve injury after ischemia in mice (by improving energy metabolism and inhibiting apoptosis in the brain tissue) .
Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) could be used for curing Parkinson’s disease. It decreased the levels of dopamines in 6-hydroxydopamine induced substantia neuron cells.
Extract of Astragalus had protective effects on DEX (dexamethasone)-induced neuron injury mouse model .
14) Improves Kidney Function
High-dose Astragalus injection used together with cyclophosphamide (CTX) was effective in decreasing infection rate and urine protein and improving immune function in patients with lupus nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) (RCT) .
According to one study, Astragalus injection improved kidney tubule function in patients with IgA nephropathy (a disease which occurs when the antibody Immunoglobulin A lodges in the kidney) .
Research in animals/in the lab:
One study showed that Astragalus (Astragalus polysaccharide) improved proteinuria (abnormal quantities of protein in the urine) and kidney function in animals .
Astragalus injection has a protective effect on cisplatin (DDP)-induced kidney toxicity in mice .
15) May Improve Male Fertility
Astragalus demonstrated a significant stimulatory effect and increased the motility of human sperms in lab studies .
Astragalus (A. membranaceus) has beneficial influences and appears able to improve relative testes weight, sperm parameters and cAMP-responsive element modulator (CREM) (a gene initiating protein that is found in male germ cells) expression against CP-induced reproductive toxicity in male mice .
It could significantly reduce the apoptosis of spermatogenic cells, decrease the level of fat peroxidation and protect glutathione activity in rat testis .
16) Helps Protect the Intestine
Astragalus (A.membranaceus) could strengthen the movement and muscle tonus in the intestine .
High dose of Astragalus (A.membranaceus) has a protective effect on the hemorrhagic shock-reperfusion injury of the intestinal mucosa .
Astragalus Polysaccharide (APS) effectively reduces TNBS (trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid)-induced experimental colitis (an inflammatory reaction in the colon) in rats .
17) Helps Muscle Function and Enhances Exercise Endurance Capacity
Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) improves muscle atrophy. In one study APS inhibited dexamethasone-induced injury in muscle cells .
Astragalus supplementation in mice could prolong their swimming times, enhance exercise endurance capacity .
18) Helps Bone Function
Astragalus (A. membranaceus) extract significantly improved bone mineral density, biochemical density and ash weight of the femur and tibia in rats with their ovaries taken out.
When combined with supplemental calcium it could also be more protective against the calcium loss in calcium-insufficient postmenopausal women .
19) Protects the Liver
Oral administration of an alcoholic extract of Astragalus (A. membranaceus) root reduced the liver injury induced by stilbenemidine in mice .
Intake of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Astragalus membranaceus, Morus alba, Crataegus pinnatifida, Alisma Orientale, Salvia miltiorrhiza, and Pueraria lobata) may be useful in preventing and improving fatty liver induced by alcohol according to animal studies .
20) Reduces Fatigue
Flavonoids this herb reduced chronic fatigue syndrome induced by food intake restriction plus forced swimming in rats .
21) Helps Treat Anemia and Other Blood Disorders
Therapy with Astragalus (Radix Astragali) or its compound prescription is effective and safe in children with -thalassemia (Prospective clinical study) .
60 gms of Astragalus as part of the “Erzhi Busui Decoction” a Chinese herbal medicine when given to patients with severe aplastic anemia reduced its severity .
In an analysis of 115 leucopenic cases, a pure preparation of Astragalus was effective in treating patients with leukopenia (a reduction in the number of white blood cells in the blood). Increasing the dosage could increase its effectiveness .
According to one clinical study, Astragalus injection could promote the recovery of hemopoietic function in chronic aplastic anemic patients .
Astragalus membranaceus injection (AMI) can lessen apoptosis of bone marrow cells and promote hematopoietic progenitor cells to differentiate in anemic mice .
22) Is an Anti-fibrotic
Astragalus could be a useful agent against peritoneal dialysis (PD)-induced peritoneal scarring of tissue (PF) in rats .
It could be used as a potential agent for managing fibrotic disorders like Systemic scleroderma (characterized by fibrotic changes in the skin) .
23) Reduces Iron Overload
Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) might have a therapeutic role in treating iron overload, especially in Thalassemia patients as mentioned in one study.
Experiments showed that APS increased hepcidin and reduced iron overload in mice .
Astragalus root: About 1-4 grams of freshly dried root.
Powdered root capsules: 250-500 milligrams, two capsules TID (three times a day).
Tincture: 3-6 ml (half-1 tsp) TID.
Child doses: Have not been specified
Textbooks on Chinese herbs recommend taking 9-15 gms of the crude herb per day in decoction form. A decoction is made by boiling the root in water for a few minutes and then brewing the tea .
Astragalus plus ligustrazine could effectively protect against myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury during open heart surgery of cardiopulmonary bypass patients (RCT) .
Astragalus membranaceus and Goji combined extract significantly inhibited the growth of an experimental transitional renal cell carcinoma in mice .
Roots of Astragalus and elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra) extracts together, increase the IFN-beta inducing activity of Lactobacillus acidophilus in rat nerve cells .
Astragalus and Panax notoginseng could promote the transformation of bone marrow stem cells and proliferation of endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) in lab experiments .
Astragalus (A. mongholicus) and Angelica sinensis together reduce high lipid content considerably in nephrotic rats .
Astragalus (A. mongholicus) and Polygonum multiflorum in combination had more protective effects on thymus against cyclophosphamide-induced injury .
Safety and Cautions
Astragalus is considered safe for most adults .
Pregnant and lactating women should not take this herb.
It may interact with medications that suppress the immune system, such as the drug cyclophosphamide taken by cancer patients and similar drugs taken by organ transplant recipients. It may also affect blood sugar levels and blood pressure .
One study suggested that oral administration of A.membranaceus may lead to increase in CA19-9 and the formation of liver and kidney cysts .
Some Astragalus species may be toxic, few of them contain the alkaloid “swainsonine” which may cause “locoism” in livestock. Few species contain potentially toxic levels of selenium.
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