By Kristy Dusevic CH – The cold and flu season seems to be approaching rather fast this year. If you are like me and not a supporter of the flu shot, then you must take boosting your immune system seriously. My previous posts discussed some other wonderful natural ways to boost your immune system; Elderberry Syrup, Fire Cider & Bone Broth. This week I am going to dive into the amazing benefits of a Chinese herb called Astragalus.
Let me start by saying that I don’t just depend on one natural immune supporter to keep healthy during cold and flu season, I use many and I take them daily! I also incorporate a healthy diet along with various forms of exercise, plenty of water and good sleep. I feel that you need all of it to stay healthy. Let’s get into a little history about Astragalus and the many benefits.
What Is Astragalus?
Astragalus is a plant within the Leguminosae (beans or legumes) family, with a very long history as an immune booster and disease fighter. Its roots are in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which it’s been used as an adaptogen for thousands of years — meaning it helps the body fight off stress and disease. Today, astragalus medicinal healing and treatment uses span many different illnesses and diseases.
The perennial flowering plant, also called milkvetch root and Huang-qi, grows from 16 to 36 inches tall and is native to the north and eastern regions of China. It’s also been traced back to Mongolia and Korea.
Astragalus roots are harvested from 4-year-old plants and are the only part of the plant that’s used medicinally. Only two of the over 2,000 species of astragalus, astragalus membranaceus and astragalus mongholicus, are used medicinally.
Astragalus contains three components that allow the plant to have such a positive impact on human health: saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, which are all active compounds contained in certain plants, including some fruits and vegetables. Saponins are known for their ability to lower cholesterol, improve the immune system. Flavanoids also found in astragalus, provide health benefits through cell signaling. They show antioxidative qualities, control and scavenge of free radicals, and can help prevent heart disease and immunodeficiency viruses.
Benefits of Astragalus
Astragalus has a long and enduring history as a potent immune boosting herb and disease fighter. It is an immunostimulant (an agent that stimulates the immune system) that it is known to increase the count of white blood cells and stimulate the production of antibodies, this builds up bodily resistance to viruses and bacteria.
There have been many clinical studies showing how Astragalus not only boosts the immune system, but also encourages an increase in immune cell (T-cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, immunoglobulin) activity, production, and function.
Astragalus appears to help trigger immune cells from a resting state into heightened activity. The number of macrophages (cells of the immune system that ingest foreign antigens to protect against infection) has been shown to increase after administering Astragalus. The natural killer cells of the immune system also have a markedly enhanced ability to fight intruders (five to six times higher than normal).
Astragalus has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for longevity, to invigorate qi (vital energy) and to strengthen the body. New and exciting research is currently being conducted that shows that Astragalus does, indeed, have powerful anti-aging properties, slowing the aging process at a cellular level.
Astragaloside IV – a saponin of this powerful herb – has shown benefits in reversing cell damage and in activating telomerase, this addresses telomere shortening and slows down cellular aging. Telomeres are the protective ends of chromosomes that slowly shorten and wear out each time cell division occurs in the body – a process central to human aging. The theory is that telomeres act as a kind of countdown clock, so when they wear out, cell division stops and tissues quickly degrade and die. Telomerase enzymes work to renew telomeres, although they are not produced as the body ages over time.
Astragalus root is most effective when taken long-term, providing many benefits that can contribute to a longer, healthier life.
Astragalus root is considered an adaptogen – it helps to build and restore overall health to the body. It is especially used for cases of adrenal fatigue, in particular when symptoms manifest as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia.
Research shows that the plant flavonoids present in Astragalus have cardioprotective effects, helping to prevent plaque build up in the arteries and narrowing of the blood vessel walls by protecting the inner wall of the vessel. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower triglycerides. One particular study published in the “Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine” found that one particular flavonoid “Astragaloside IV” exerted protective effects on the cardiovascular system.
Ways to take Astragalus
You will be able to find this herb at just about any local health food store;
- Tincture (liquid alcohol extract)
- Capsules and tablets
- Topically for the skin
- Dried and used in tea
Possible Side Effects & Cautions of Astragalus
Astragalus is generally safe to use with no serious side effects. There are possible interactions with other herbal supplements, so start with smaller doses to prevent side effects.
Women who are pregnant and who are nursing should not use astragalus, as some animal research indicates it may not be safe for pregnant moms.
People with autoimmune diseases should speak with their doctors before starting astragalus because of its ability to stimulate the immune system. Individuals with diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other immune system conditions could be especially sensitive to astragalus.
Some specialists suggest only using a specific adaptogen for a few months and then move on to another.
There are so amazing natural ways to support your immune system. Nature provided us with the first medicines and honestly still the best! If you would like to learn about these and the many other ways your diet can help improve your health, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to working with you to optimal health very soon!