Astragalus, Immunity and Natural Health: A Summary
Astragalus has been used as an immunity booster in China for thousands of years. The Shen Nong Cannon of Herbs compiled around the second century AD (or early? Some put the date as early as second century BC.) listed Astragalus as one of the "Superior herbs" which, "nontoxic, nurture life and help adapt to nature (principles of Heaven), and will not hurt for long term and high dosage use."
Astragalus: A Great Adaptogen
Belonging to the Leguminosae family, Astragalus membranaceus is one of the most frequently used food supplements and remedies in China. Herb specialists call it an adaptogen, a type of nontoxic natural substance that helps the body maintain its normal balance of health and wholeness as defined by Dr. I. I. Brekman of the Institute of Biologically Active Substances, Academy of Vladivostok, Russia. "Make up energy and redress balance" is the most central quality of Astragalus. Chinese often keep it in their water containers to get the tonic effect constantly.
Active Ingredients and Functions of Astragalus
Analysis shows that Astragalus contains polysaccharides, monosaccharides, flavonoid, alkaloid, including choline and betaine, folic acid, various amino acids, mucoitin, gum, cellulose, picrorhiza, and fourteen mineral trace elements, including selenium, zinc, iron, etc, which are inperative for man and animals. It is believed and used in Chinese traditional medicine for its following pharmacological functions:
- Astragalus strengthens immunity to disease. It has certain inhibiting effects on molecular pathological changes caused by viruses, increases growth of plasma cells, stimulates synthesis of antibodies, and builds up body defense.
- Astragalus deters aging process and facilitates longevity. It delays the natural aging process of diploid blastocyte, prolonging by one third the life span of the cells.
- Astragalus enhances body energy. It promotes metabolism of serum and liver proteins, stimulates growth of antibodies, increases white blood cells, and thus increases resistance to viruses. It also induces production of interferon.
- Astragalus is diuretic, detoxicating and reduces proteinuria and cures kidney disease.
- Astragalus inhibits gastric secretions, reduces gastric acid, and thus helps cure stomach ulcers.
- Astragalus is cardiotonic. It has even more remarkable effects on heart failure due to poisoning or exhaustion.
- Astragalus protects the liver and alleviates liver injury caused by stilbenemidine.
- Astragalus relieves impotence and frigidity.
Recent Research on Astragalus
Numerous scientific studies have confirmed the medicinal value of astragalus. Immunopharmacology (1990;20) and Mutation Research (1992) found enhancement response by Astragalus extract, Journal of Ethnopharmacology (1990) reported a hepatoprotective effect and indicated that ethanol extract of Astragalus alleviates liver injury, Archivos del Instituto de Cardiologia de Mexico (1993) announced the vasodilator and antihypertensive properties of Astragalus extract.
Since the 1950s, scientists have discovered the potential use of Astragalus for treatment of cancer (The Journal of Urology 1991;146:486-490). Investigations conducted by institutions for cancer research indicated that in areas where selenium content in foods is high, rate of stomache cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, colon cancer, etc, is low. Selenium content prevents cell damage caused by hydrogen peroxide and oxidative lipids. Antioxidation effect of selenium is 500 times that of vitamin E. Recently the immunity enhancing properties of Astragalus have led medical scientists to use it in experiments of AIDS treatment (Virology, March 1992). It is considered one of the most promising herbs.
Available Forms of Astragalus
Astragalus is available in many forms. Chinese drug store sell dry roots, some stores sell powder of the roots, some market the extract, while others make it the central ingredient of herbal teas. While some use only the root, others also use the leaves and flowers.