Astragalus Benefits Defined
Astragalus, astragalus membranaceous, is one of the gems in traditional Chinese medicine. It is derived from a pea plant native to northern China and Mongolia, which contains compounds with many health benefits, including treatment applications for cancer, blood sugar imbalances, and heart disease. The essential anti-inflammatory, stress relief, and respiratory treatment properties are nothing to sneeze at, either.
Clinical studies on the herb’s health benefits are still limited, but animal and laboratory testing, as well as its long history of successful use, indicate its strong potential to treat a host of ailments. In fact, researchers at the National Institute for Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH-NCCIH) have received funding to investigate its physical effects. They are particularly interested in astragalus benefits to protect the immune system.
The astragalus plant is available for medical consumption in tincture, capsule, tablets, and is sold in dried slices or tea bags at most Chinese grocery stores.
Dr. Kristaps Paddock, a naturopathic doctor in Baltimore, Md., uses astragalus frequently in his practice.
“In Naturopathic medicine, it is primarily used to treat two main conditions. One is for patients who are suffering recurrent infections, usually viral infections,” says Dr. Paddock. Patients are often struggling with cold symptoms that never truly disappear. “We might use it with one or two other anti-viral herbs or other immune-modulating herbs—herbs that will strengthen the immune system but not over stimulate it.”
Dr. Paddock also uses the herb to treat patients with high levels of inflammation.
According to Dr. Paddock, astragalus is especially useful against chronic viral infections that are “difficult for the body to clear or get rid of” on its own, such as illnesses like mononucleosis that are caused by the Epstein Barr Virus. Since the Epstein-Barr virus has been linked to autoimmune diseases and cancer, it’s extremely important to clear such viruses out of your system with any natural means available.
Dr. Paddock advises that astragalus be used in combination with other herbals to maximize overall efficacy.
An Anti-Inflammatory That Boosts Immunity
A 2012 study on the effect of Astragalus on the immune system demonstrates the herb’s potential to improve immune system functioning. A compound within the herb can suppress the HMGB1 protein, which is a substance that increases inflammation within the immune system. This makes Astragalus a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, useful for treating wounds and skin ailments. According to naturopath Dr. Laurell Matthews, Astragalus “can help the body compensate for long-term stress” because it contains an adaptogen which protects the body from emotional and physical stress.”
Treats High Blood Sugar
The Chinese health regulatory agency has approved remedies containing astragalus for the treatment of diabetes. Pharmacological studies have shown that the herb can combat high blood sugar by stimulating the production of insulin by the functional beta cells in the pancreas and increasing insulin sensitivity. This sensitization effect is especially potent in muscle and the liver. This makes it extra useful for treating metabolic syndromes and Type 2 Diabetes. Clinical studies show that drugs containing the herb lower blood glucose, and can be substituted or used along with chemical drugs to treat diabetes. In the latter case, the inclusion of the astragalus medication enables patients to reduce their doses of standard chemical drugs, thereby reducing side effects.
Helps The Heart
Scientific studies on animals have yielded promising results about Astragalus’ ability to improve cardiac function. A compound derived from the herb, called Astragaloside, can protect myocardial cells by preventing oxidative stress—which causes base cell damage—and apoptosis, which is the programmatic death of cells..
Astragalus polysaccharides are successful at lowering cholesterol. Animal studies prove that the compound reduces the absorption of bad cholesterol, endowing it with the potential to act as a natural alternative to standard cholesterol medications.
Relieves Respiratory Symptoms
Astragalus is the main ingredient in a popular medicine called huang qi, available in any drugstore in China for use against colds, flus, and other respiratory infections. The Chinese have been using it for centuries to treat respiratory infections of all kinds, and recent clinical evaluations prove its power to combat cold and flu-like symptoms. Compounds within Astragalus fight viral and respiratory infections by increasing the body’s antibody response and improving lung function.
A Potential Treatment For Cancer
Scientific studies demonstrate a multitude of ways that Astragalus compounds help fight cancer. Clinical evaluation illustrates how a certain polysaccharide isolated from the astragalus herb can reduce the toxicity and promote the efficacy of chemotherapy, thereby improving that cancer treatment, while also contributing to tumor reduction. The herb’s compounds have been shown to target the growth of colon, liver, and stomach cancer cells also. Finally, the herb can repair damaged T cells—cells that appear to inhibit cancer progress and aid other tumor-fighting cells. Researchers continue to investigate the potential of these compounds to help treat advanced and metastatic gastric cancers. The herb’s power to relieve chemotherapy side effects can vastly improve the quality of life of cancer patients.
Maggie Tennis is a writer based in Washington, DC. She enjoys adventuring in the city’s many parks, paddle boarding on the Potomac River and walking until her feet ache. Maggie believes that wellness means pursuing that balanced feeling of feeling good—for your mind, body and spirit—and sometimes that means eating popsicles for breakfast.
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