Have you been feeling stressed lately? Is anxiety taking a toll on your health? Well, it may be time to add astragalus root to your wellness regimen.
This adaptogen herb is known for its stress relieving and immunity building properties. It also helps in lowering blood pressure, managing diabetes and improving circulation.
Let us learn more about this super herb and its many health benefits.
What is astragalus?
Astragalus, also known as ‘Huang qi’ or ‘milk vetch,’ is a type of a bean. Though there are over 2000 species of astragalus, most supplements contain Astragalus membranaceus or Astragalus mongholicus (1).
This herb originated in China and is native to the northern provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan. It has been used in Chinese medicine for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties for centuries.
Astragalus contains saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides, which provide this herb all its medicinal properties.
The astragalus plant is a perennial flowering plant that grows up to 36 inches tall. However, only the roots that are harvested from four-year-old plants are used for medicinal purposes.
Health benefits of astragalus
Astralagus roots contain anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, which is why this plant is treasured in traditional medicine. Here are some of its health benefits.
Chronic inflammation can lead to numerous diseases like arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. Astralagus contains polysaccharides, which provide anti-inflammatory benefits to this plant.
This property of astragalus helps in the faster healing of wounds, and it also helps in reducing the severity of inflammatory conditions like arthritis and eczema.
According to a 2009 study, when rats with colitis were given astragalus membranaceus treatment twice a day for three days, it improved their condition significantly (2).
During another 2015 study, when researchers gave water and alcoholic extract of astragalus to rats, it produced significant anti-inflammatory effects (3).
2. Boosts the immune system
The immunity-boosting properties of astragalus have been utilized in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. The Chinese have used this herb for protection against many diseases and infections.
During one study done at Beijing Friendship Hospital, researchers observed that astragalus extract boosts the immune system by activating and regulating T-cells (4).
These cells identify foreign antigens and destroy abnormal cancerous and virus-infected cells.
3. Improves heart health
Numerous studies suggest that astragalus root contains many cardioprotective nutrients like flavonoids and polysaccharides that protect heart health.
The antioxidant action of these nutrients helps reduce free radical damage to arterial walls and the heart tissue. Astragalus extract also reduces plaque formation on the walls of the blood vessels and the narrowing of the arteries.
According to a study by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, astragalus injection, combined with conventional treatment for viral myocarditis, showed a significantly better outcome (5).
During another study, when scientists injected astragalus extract into 19 patients with congestive heart failure for two weeks, the symptoms of chest distress and dyspnea were reduced in 15 of the 19 patients (6).
Astragalus also helps reduce blood pressure and levels of triglycerides, which helps reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack and hardening of artery walls. Astragalus also helps prevent heart muscle damage from calcium overload during heart attacks.
4. Anti-cancer properties
Astragalus contains phytochemicals that have excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These provide the anti-cancer properties to this herb.
According to a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, astragalus is a potent multidrug-resistant reversal agent and can be used in addition to hepatic cancer chemotherapy (7).
Another study showed that astragalus saponins could be quite useful in colon cancer treatment (8).
According to a study published in World Journal of Gastroenterology, astragalus help inhibit the apoptosis of mesothelial cells. So, this herb can be used to inhibit the growth of stomach cancer cells along with conventional medicine (9).
5. Alleviates the side effects of chemotherapy
Astragalus can also help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. It also provides immune support to people undergoing chemotherapy.
According to a meta-analysis of various trials published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, astragalus treatment, when combined with chemotherapy, increases the effectiveness of the procedure and also reduces chemotherapy toxicity (10).
6. Regulates and prevents diabetes
Astragalus has been used traditionally as an antidiabetic medication for years in China. Several studies confirm that this herb is indeed very useful in counteracting insulin resistance and treating diabetes.
The saponins, flavonoids, and polysaccharides in astragalus help in managing type1 and type 2 diabetes. They modulate T helper cells 1 and 2, reduce the inflammatory response and promote antioxidant activities towards protection of pancreatic beta cells (11).
Diabetic nephropathy has also become a serious problem these days. Recent studies have shown that astragalus can slow the progress of kidney problems and provide renal protection (12).
7. Promotes wound healing
Astragalus root helps in accelerating wound healing by promoting tissue regeneration. Traditional Chinese medicine has used this root for treating wounds and repairing and rejuvenating injured organs and tissues.
During a 2014 study, researchers applied astragalus plant extract on wounds of male rats for ten days. The researchers observed that the astragalus accelerated skin wound contraction and healing (13).
Another study showed that wounds treated with astragalus improved wound healing and reduced scarring (14).
8. Prevents infections
Regular intake of astragalus supplements helps prevent colds and flu. The antiviral properties of this adaptogen herb make it an effective preventive treatment for colds and upper respiratory tract infections.
It is also helpful in treating recurrent tonsillitis in children (15). Astragalus also has an immunomodulatory effect on porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) and classical swine fever virus (16).
9. Prevents asthma
Various studies have shown astragalus to be effective in preventing asthma symptoms
During one study astragaloside IV, the main active ingredient in astragalus was given to mice. After the treatment, their hypersensitivity in airways was sharply reduced, so was the mucus production and inflammation (17).
Astragalus also plays a vital role in preventing the reoccurrence of asthma in children. According to a clinical study, when children with asthma in remission stage were given astragalus treatment along with hormone treatment, they showed better effects (18).
10. Anti-aging agent
The Chinese have been using this herb to promote longevity for centuries. Research too shows that a component of astragalus called cycloastragenol helps increase telomerase, an enzyme that supports telomere health.
Telomeres ( end portions of DNA) get shortened every time the cell undergoes division. So the length of telomere can indicate the biological age of a person.
In 2012, a study was performed to investigate mitochondrial protection and anti-aging activity of astragalus polysaccharides. The study showed that polysaccharides have a positive impact on the immune system and the function of the brain (19).
11. Provides relief from stress
In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus root is known to fight stress. Being an adaptogen, it protects the body from physical, emotional and mental stress.
It helps by increasing anti-stress compounds in the body and thus helps prevent stress-related damage.
According to a 2014 study, astragaloside IV helps ameliorate immobilized stress-induced anxiety and inflammation (20).
Ways to use astragalus
Astragalus comes in many different forms like powder, herbal decoctions, tablets, and capsules. They can be used in addition to conventional treatments but should not be used as a replacement for them.
Astragalus can also be combined with other adaptogens like licorice root, ginseng, shisandra, and cordyceps. You can also make tea and soup with astragalus root.
Recipe for astragalus root tea
Drink this tea if you when you feel a cold or flu coming.
- Dried astragalus root slices: 3 to 5 tablespoons
- Water: 1-liter water
Boil one liter of water and add astragalus root slices to it. Let it boil for five more minutes. Pour the tea through a filter and drink it.
Recipe for astragalus root chicken soup
- Chicken: 1 (small)
- Dried astragalus root slices: 2 to 3 teaspoons
- Bay leaf: 1
- Ginger: ½ inch chopped finely
- Garlic: 5 to 7 cloves finely chopped
- Chilli peppers: 3
- Green onion: 1 finely sliced
- Sea salt: 2 teaspoons
Clean and remove the excess fat and skin of the chicken. Place it on a pot and fill it with water until the chicken wholly submerged.
Add salt and bay leaf and let it boil. Once the water has boiled, reduce the heat and add astragalus, chopped ginger, and garlic. Let it cook for two hours. Add spring onions and chilies (optional) and salt if needed.
Side effects of astragalus
Although astragalus is generally considered safe for use, it can have some side effects and interactions.
- Since astragalus helps boost immunity, people with autoimmune disorders should avoid taking this herb.
- Astragalus can counteract the effect of immunosuppressant drugs for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
- Women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding should avoid taking this herb as some research has indicated that it may not be safe for them.
- People who have undergone organ replacement should avoid this herb because it can interact with cyclophosphamide which reduces the risk of organ rejection.
Astragalus is an adaptogen herb known for its stress relieving and immunity building properties. This plant provides anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.
Its many health benefits include a better immune system, improved heart health, diabetes prevention, and improved wound healing.
Astragalus comes in many different forms like powder, herbal decoctions, tablets, and capsules. However, it can have some side effect and interactions.
So, use caution and seek doctor’s advice before you start using astragalus.