With stress, superbugs and pollution now everyday threats to our health, giving the immune system a boost is a priority for many. One herb relied upon for centuries for this purpose is astragalus, and it's shown amazing potential in clinical trials.
Native to China, astragalus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries to treat a number of ailments. Astragalus is a type of legume, but the root of the plant is what is used to create medicine. Astragalus is also referred to in China as Huang Qi and is often boiled to make a tea. While there are thousands of different species of this herb, the Astragalus membranaceous variety is most often used for medicinal purposes and has been studied the most.
Astragalus and Your Immune System
The immune system is responsible for fighting off pathogens we encounter daily that can cause illness. The majority of the immune system exists within the gut (about 70 percent) and can become impaired by germs, bacterial imbalance and poor lifestyle. An impaired immune system leaves you more susceptible to infection.
Astragalus is revered for its many beneficial compounds, which include saponins, flavonoids and polysaccarides. All three of these types of compounds are known to support the immune system and fight off potentially damaging free radicals that can attack cells and also weaken the body's natural defenses. They can also help the body fight an existing infection.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of medicinal food found astragalus was able to inhibit inflammatory responses within the body that cause symptoms during infection. This explains why it's often recommended for use at the first sign of an infection, like a cold.
This is especially exciting for people who have impaired immune systems due to medications and therapies, such as cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy.
In a study published in 2002 in Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (the Chinese journal of integrated traditional and Western medicine), chemotherapy patients with malignant tumors were given astragalus root along with their treatment daily in four 21-day courses. At the end of the study, compared to a control group, those treated with the astragalus showed signs of tumor growth inhibition as well as reduced side effects to the chemotherapy and boosted immune system function.
A second study, conducted in 2008 and published in the medical journal Immunopharmicology and immunotoxicology also found astragalus could help prevent immunosuppression associated with chemotherapy, which can make patients more susceptible to dangerous infections during treatment.
These human studies are promising for chemotherapy patients and more will need to be conducted before astragalus can become a more routinely recommended therapy.
Taking Astragalus Properly
Astragalus is available in many forms and strengths, including liquid extracts, tablets, capsules and even teas. It's also commonly combined with other immunity-boosting herbs like echinacea or goldenseal. There is no standard recommended dose for astragalus.
There are no known drug interactions for astragalus at this time, but individuals who are being treated for a medical condition, especially an auto-immune disorder, shouldn't take astragalus without first consulting a doctor. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid consuming herbal remedies as well.
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