Astragalus is one of the most widely prescribed herbs in Chinese medicine. Generally, it is used not to treat any disease in particular but to enhance and balance bodily functions.
Astragalus helps increase vitality, builds the blood, normalises the hormones, and improves circulation. It is used to bolster the wei chi, or the defensive immune system, helping the body to be more resistant to invasive pathogens. It increases phagocytic activity, inhibits viral replication, and increases the formation of lymphocytes. Astragalus reduces levels of T suppressor cells and enhances the function of the adrenal cortex. It is included in the database of the National Cancer Institute as a herb that can inhibit tumour growth. In a 1989 study at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, patients with lung or liver cancer were given astragalus combinations during their courses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy; the one-year survival rates increased from 28% to 71% for those undergoing radiation and from 8% to 47% for those undergoing chemotherapy.
In addition to cancer recovery, astragalus is beneficial in cases of AIDS, blood loss (recovery from), bone marrow depression, frequent colds, diabetes, edema, exhaustion, hepatitis, hypertension, weakened immunity, lung weakness, night sweats, prolapsed organ, poor sperm motility, slow-healing wounds, and wasting diseases.
Astragalus has a long history of use in traditional medicine to strengthen the immune system. Regarded as a potent tonic for increasing energy levels and stimulating the immune system, Astragalus has also been employed effectively as a diuretic, a vasodilator and as a treatment for respiratory infections.
American Cancer Society publication reports it restored immune functions in 90% of the cancer patients studied; use to bolster the white blood cell count; strengthens the body’s resistance; use for debilitating conditions; helps to promote the effects of other herbs; helps to improve digestion. Astragalus is of the most popular herbs used in the Orient; the Chinese name for Astragalus is Huang Ch’i. It is a tonic producing warm energy and specifically tonifying for the lungs, spleen, and triple warmer via meridians.
Easily propagated from seed. Astragalus seeds need to be scratched (scarified) before planting. Rubbing briefly between two pieces of fine sandpaper works well for this. They are best planted in a slightly sandy starting mix using a small peat pot or single seed cell setup. Germination in about 4 weeks with up to 12 weeks to transplant size. Must be in an extremely well-drained potting mix.
Plant in late spring/early summer either with transplanter or by hand. Plant on 1-foot centres with rows at 2-3 feet. Requires very well-drained soil of minimal fertility. Average to small irrigation needs in summer. Tall and spreading, it will fill in rows in the middle of the season. Cultivate before then. No pest problems but lots of root rot. Long root is harvested in late fall after 3 or more years of growth. Clean and dry the root. To dry, cut into smaller pieces to facilitate drying in 7-10 days.
Polysaccharides, asparagine, calcyosin, formononetin, astragalosides, phytosterols, isomnine, kumatakenin, choline, betaine, linoleic acid, linolenic acid
Though the root is too tough to chew, you can tenderise it through soaking or cooking. It can be added to soups of all sorts, and it is wonderful in immune-building soups with garlic, onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and miso.
Immune enhancing, tonic, adaptogenic, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypotensive, antioxidant
AIDS, blood loss (recovery from), bone marrow depression, cancer recovery, frequent colds, diabetes, oedema, exhaustion, hepatitis, hypertension, weakened immunity, lung weakness, night sweats, prolapsed organ, poor sperm motility, slow-healing wounds, and wasting diseases.
Astragalus has an unusual ability to stimulate certain immune functions while depressing others. It is an overall body tonic that is used to strengthen digestion, increase metabolic activity, and stimulate the immune system. It is highly beneficial for anyone who experiences fatigue, low vitality, and frequently recurring infections. This makes it useful in treating complex disease conditions such as HIV/ AIDS, immune suppression due to cancer treatment, lupus, and myasthenia gravis. It also normalizes the function of the heart and kidneys. Astragulus is most effective when it is used long term, on a daily basis.
Benefits of Astragalus for specific health conditions include the following:
Chinese clinical studies have found that astragalus improves circulation after a heart attack by increasing the action of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. In this regard, it is as effective as aspirin. Clinical testing also has shown that astragalus increases the effectiveness of lidocaine, the drug used in emergency rooms to treat the weak, erratic heartbeat of ventricular fibrillation, a common and life-threatening complication of heart attack. The herb also protects heart tissues from damage after blood returns to them after a heart attack or bypass surgery.
Astragalus treats infections caused by Proteus, which can cause kidney stones.
Chinese studies have found that astragalus increases the activity of lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells, an immune-system component. Synthetic IL-2, used for colorectal cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, and kidney cancer, is extremely toxic when concentrated, but the simultaneous use of IL-2 and astragalus increases the drug’s effectiveness. This allows the use of a lower, less toxic dosage of IL-2. Also, astragalus stops the spread of cancers known to respond to gene p53, a tumor suppressing gene that acts as a molecular “patrolman” to keep defective cells from multiplying.Chinese studies of the treatment of small cell lung cancer with standard chemotherapy drugs combined with astragalus and ginseng produced dramatic increases in longevity. In one study, people with lung cancer survived as long as seventeen years on the combination therapy.
Astragalus alone is effective in preventing depletion of white blood cells during chemotherapy. A clinical study involving 115 patients receiving various forms of chemotherapy found that 83 percent had higher white blood cell counts when given astragalus.
Chinese studies have shown that using astragalus during cold season reduces the number of colds caught and shortens the duration of those that are caught. If you tend to get colds and flu often, astragalus can help you build up a natural resistance. It increases the body’s production of interferon, which contributes to protect against viruses invading the cells. Astragalus also helps the macrophages, immune cells that kill off viruses, to become faster and more efficient.
Astragalus stimulates the activity of T-helper cells depleted by AIDS without stimulating the activity of T-suppressor cells, which would deactivate them.
Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
Astragalus stimulates beneficial components of the immune system in patients with lupus – the natural killer (NK) cells – without stimulating the harmful components involved in rheumatoid arthritis: the B cells. Astragalus increases the immune system’s production of interferon, which stimulates the creation of proteins that prevent viral infection.
Although astragalus is often an immune stimulant, it is an immune suppressant in the treatment of myasthenia gravis, which makes it useful for this disorder. In one study, astragalus significantly reduced patients’ nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antibodies, a measure of the disease’s severity, when compared with antibody levels in a control group of patients.
- Astragalus extract demonstrated a protective effect on erythrocyte deformability ex vivo for blood taken from normal volunteers and patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.
- High oral doses of Astragalus decoction given to participants susceptible to the common cold enhanced immune protection. A preventive effect for the common cold was observed in another independent study, as evidenced by decreased incidence and shortened duration of infection after Astragalus treatment.
- Combined treatment of TCM herbs (such as Astragalus, Panax ginseng leaf, and others) raised the survival rates in patients with small cell lung cancer undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy.
- Average white blood cell counts increased significantly in two groups of patients with leukopenia after treatment with concentrated Astragalus preparations (equivalent to 10 g/day and 30 g/day of Astragalus) for 8 weeks. The results were dose-dependent. Patients were randomised to receive either the low or high dose of Astragalus.
- In a comparative clinical study, Korean ginseng-Astragalus injection reduced toxic chemotherapy effects, increased body weight, and increased cellular immune function compared with chemotherapy alone in patients with malignant tumours of the digestive tract.
- Administration of Astragalus (route undefined) to a large number of patients with chronic viral hepatitis resulted in a success rate of 70%. In most cases, elevated serum glutamic-pyruvic transaminase (GPT) levels returned to normal after 1 to 2 months. (In TCM, Astragalus is often administered by injection for the treatment of hepatitis. 4 )
- Natural killer cell activity increased significantly in patients with Coxsackie B viral myocarditis who were treated with intramuscular injections of Astragalus for 3 to 4 months.
- In a comparative trial, 92 patients with ischemic heart disease were treated with Astragalus, Salvia miltiorrhiza, or the antianginal drug nifedipine. Results were superior for the Astragalus-treated group, as demonstrated by marked relief from angina pectoris and improvement in several objective clinical parameters.
- In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of 507 elderly people, oral administration of Astragalus in combination with Polygonum multiflorum and Salvia miltiorrhiza demonstrated significant antiaging effects.
- In two double-blind, clinical trials, topical application of Astragalus combined with interferon was beneficial treating chronic cervicitis associated with viral infection.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Root: 6,000 – 15,000mg
• Dried 10:1 Powder: 2,000 – 5,000mg
• Tincture: 4.5 – 8.5mL (1:2)
• Astragalus should not be consumed during an acute phase of infections.
• Astragalus should not be consumed during Pregnancy or lactation (except under close professional supervision).
Interactions with other drugs
• May reduce efficacy of immune suppressing medications
• May reduce adverse effects of chemotherapy.
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Tierra, Michael and David Frawley. Planetary Herbology: An Integration of Western Herbs into the Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic Systems. 1st ed. Twin Lakes, Wis.: Lotus Press, 1988.
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