What is Astragalus?
Astragalus is an ancient herb included in the list of traditional Chinese medicine and has many proven health benefits. It is also known as Huang Qi or milk vetch. The perennial grows to a height of 2-4 feet and it has white or yellow flowers and leaves. It grows in grasslands and mountains of Central and Western Asia, particularly in Korea, Taiwan, and China.
While there are over 2000 species of astragalus, not all of them are beneficial to humans and animals. In fact, many species are considered to be nerve toxins and have been associated with livestock poisoning. Only two species namely Astragalus membranaceus and the Astragalus mongholicus are safe for consumption. It is also important to know that not all parts of the plant are safe. Experts only use the large yellow taproot coming from a 4-year old herb for its medicinal properties. The other parts are avoided because of their toxicity.
Traditionally, when one needs the power of the herb, you either go to a Chinese alternative doctor or take the risk in looking for the plant from its natural habitat. But throughout the years, modern manufacturing processes have found ways to make the herb become more readily available to patients. Astragalus now comes in different forms - liquid extracts, powder, teas, capsules, and injections. All these formulations are now available from various Chinese herbal stores and reputable online herbal shops.
What is Astragalus used for?
For centuries, Chinese doctors have tested the innumerable health benefits of astragalus roots. But modern medicine has to prove the claims with solid evidence before the herb can be endorsed by health experts. True enough, there are already several studies to back up the effectiveness of Huang Qi. The claims are no longer just hearsays from ancient healers but they are now well-accepted by researchers worldwide.
Several studies show that the health properties of Huang Qi come from the rich amounts of polysaccharides, saponins, and flavonoids. Saponins are known for their cholesterol-lowering capacity and immune-boosting property whereas flavonoids have been well studied for their anti-oxidative effect that counteracts the free radicals in the body. Lastly, polysaccharides have anti-microbial effects and anti-inflammatory properties. With all these three active ingredients present, no wonder that the herb is considered a potent health booster.
Here are some of the known health benefits of Astragalus root:
1. Boosts the Immune System
Astragalus, along with other traditional herbal medicines, has been the subject of several studies. One systematic review shows that the extracts have immune activity and protect the body against infection caused by microorganisms. It is considered as an immune booster in Chinese medicine and modern science has demonstrated it in different laboratory trials. Results show that the use of Astragalus enhanced lysozyme activity and stimulated the phagocytosis of blood cells . This proves that when the herb is taken on a regular basis, humans can benefit from having a strong immune system. It is especially recommended among individuals who are sickly and suffer from low immunity.
2. Protects the Heart and Improves its Function
The heart is another organ that benefits from the use of Astragalus. In China, cardiovascular diseases are often treated with the use of the herb. Chinese herbalists believe that its roots have the ability to improve blood circulation in the organ and reduce the symptoms of myocarditis. Research shows that the claims come from the antioxidative properties of the plant. In laboratory experiments involving dogs, there is a significant reduction in the infarct size after the use of extracts. Heart function also improved among rats after an induced heart attack. In both experiments, a notable increase in the coronary flow was noted in laboratory animals.
3. Lowers Blood Glucose Levels
Since diabetes is one of the top common diseases affecting millions of people, finding an effective way to lower blood glucose is good news for many patients. Traditional medicine often supplements diabetes management with the use of Astragalus. In one study that appeared in Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology and Diabetes, extracts of Huang Qi root was shown to be an effective treatment for the prevention of diabetes. It lowered the blood glucose of participants and help them manage their diabetes . Because Astragalus is safe and natural, it is a common alternative offered in Chinese medicine.
4. Treats Kidney Disease
Huang Qi shows promising results with different kidney diseases. With a high number of people suffering from renal disorders, finding an all-natural alternative to medication can help alleviate the complication of chronic kidney disease. In 2014, researchers from China published the effect of Astragalus roots in treating chronic kidney disease. Results show that the plant significantly reduces the serum creatinine, proteinuria, and even the blood pressure of participants. It also improved the hemoglobin level of patients, which is a common complication among kidney patients. The results show that the roots of the herb have the potential to help kidney patients reduce the symptoms of their disorder .
5. Benefits Cancer Patients
Astragalus has been the subject in different laboratory trials for lung, gastric, and colon cancer. In different studies, the polysaccharide extract present in Astragalus inhibited tumor growth among laboratory animals. It was also observed that the number of cancer cells was significantly decreased after using the extracts for several weeks . Researchers further observed that the herb can also help reduce the effects of some chemotherapeutic drugs. These findings show great potential for many patients who continue to suffer from the symptoms of cancer treatment.
6. Protect the Body Against Stress
Astragalus is known in Chinese medicine as a potent adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs known to increase the body’s resistance against different stressors from the environment. These herbs stabilize the various processes in the body and support the functions of the adrenal glands during stressful situations. Astragalus is one powerful adaptogen that can bring the body’s function at its best. It fights off infection by stimulating the production of more white blood cells. One study proved this when they monitored the activities of white blood cells in laboratory animal models. Results show that feeding the animals with astragalus increased the phagocytic ability and therefore, provided greater protection against infection .
Is Astragalus a Stimulant?
Apart from the many benefits of Huang Qi, it is interesting to know that it is also a stimulant. In Chinese herbology, it is considered as the best immune stimulant coming from nature. The roots are rich sources of selenium, a powerful antioxidant, and immune system booster. Traditional healers prescribe it as a tonic herb to strengthen and boost the overall health of patients. True to its name “Qi”, the Chinese believe that the plant improves the flow of energy in the body. It is recommended for any person who experiences low levels of energy, low immune function and suffers from lack of appetite. Patients with weak immunity or poor health benefit from the energy-boosting abilities and anti-oxidative properties of the herb.
How is Astragalus Used?
Traditionally, people enjoy the benefits of astragalus by getting fresh roots from natural sources. They prepare tea from the dried parts or add them in their soups or stew. There are also some who combine the roots with honey to make candied roots. But with the help of modern manufacturing processes, you can enjoy the benefits of various preparations. They are available from traditional Chinese drug stores or through reputable online sellers. The products are available as a tincture, capsules and tablets, injectable forms, dried roots, tea, and topical solution. But since there is no standardized dosage for astragalus, the amount consumed depends on your condition. You must consider your age, health status, and other medical histories when deciding on the dosage to take. It is always best if you consult with a health care provider to determine the best amount to boost its potential.
What are the Side Effects of Astragalus?
Huang Qi is well tolerated in most individuals. The herb is generally safe to consume for as long as you follow the correct dosage and the instructions of the manufacturers. However, there are incidence of slight stomach upset and allergic reactions reported. Other minor side effects noted are rashes, itching, nausea, and diarrhea. In these cases, you must reduce the dosage of the herb or better yet, consult your health care provider.
For safety reasons, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take the astragalus root. It should also be used with caution among patients taking other medications. Astragalus may increase or decrease the effectiveness of some drugs and adverse interactions may happen. Similar to other health supplements, it should only be taken under the guidance of experts. Always consult your health care provider if you are unsure whether the supplement will be of help for your health condition.
Astragalus or Huang Qi is a potent herb known for its immune-boosting properties. Traditional healers have long relied on the roots of the plant to promote the optimum health of people. Today, the herb is widely accepted by both alternative medicine and modern science for its health benefits. Astragalus is recommended to reduce the effects of stress and help manage different conditions like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and kidney disorders. With its proven health benefits, no wonder that Astragalus roots are popularly used to boost the overall wellness of people. Try using astragalus supplements today and see the difference that it can bring to your health.
Bonus: Want more info on Astragalus? Check out this video by Dr. Ware:
- "Effect of two Chinese herbs on non-specific immune response of tilapia" via Aquaculture
- "Astragalus (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease" via Cochrane Systematic Review
- "Chinese herbs (Astragalus radix and Ganoderma lucidum) enhance immune response of carp, Cyprinus carpio, and protection against Aeromonas hydrophila" via Fish & Shellfish Immunology