(Astragalus membranaceus)

Excerpted from:

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief
By David Winston

“Astragalus is a mild adaptogen, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiperspirant, a heart tonic, hepatoprotective, and an immune tonic.

“The reality of adaptogens is that they are effective tonics and can be taken daily for overall health.  In fact, throughout the world millions of people are using these products on a daily basis.

“Adaptogens can greatly increase the effectiveness of some modern drugs, including antibiotics, anxiolytics (anxiety relief), antidepressants, and hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) agents.  They can also reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the side effects of some drugs.  They have a proven record of being safe, efficacious, and quite versatile in their treatment of many conditions.

All adaptogens have antistress qualities that provide stabilizing effects on the neuroendocrine system, especially the HPA axis.  All adaptogens help to modulate and enhance the immune system.  All adaptogens provide antioxidant nutrients.

“It is important to remember the following conclusions about the health benefits of adaptogens:

All adaptogens have anti-stress qualities that help provide stabilizing effects on the neuroendocrine system, especially the HPA axis.
All adaptogens help to modulate and/or enhance the immune system.
Most, if not all, adaptogens have antioxidant properties.

“Because they have these qualities, adaptogens have been proven to help:
Reverse immunosuppression caused by stress.
Reverse the decline of immune-system function as people get older.
Reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

“Herbs are pharmacologically active substances.  Please be cautious when selecting adaptogens for specific conditions.

“Protects against oxidative damage because of its antioxidant activity
Benefits the lungs and entire respiratory system
Strengthens the lungs and treats asthma
Protects against chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Has antitumor properties
Protects the heart
Regulates blood pressure
Is useful for treating angina and mild congestive heart failure
Supports digestive health
Is used for chronic diarrhea, chronic ulcers, and hemorrhoids
Modulates and enhances the immune system
Has antibacterial, antiviral, and microbial activity
Protects against liver damage and dysfunction
Helps relieve menopausal symptoms
Stimulates sperm motility
Benefits the integumentary system
Treats disorders of the skin including burns
Has been used for the treatment of skin cancer 
Supports the kidneys and urinary functions
Is a mild diuretic

“The herb’s Chinese name, huang qi, means ‘yellow leader.’  It is called this because its quality roots are yellow, and it is the ‘leader’ of the tonic herbs.  According to Shennong, Astragalus treats festering sores by expelling pus and relieving pain.  In his book, the Shennong Herbal, he also stated that it cures five kinds of hemorrhoids and leprosy, relieves weakness, and is good for hundreds of diseases in children.
“Other classic texts further elaborate on the usefulness of this herb.  Da Ming, in his book Da Ming Ri Hua Ben Cao, wrote that Astragalus is good for treating asthma, deafness due to deficient kidneys, diseases with chills and fevers, and coughing with phlegm, and that it strengthens the tendons, bones, and muscles.
“Li Gao, in the book Huang Di Nei Jing Lingshu, wrote that Astragalus replenishes the three portions of the body cavity and reinforces the body’s resistance to disease.  Combining Astragalus with Licorice and Ginseng, he stated, ‘forms a miraculous prescription for eliminating heat in the muscles and restlessness and irritation.’  

Modern Uses
“Astragalus is used today in China for many purposes.  It is a Spleen Qi tonic, and it can be used for lack of appetite, organ prolapse, fatigue, and wasting and thirsting syndrome (usually caused by diabetes or tuberculosis).
“Astragalus strengthens the Lung Qi and, because the lungs help create the Wei Qi, is able to strengthen this type of qi.  Wei Qi is the protective energy that helps prevent illness caused by external pernicious influences.  When the Wei Q is deficient, people can get sick more easily, sweat too much or not enough, and develop sores that won’t come to a head.  In addition, by strengthening the Wei Qi, this herb reduces excessive sweating, menopausal sweating, and night sweats and promotes suppuration of boils and carbuncles.  
“Astragalus enhances immune system function and helps prevent colds, influenza, bronchitis, mononucleosis, pneumonia, infection by the coxsackie B virus (the major cause of myocarditis), and other forms of external evil.  It helps prevent immunosuppression caused by chemotherapy and has tumor-inhibiting activity.  In Chinese studies, Astragalus combined with Ligusticum fruit increased survival times in patients with breast and non-small-cell lung cancers.
“More recently, this herb has been used to improve cardiac blood flow.  Combined with Dan Shen, Dang Gui, and Corydalis tuber, Astragalus is useful for treating angina and mild congestive heart failure.
“Regular use of the root has been shown to prevent kidney and liver damage caused by medications and viruses.  It is usually combined with other hepatoprotective herbs such as Milk Thistle, Schisandra, and Turmeric or nephroprotective (protects the kidneys) herbs such as Cordyceps, Nettle Seed, and Dan Shen.

“Liquid Extract:  40 – 80 drops (2 – 4 dropperfuls), three times per day.
Decoction:  Add 2 tsp dried, cut root to 12 oz water.  Slowly decoct for twenty to thirty minutes.  Let steep another half hour.  Take up to three cups per day.

In traditional Chinese medicine, tonic herbs such as Astragalus should not be taken when someone has an acute infectious illness such as colds, flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia, because it can cause stagnation and ‘feed’ the illness.

“Animal and human studies show that this herb enhances the effects of recombinant interleukin 2 and recombinant-alpha interferon 1 and 2 immunotherapy.  It also reduces side effects and enhances the effects of other types of chemotherapy and radiation therapies.  There is a theoretical concern about using Astragalus as an immune potentiator along with immunosuppressive medications.  Use cautiously together.”

Excerpted from:

Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism
By Donald R. Yance

“The root of Astragalus is a primary overall health-promoting tonic for building the vital force.  I classify Astragalus as a secondary adaptogen, not a primary adaptogen, because it does not have a direct or profound effect on the neuroendocrine system.  However, for persons under immunological stress (from chemotherapy, surgery, traveling, lack of sleep, or debilitation due to an acute infection), I consider it a primary adaptogen.  Because of the immense amount of research, particularly in the field of oncology, proving this herb’s benefits, as well as the documented effects of traditional use and my personal experience with this herb over many years, I consider Astragalus well suited for the masses.  It is extremely safe and well tolerated, and it is particularly useful for supporting the immune system.

“Astragalus nourishes the bone marrow, improves and balances the immune system, and boosts the vital force, providing the immune system with the energy needed to perform.  It is most important for people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly or people with cancer.  Astragalus is one of the main herbs used in Fu Zheng therapy to enhance the immune system during chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  The name fu zheng means to ‘normalize, secure, and support the center (root).’  Fu Zheng herbs include adaptogens, tonics, and organ-system enhancers/protectors.  Astragalus-based formulas have been extensively researched and have demonstrated an ability to significantly improve the quality of life and overall survival of cancer patients by improving the health of the patients, by potentiating the therapy, and by inhibiting or reversing multidrug resistance of the drug against the cancer phenotype.  As an example, a review of thirty-four randomized studies of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer combined with platinum-based chemotherapy showed that Astragalus-based Fu Zheng herbs significantly increased tumor response, quality of life, and overall survival.
“Astragalus is also a great tonic herb for small children.  It can be added to an adaptogenic formula for immune support as a preventive medicine when children are in school or when the weather changes.
“Astragalus has been prescribed for centuries for general weakness, for chronic illness, and to increase overall vitality.  The herb is a superior tonic to invigorate vital energy, or qi.  It tones Spleen Qi and is useful in Spleen deficiency problems such as poor appetite, fatigue, and diarrhea.  In China, Astragalus has enjoyed a long history of use in traditional medicine to strengthen Wei Qi, or ‘defensive energy,’ or in Western terms, the immune system.  Astragalus root is used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating colds, flu, respiratory disorders, fatigue, poor digestion, lack of appetite, diabetes, stomach ulcers, and kidney disease; it is liver strengthening and a good heart tonic.  It is also regarded as a potent tonic for increasing energy levels.  By encouraging blood flow to the surface, this herb is effective in controlling night sweats, relieving fluid retention, and reducing thirstiness due to Spleen deficiency.

“Astragalus root is considered an energy-building or qi-enhancing herb.  It is a well-known immune enhancer/modulator.  It is also popularly used today for improving the quality of life and life span of people with cancer, most specifically for reducing the side effects in cancer patients undergoing conventional cytotoxic therapies including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biologically targeted therapies.  It is particularly useful for supporting the immune system and as a tonic to build stamina, and although it does have neuroendocrine-enhancing qualities and has recently been shown to enhance growth-hormone release, it does not have a substantial research base in this area, especially with regard to stress.  Astragalus has demonstrated a wide range of potential therapeutic applications in immunodeficiency syndromes, as an adjunct cancer therapy, and for its adaptogenic effect on the heart and kidneys.  
“Scientific studies have documented the strong immune-enhancing effect of this herb.  The immunopotentiating effect of Astragalus has been primarily associated with its polysaccharide fractions.  Astragalus is also widely used as a prophylactic against colds and influenza.

“Astragalus promotes hematopoiesis (the process of production, multiplication, and specialization of blood cells in the bone marrow) and is an efficacious adjuvant therapy against myelosuppression induced by anticancer therapy.

Safety Profile

“There are no known side effects or toxicity from taking Astragalus Root.  It is considered one of the safest herbs to use and is well suited for all people – young, old, weak, strong, and even small children and infants (dosage would need to be adjusted accordingly).

“Astragalus Root can be cooked in soups or made into tea decoctions; in China, the root slices are simmered in boiling water for several hours to make a tea.”

Astragalus Root cut
Astragalus Root liquid extract

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