Wednesday, September 28, 2016
ASTRAGALUS ROOT-Astragalus Membranaceus, Astragalus Mongholicus, Astragalus Propinquns, Astragalus Americus, etc.
Also known as: Milk Vetch, Huang Qi, Locoweed, Bei Qi, Ogi, Hwanggi, Yellow Leader
Parts Used: Root
Systems/Organs affected: immune, respiratory, urinary, digestive, adrenals, liver, heart, DNA, pancreas, blood, spleen, kidneys
Properties: bitter, immune stimulant, antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, antispasmodic, prophylactic (used to prevent disease), anti-carcinogenic, adaptogenic, vulnerary, anti-aging, antibacterial, antiviral, general tonic, hypotensive, nervine, depurative (purifying), hepato-protective
ASTRAGALUS ROOT is a member of the Leguminosae family (pea and bean). It has a hairy stem with divided leaves and pea-like, sweet smelling, yellow flowers and seed pods. It grows in a sprawling, vine-like way and can get up to 6 feet tall. The root is woody and yellow and what is used as medicine and a food by many Asian cultures. The root is fibrous and pleasant tasting. It is native to northern China, Japan, Mongolia and North Korea but can be found in many regions of the world today. It grows best in well drained, sandy soil with lots of sun. There are over 2000 varieties of astragalus but the ones used most for medicinal purposes are astragalus membranaceus and astragalus mongholicus.
Once referred to as ‘anklebone’ by the Greeks as the seedpods would rattle and sound much like our modern dice. In ancient times ankle bones WERE used as dice-hence the name. Astragalus is an herb that has been used in Asian cultures for millennia. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses it to regulate metabolic functions, to boost immunity and enhance strength. It has only gained notoriety here in the west in recent years (seems like we are always behind the times, especially when it comes to things natural). In Chinese this herb is called ‘huang qi’ which translated basically means, ‘yellow leader’. This is no doubt due to the root color of the plant. It was discovered upwards of 5000 years ago by an herbalist named Shen Nong, who wrote about it extensively in his journal/writings (‘Shen Nong Pen Tsao Ching’, Circa 100 A.D.). To the Chinese this plant replenishes and strengthens the body’s life force (we refer to it as the immune system).
There have been many studies done on this herb in China (not many here yet but it is growing). Their extensive research has shown that astragalus root could very well play an active role in preventing and/or treating things like cancer, AIDS, aplastic anemia, herpes (all types), lupus, congestive heart failure, kidney issues, respiratory problems and a whole lot more. Astragalus contains cycloastagenols and astragalosides-two very powerful compounds that are credited with lengthening ones lifespan….literally. Can you say reverse aging? In 2009, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was given to Carol W. Grieder, Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Jack W. Szostak. They discovered an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme is responsible for rebuilding telomeres. What are telomere’s? Telomere’s are the end caps on your chromosomes (kind of like a cap on a shoelace-put there to keep the string from unraveling). These ‘caps’ protect your chromosomes in much the same way. Each time your cells divide the telomeres on the chromosomes get shorter and shorter which is what causes the aging process. Telomerase is an enzyme that essentially maintains the health of the telomeres. The cycloastragenols and astragalosides found in astragalus activate the production of telomerase in the body which extends the length and life of the telomeres. (In other words, astragalus can make you age in reverse). From this information a concentrated extract called TA-65 was formulated. Early indicators showed that it lengthened telomeres in mice and humans but now that supplement is clouded by lawsuits and claims that it causes cancer. (I much prefer ingesting the plant in its whole form rather than its parts). Aside from that it is also ghastly expensive and only available through licensed practitioners (at least from what I was made to understand through my research). There are other less expensive supplements on the market that now claim to do the same thing but cost less. (Just make sure to do your homework and research products before you purchase them…KNOW what you are buying. From all indicators product reviews of the TA-65 were glowing…).
Astragalus is what is termed as an immune modulator. This means that rather than activating our immune systems against diseases, it instead increases the number and activity of the predatory white blood cells that roam around swallowing up invading organisms.
In studies done using cancer patients it was found that those taking astragalus recovered faster from chemo treatments, had more energy and higher survival rates than those not taking it. This may be because astragalus is thought to stimulate interferon-an essential item for optimal immune function.
In Asian countries this herb is used as an adjunct to cancer treatments.
The University of Houston found that astragalus enhances the body’s own killer cells (T-cells, NK cells) to destroy tumors. It also activates interleukin 2, a protein that regulates the activity of white blood cells (which is why it has been so effective in easing the side effects of chemotherapy). In Japan, the Hiroshima School of Medicine found that astragalus also increases B cells (lymphocytes responsible for antibody production)and helps to identify bacteria, viruses and other invading organisms.
Astragalus has many uses-it is a diuretic and aids in blood vessel dilation (which can help to lower one’s blood pressure), it has been used as a topical agent for psoriasis, eczema, rosacea and to heal wounds. One study found that it is also a thinking herb as it can lower or elevate blood sugar levels depending on one’s need. Some early studies also found that it increased the blood count of anemic individuals. The Chinese combine it with panax ginseng, for general dibility, fatigue, lack of appetite and a host of other things. They combine it with Codonoposis Pilosula (poor man’s ginseng) to strengthen the heart. It reduces inflammation, helps support the metabolism, improves adrenal and gastrointestinal function and strengthens the muscles. It has been paired with Ashwagandha and Cordyceps for increased stamina, concentrated energy flow for athletes.
According to one study done on this magical herb,
“Astragalus injection supplemented with chemotherapy could inhibit the development of tumors, decrease the toxic-adverse effect of chemotherapy, elevate the immune function of organism and improve the quality of life in patients.” (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12592686 ‘Clinical Study on effect of Astragalus in efficacy enhancing and toxicity reducing of chemotherapy in patients of malignant tumor’ 2002, July;22(7):515-17)
The Journal of Ethnopharmacology published a study on astragalus immunostimulatory effects. The article stated that astragalus,
“…showed powerful immune-stimulatory properties…”
and that that is likely the main reason it is so useful for things such as cancer. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2005 Jan. 4, 96(1-2):71-7)
To the Chinese it supports both the Yin and Yang energies which is why it is considered an energy tonic. It tonifies the spleen and lungs in particular-the two major organs/systems that transform the air we breathe and the food we ingest into energy. The International Journal of Molecular Medicine published a study in 2013 (Jun;31(6):1463-70, Astragalus polysaccharide induces anti-inflammatory effects dependent on AMPK activity in palmitate-treated RAW 264.7 cells) that analyzed astragalus roots anti-inflammatory capabilities. The study stated that, ‘Astragalus polysaccharide effectively ameliorates palmitate-induced pro-inflammatory responses throught AMPK activity.” (AMPK is an enzyme that plays a role in the balance of cellular energy. It is a fat burning enzyme apparently activated by astragalus to work better when used in conjunction with exercise-which is anti-inflammatory…this is undoubtedly the reason it helps to lower cholesterol as well.)
According to yet another Chinese study astragalus is also good for congestive heart failure. They found that it could improve the immune function in CHF patients which would make it an excellent supplement for those with this particular malady. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12800417?dopt=Abstract# )
Astragalus also contains an ingredient called astragaloside IV which contains a saponin called cycloastragenol. This particular component has been found to increase the production of telomerase when taken in concentrated doses. Astragaloside IV has also been found to help with depression and is also currently being studied for its use with HIV and herpes as an antiviral.
Thorne Research (‘Alternative Medicine Review’, 2003, 8(1):7273) said that, ”Research shows that astragalus root stimulates the immune system in many ways. It increases the number of stem cells in bone marrow and lymph tissue and encourages their development into active immune cells.” (ummm….stem cells are like the building cells in the body-I would think EVERYONE would/should want to take this herb….)
Astragalus is also used with ashwagandha to combat adrenal fatigue. (Something that is a chronic problem in this country).
According to Drugs.com and the University of Maryland Medical Center, astragalus can interfere with immune medications such as those used for lupus, rheumatism and MS. It also interferes with corticosteroids and the medication cyclophosphamide (used to reduce chances of rejection by organ transplant recipients). Astragalus also makes it more difficult for the body to get rid of lithium so if one is on lithium drugs they should NOT take astragalus. Drugs.com also mentioned that astragalus displayed some mutagenic activity on the Ames test and that more studies need to be conducted on the herb. (The Ames test is used to test plants, chemicals, etc. on their ability to mutate or cause changes with one’s DNA). There are some toxic varieties of astragalus root out there so stick with astragalus membranaceus and astragalus mongholicus if using this herb. Always consult a physician before using any herbal product or beginning any new regimen.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links herein for your perusal. Use them wisely and stay strong and healthy!