What is Astragalus Good for?

by Sirah Dubois, Demand Media

    The roots of the astragalus plant have been used in China as an herbal remedy for hundreds of years, earning a reputation for promoting longevity and stimulating recovery from disease. In modern usage, astragalus is considered an immune system booster because it contains compounds that act as antimicrobials and antioxidants. Furthermore, astragalus root stimulates enzymes that may help to slow down cellular aging.

    Astragalus Root

    The astragalus plant is indigenous to the northern regions of China, although it’s now grown and used medicinally in many other Asian countries. The roots of the plant are primarily used, but not until they are aged for at least three or four years. Astragalus roots are made into extracts, tonics, tablets and herbal teas. In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus preparations are considered safe and effective for promoting health and longevity, especially when used on a long-term basis over many months. In comparison, echinacea herb has some similar properties and indications, but is recommended for short-term use only.

    Antimicrobial and Immune Benefits

    Astragalus root contains strong antioxidants, flavonoids and other phytochemicals, such as saponins, which display antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants eliminate free radicals, which are by-products of oxidation reactions that cause tissue damage, especially in blood vessels. As a good wide-spectrum antimicrobial, astragalus is able to thwart many types of infectious micro-organisms. In addition, astragalus is able to stimulate the synthesis and release of interleukin-2, a powerful compound that deters cancer growth and viral replication, and also “natural killer” cells, which attack and destroy a variety of pathogens.

    Potential Anti-Aging Benefits

    Compounds within astragalus called cycloastragenol and astragaloside are able to activate telomerase enzymes, which can prevent telomere depletion and possibly rebuild them. Telomeres are the protective end-points of your chromosomes, which slowly degrade with time as your cells continually divide. Therefore, the rate of telomere destruction or shortening is directly tied to aging, which makes telomeres sort of a “countdown clock” to cell death. In theory, astragalus may slow down cellular aging because of its affect on telomerase enzyme production and telomere renewal.

    Anti-Stress Benefits

    Astragalus is categorized as an adaptogen, similar to ginseng root, which means it helps your body build up energy and resist the negative effects of stress and fatigue caused by the release of adrenal hormones such as cortisol. Adaptogens also speed up recovery from illness, enhance vitality and boost libido. Long-term use of astragalus is considered safe, even at daily dosages as high as 25 grams, although more typical extract doses range between 200 milligrams and 500 milligrams three times daily, according to "Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews."

    References

    • Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica; Dan Bensky et al.
    • Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
    • PDR for Herbal Medicines; PDR Medical Staff

    About the Author

    Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.