Adaptogenic herbs have beneficial stress adapting properties that they pass on to those who consume them to support healthy function. Astragalus is an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to assist the body in adapting to stress and boosting natural immunity.
Astragalus belongs to the legume family of herbs and small shrubs and is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It has been called milkvetch, locoweed and goat’s thorn. There are more than 2000 species worldwide, but the varieties that are most revered are found in Central and Western Asia due to the presence of certain bacteria in the soil that are required for its growth.
Active compounds in astragalus
The active compounds in astragalus root include polysaccharide cycloartane glycoside fractions, isoflavonoids, saponins and triterpenoids. All of these have a powerful effect on the balancing stress and stimulating immunity.
Polyscaccharides are specific carbohydrates that provide powerful antioxidant effects in the body and feed the immune cells. Since these polysaccharides feed the body, astragalus enhances the body’s overall vitality and is extremely helpful for individuals with chronic illnesses. It fights fatigue by nourishing exhausted adrenals, eliminating toxins in the liver and increasing the flow of bile and digestive fluids.
Astragalus also contains betaine, beta-sitosterol, calcium, choline, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, flavonoids, saponins and triterpenoid glycosides. The triterpenoids and saponins have a similar structural makeup to steroid hormone precursors such as DHEA. This may be why astragalus helps elevate DHEA levels and helps us recover from physical activity and improve strength and endurance.
Astragalus and the immune system:
Astragalus is one of the most researched immune system stimulants. It concentrates on building immunity and can be taken daily to strengthen the immune system and prevent infection. It works by stimulating the body’s production of antiviral compounds called interferons and restoring red blood cell formation in the bone marrow.
Due to its beneficial affects on the Th1 arm of the immune system, it is used to treat HIV viral infections, pneumonia and cardiac arrhythmia. It also has shown great promise for individuals with cancer. In a University of Texas Medical Center study, researchers found that astragalus significantly enhanced T cell function in cancer patients. In some of the cases, astragalus was shown to stimulate the damaged cells to greater activity than normal cells taken from healthy individuals.
Studies done by the American Cancer Society have even showed that cancer patients taking astragalus while receiving radiation and chemotherapy recovered significantly faster and lived longer. Significant increases in white blood cells were found after only two weeks of use of this herb. It was shown not to attack cancer cells but to strengthen the body’s innate immune defenses against cancer development.
Other studies have demonstrated that Astragalus is effective at helping the body’s immune system respond to viral invasions, such as the common cold and flu. It is also great at strengthening the adrenals, improving metabolism, energy, mental stamina and blood sugar control.
Astragalus boosts Th1 immunity:
Astragalus is particularly effective against Th2 dominant conditions such as asthma, allergies, cancer, lupus, scleroderma, sinusitis, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity. Astragalus boosts the Th1 system and helps balance out the immune system with these sort of disorders.
If an individual has a classical Th1 dominant condition, such as type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s, Grave’s Disease, Crohn’s, Psoriasis, Sjoren’s Syndrome, Celiac, lichen planus and rheumatoid arthritits, they should restrict their use of astragalus. In these circumstances, astragalus can cause further immune imbalance and resulting autoimmune inflammatory conditions.
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