Astragalus

Astragalus ( latin: Astragalus Membranaceus ), is often found in China under the names huáng qí (chin: 黄芪) which translates to yellow emperor, referring to the yellow colored roots. It also comes with the name běi qí, (chin: 北芪), meaning Northern leader.This is attributed to the fact that the plants flourishes more in North China over the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan. Astragalus is a perennial plant, approximately 16 inches tall, that is native to the northern and eastern parts of China as well as Mongolia. It has hairy stems with leaves made up of 12 to 18 pairs of leaflets. The root is usually harvested from 4-year-old plants.

There are more than 2.000 species of Astragalus worldwide. However, the Chinese Astragalus is the only one studied chemically and pharmaceutically. In some European countries it comes also under the name tragacanth and is hard to find. Tragacanth is the name of the gum of the plant which is used in medicine as well as textiles. Shen Nung, who is regarded the founder of Chinese botany, had classified Astragalus as one of the most superior herbs in his classic treatise ( Shen Nung -Pen Tsao Ching circa 100AD). It has been used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years in conjunction with other herbs for the treatment of numerous ailments.

Uses

Mainly, it is used for enhancing the activity of immune system. Other uses include, prevention of colds-influenza, persistent infections( of upper respiratory system in particular) , high blood pressure, diabetes, liver protection, fever ,night sweats ,multiple allergies, shortness of breath ,chronic fatigue ,lack of appetite associated with chemotherapy /anaemia. It is also used to treat gastrointestinal ailments stomach ulcers, uterine bleeding, prolapsed uterus and digestive disturbances like, gas, diarrhea and bloating.

It possesses potent antiviral properties. It belongs to the category of adaptogens (like gin-seng, dong-quai, royal jelly e.t.c). These are substances that adapt their function according to the body’s demands.  Κατέχει επίσης και αντιικές ιδιότητες. If also offers antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. Occasionally, it is used topically for wound healing.

Immune system enhancement

Recent studies show that it boosts the immune system and increases body’s resistance to common viruses and not only. It helps to combat the autoimmune diseases, which are extremely devious, as they cause the immune system to turn against itself (for example Systemic Lupus erythematodus-SLE). As a consequence, vital organs are attacked like heart, liver kidneys e.t.c The ability of Astragalus to fight back those diseases is attributed probably to a polysaccharide (sugar) named astragalan.

Many patients can benefit from this herb, like those on chronic use of corticosteroids, under spleenectomy, burns, bruises, abscesses, colds and flu.

Laboratory research has discovered that it exalts the formation of antibodies and increases the production of T-cells, one of the most important front lines of the body against infections. Current clinical research confirmed the ability of the herb to lift up the quantity of white cells that eliminate infections.

There are studies that ascertained its action against encephalitis viruses. This is attributed on an increase of phagocytes in the body.

In U.S.A studies assessed the use of Astragalus as a possible therapy in patients that their immune system is weak, either due to chemotherapy or due to their submission in strong radiation. As far as the former is concerned, Astragalus comprises a major ingredient, of a Chinese medicine group used for protection against harmful chemotherapy factors. This is achieved by triggering the production of interleukins. This entailed in speeding healing time and extending life expectancy.

Liver

It is of great interest, the use of the herb in adipose liver degeneration which results normally from alcoholism. In laboratory studies Astragalus indicated protection against toxic doses of ethanol.

Cardiovascular system

Astragalus improves cardiac supply and consequently heart function. It comprises a good diuretic, relieving the body from water/salt retention. In this manner it reduces blood pressure. It soothes the thoracic/chest discomfort and dyspnea ( referred as angina) caused by weakening of the heart due to lack of oxygen. It obstructs clot formation and protects myocardium against fatal viruses.
Recent research in China indicates that astragalus may offer antioxidant benefits in people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function. Because Astragalus has many potential applications and few, if any, side effects, it holds promise as an alternative treatment option.

Other uses

Except its use for neutralizing toxic effects of cancer therapy, it can also relieve some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It has proved the ability to reverse the artificially induced memory gaps.

It improves muscle tone in peptic tube and is used to cure general peptic disorders as prolapsed uterus and many others. In the West it is regarded a good tonic and aid for food metabolism and digestion. It has great results in treating diarrhea. It edges into the secretion of gastric fluids. Doing so, Astragalus can help the treatment of stomach ulcers.

Women normally use the herb for night sweats during their menopause.

Early clinical trials in China suggest astragalus root might also benefit people with chronic viral hepatitis, though it may take one to two months to see results.

It is a herb traditionally used for qi replenishment and therefore is recommended for treating chronic fatigue syndrome, weakness and loss of appetite.

The Chinese definition of depression is associated with blockage of qi in vital organs like lungs, spleen and liver. Under that ground, one can conjecture that the herb may also be useful in treating mild forms of depression.

Action mechanism

Astragalus is very rich in polysaccharides, flavonoids, and multiple minerals/trace (Selenium,Iron, Zinc) aminoacids, on which, many of its beneficial actions in immune system are attributed. Antioxidants are substances that protect the body from byproducts of metabolism named free radicals. Astragalan is a fraction of polysaccharides. Studies in China show that it has the ability to increase the production of necrosis(elimination) factor in cancer cells the so called TNF-a (Turmor Necrosis Factor-a).

Dosage

Books of traditional Chinese medicine suggest 9-15grams of the herb daily in decoction form. The dose can go up to 25gr/day. Beware though, as high doses may cause repression of the immune system.

Astragalus may be used in children to support the immune system but should not be used if the child has a fever. The dose should be determined by adjusting the recommended adult dose to account for the child’s weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of astragalus for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage. This dose should be taken once daily for up to one month.

Recommended doses for adults are as follows:
Decoction (strong boiled tea): 3 to 6 g of dried root per 12 oz water
Fluid extract (1:1) in 25% ethanol: 2 to 4 ml three times a day
Powdered extract (solid): 100 to 150 mg of a product standardized to 0.5% 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy isoflavone. Note: this chemical is only used as a manufacturing marker, not as a guarantee of potency or effectiveness.
Ointment: 10% astragalus applied to surface of wound
Tincture (1:5) in 30% ethanol: 3 to 5 ml three times a day

Warnings – contraindication - reactions

Astragalus is very rich in Selenium. Therefore, it shouldn’t be used for long periods of time as it may lead to loss of hair, nails, teeth but also lead to fatigue or even paralysis.

Caution with antiviral drugs as Astragalus amplifies their activity. Astragalus neutralizes the activity of immune suppressant medication. It lowers blood pressure so it should be used carefully with medications for high blood pressure. There is a dander of hemorrhage if used in conjunction with anticoagulants because Astragalus increases their action.

Consult your doctor if you are on any medication before using Astragalus or any other herb.