Astragalus has been used for centuries to boost the immune system. It is a commonly used herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine and recently it has become popular in the United States as well. The astragalus root is used in soups and teas and it can also be taken as a supplement for those who want to enjoy the health benefits of astragalus.
Astragalus has a long history of medicinal use with early writings on the herb dating back over 2000 years. A native of China and Tibet, astragalus is a perennial that is a member of the legume family.
There are over 2000 species of astragalus, but only two are used medicinally - Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus. Roots are harvested from plants that are four to seven years old. They are then dried and used in teas and supplements that provide a variety of health benefits.
The Benefits of Astragalus
Astragalus seems to have the unique ability to stimulate the immune system's NK cells without stimulating B cells. It also increases the production of interferon which helps improve resistance to viral infections. These qualities may make it useful in treating autoimmune diseases that can be worsened with other immune stimulating herbs.
There is also evidence that, combined with other immune stimulating herbs, astragalus activates immune cells quickly. This may be helpful in those with weak immune systems and those fighting infections
Studies have shown astragalus to be useful for those with cancer as well. One study concluded that astragalus is helpful for those undergoing chemotherapy. Test subjects who supplemented with astragalus experienced less toxicity from the chemotherapy, higher immune function, inhibited tumor development and a better quality of life overall.
An increase in the motility of sperm was reported in test subjects of a study conducted by the Institutes of Traditional Medicine and Clinical Medicine. This confirms the traditional use of astragalus in ancient Chinese medicine where it was prescribed for treating male infertility.
There is also some evidence that astragalus may be useful in the treatment of hepatitis because of it's ability to enhance immune function. More research is needed to confirm this benefit.
If all that isn't enough, astragalus also has anti-fungal properties as well as an anti-inflammatory effect. Herbalists also recommend it for treating cold and flu and it may also be useful for improving heart function.
Astragalus is considered safe with no known side effects however, if you are pregnant or breast feeding you should discuss it with your doctor before using it. If you are taking any immune suppressing drugs, you should not take astragalus. Children can safely take astragalus unless they have a fever, in which case astragalus may prolong the fever.
It is also important to note that the only astragalus species that is used in herbal remedies is the one grown in China. In the western United States another species grows and is commonly referred to as locoweed. Common names for this species include Lambert crazyweed, stemless loco, white woollyloco and whitepoint locoweed. In animals, especially cows and horses, ingesting this herb causes aggression, fatigue, nervousness, abortion and depression. Locoweed has not been tested or researched for its effects on humans.
As with any herb, you should discuss astragalus with your doctor before using it. Please note that this herb is not approved by the FDA.
An Immune Tonic
The evidence shows that astragalus is useful in supporting immune function. Supplementing with astragalus may help you stay healthier, especially during cold and flu season. Add this herbal supplement to your health routine and enjoy the benefits of astragalus yourself.