Astragalus - An all rounder
Astragalus has been around in Chinese medicine for two thousand years. It is known as ‘haung qi‘, or chi, because it boosts natural body energy (chi) levels. Astragalus is taken from the root of a perennial plant (Astragalus membranaceous) needing four to seven years to mature before the root is harvested in early spring (rather like Echinacea). The root is not unlike a garlic bulb. Traditionally, this herb is known to boost the immune system and has benefits in cases of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory infections. It is also used as a general tonic and to treat burns, abscesses and for hepatitis.
An excellent Immune system booster
The use of Astragalus dates back to the legendary Chinese emporor Shen-Nong, considered to be the founder of civilization itself!
Astragalus is an important herbal medicine as a general tonic and adaptogen (blood cleanser), immunomodulator and is used to treat very many diseases in China, and now in the West.
A number of clinical studies confirm its use as an immune stimulant for use in colds and upper respiratory infections, and it is also used as a prophylactic (preventative) for these same conditions, supported by data from over 1000 patients in China.
It is widely used as an adjunctive in the preventative treatment of cancer and appears to potentiate the effects of interferon therapy.
Astragalus has antioxidant, hepatoprotective and antiviral activity; also cardio-active effects, mainly relief from angina, have also been confirmed.
The main use of Astragalus is as a general tonic and for immune enhancement. No toxicity.
Many clinical and animal studies have been carried out, the resluts usually published in Chinese. (Cf. extensive refs: Potters New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs (2003), Publ. C.W.Daniel Co.Ltd. UK., p34ff)
Its wide usage in China as an immune system booster brought interest from Europe, Japan and America. Original Chinese studies dated back to 1981, when a study by Hou et al showed that Astragalus taken orally induced greater quantities of interferon and leukocytes in the blood stream.
A common misconception is that merely stimulating the immune system will be enough to kick out a cancer. Maybe, in a few cases it may. But, by and large, the problem with cancer is two-fold – true, the immune system has been weakened, BUT .......the cancer evades the immune system because of the low immune system response capacity. (In English – the bad guys can’t be ‘seen’, no matter how many good guys you produce. The issue is to make lots of good guys AND stimulate the bad guys in such a way that they appear on the radar screens). ref. CancerActive Icon Magazine
So, Medical Herbalists rightly point out that two therapeutic requirements are essential when treating any serious disease – Immunomodulating action, and Adaptogenic action, and BOTH are required to work synergistically.
Astragalus is known for both these actions. Firstly, it has phenomenal immune system modulating effects. In tests at the Hiroshima School of Medicine in Japan, it was shown to directly increase B-lymphocyte and T-lymphocyte levels, interleukin and antibody production.
But, not only does it increase the number of various white cells and in particular the ‘hunter’ T-cells it also helps identify the viruses, bacteria and other rogue cells. The University of Texas has shown that Astragalus seems to be an adaptogenic herb ’offering up’ viruses, bacteria and even abnormal invasive cells to be seen by the immune system.
Astragalus contains bioflavonoids, choline and a polysaccharide, astragalan-B, amongst other active ingredients. Astragalan-B controls bacterial infection, viruses and other such ‘rogue’ bodies by binding to their outer membranes. This has two effects – it weakens their internal systems, and by sitting on the membrane it thus helps the T-cells identify rogue cells.
All this also makes its use as an adjunct to fight AIDS increasingly important.
FDA to approve role in cancer
A considerable amount of detailed German and American research has confirmed the herb’s powers, and identified an important potential role in cancer therapy. For example:
- Researchers from the University of Texas, Houston, have reported that cancer patients receiving Astragalus have twice the survival rate of those only receiving placebos.
- It is often used in conjunction with other herbs. In a 1994 Italian study (Morazzoni, Bombardelli) breast cancer patients were given a combination of Iigustrum and Astragalus. Patients given this mix showed a decline in mortality from 50% to 10%.
- In another study of patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer all undergoing chemotherapy, the group taking the dual herb mix showed an average life span increase of 130%.
- Astragalus doesn't merely enhance interferon levels; there is strong scientific evidence that it benefits liver function (often impaired in the cancer sufferer). In China, Astragalus is widely used in the treatment of hepatitis. It seems to reduce toxin levels significantly, boost interferon levels and inhibit viral protein expression whilst having little or no effect on normal DNA. (Zhang 1995, Fan 1996)
In the USA the FDA is currently granting it approval as an anti-cancer agent.
Improves the effectiveness of Radio- and Chemotherapy
One extremely important conclusion from several US studies is that Astragalus seems to help the immune system differentiate between healthy cells and rogue cells, thereby boosting the body’s total ‘cancer fighting system’. One effect of this is the added benefit of improving the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.
- In Chinese hospitals Astragalus is now routinely used to help people recover from the negative effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
- MD Anderson Cancer Center (Texas) researchers reported that cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy had twice the survival rates if they took astragalus during the treatment.
- In the West some herbalists routinely provide chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients with Astragalus, and apart from boosting the immune system (which of course both orthodox treatments damage) it also seems to stop the spread of malignant cancer cells to secondary healthy tissues.
There are no known conflicting effects with drugs. Astragalus should be taken with meals at a total intake of 2,000 to 3,000 mgs per day, or by tincture.
Astragalus beats the flu
Clinical Applications: Astragalus is antiviral, carminative, antispasmodic, and hepatic. It improves glucose tolerance and acts as a vasodilator. In China, astragalus has been used as an energy tonic for deficient spleen qi and yang conditions. It has been used to treat wasting and thirsting conditions, as well as diarrhea, fatigue, and prolapse of the uterus. Astragalus is used to control fluids in cases of excess sweating and to reduce fluid retention.
- Fundamentals of Naturopathic Endocrinology by Michael Friedman, ND
Other Chinese doctors have found that astragalus offers more effective relief than the drug nifedipine (Procardia) for angina pain. More than 80 percent of angina patients improved on astragalus treatment without the dizziness, giddiness, heartburn, or headache that nifedipine can cause. Animal studies suggest that astragalus can help prevent the development of cholesterol plaques after an arterial wall has been damaged, which can keep the coronary arteries from becoming too narrow. Astragalus also is useful in the treatment of viral myocarditis, a flulike infection that affects the heart.
- Prescription for Herbal Healing: An Easy-to-Use A-Z Reference to Hundreds of Common Disorders and Their Herbal Remedies by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
Also, since flu vaccines are formulated based on viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past, they may or may not be effective in preventing flu caused by this year's virus. Astragalus helps to build the immune system, and thus make you less vulnerable to the flu. Take the tincture 5ml 1-2 times daily, or 250 to 500 mg in the morning three times a week during the flu season. Note: Do not take this herb if you have a fever. American ginseng helps to boost the immune system and strengthen the body. Take 200 milligrams one-half hour before breakfast once or twice a week during the winter months.
- Smart Medicine for Healthier Living : Practical A-Z Reference to Natural and Conventional Treatments for Adults by Janet Zand, LAc, OMD, Allan N. Spreed, MD, CNC, James B. LaValle, RPh, ND
Consider taking ginseng or astragalus to promote health, stamina, and viral immunity. Take colostrum, beta-glucan, and other immune-boosting supplements. Take extra vitamin C and zinc. For more about anti-viral herbs.
Also take the 75+ herbal powders to boost your whole system - see the ABC Daily Herbal NutriPowder Plus Buy it at our online store
Take herbal health tonics on a rotational basis (see PROST)
Related health pages to consider for Serious Illness:
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General advice to consumers on the use of herbal remedies from the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
From the website of the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (www.mhra.gov.uk) Department of Health, UK
• Remember that herbal remedies are medicines. As with any other medicine they are likely to have an effect on the body and should be used with care. • Herbal remedies may sometimes interact with other medicines. This makes it particularly important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking a herbal remedy with other medicines such as prescribed medicines (those provided through your doctor or dentist). • Treat with caution any suggestion that a herbal remedy is '100% safe' or is 'safe because it is natural'. Many plants, trees, fungi and algae can be poisonous to humans. It is worth remembering that many pharmaceuticals have been developed or derived from these sources because of the powerful compounds they contain. Any medicine, including herbal remedies, which have an effect on the body should be used with care. • Treat with caution any herbalist or other person who supplies herbal remedies if they are unwilling or unable to provide written information, in English, listing the ingredients of the herbal remedy they are providing. • If you are due to have a surgical operation you should always remember to tell your doctor about any herbal remedy that you are taking. • Anyone who has previously experienced any liver complaint, or any other serious health complaint is advised not to take any herbal remedy without speaking to their doctor first.
Few conventional medicines have been established as safe to take during pregnancy and it is generally recognised that no medicine should be taken unless the benefit to the mother outweighs any possible risk to the foetus. This rule should also be applied to herbal medicinal products. However, herbal products are often promoted to the public as being “natural” and completely “safe” alternatives to conventional medicines. Some herbal ingredients that specifically should be avoided or used with caution during pregnancy. As with conventional medicines, no herbal products should be taken during pregnancy unless the benefit outweighs the potential risk.
Many herbs are traditionally reputed to be abortifacient and for some this reputation can be attributed to their volatile oil component.(6) A number of volatile oils are irritant to the genito-urinary tract if ingested and may induce uterine contractions. Herbs that contain irritant volatile oils include ground ivy, juniper, parsley, pennyroyal, sage, tansy and yarrow. Some of these oils contain the terpenoid constituent, thujone, which is known to be abortifacient. Pennyroyal oil also contains the hepatotoxic terpenoid constituent, pulegone. A case of liver failure in a woman who ingested pennyroyal oil as an abortifacient has been documented.
A stimulant or spasmolytic action on uterine muscle has been documented for some herbal ingredients including blue cohosh, burdock, fenugreek, golden seal, hawthorn, jamaica dogwood, motherwort, nettle, raspberry, and vervain. Herbal Teas Increased awareness of the harmful effects associated with excessive tea and coffee consumption has prompted many individuals to switch to herbal teas. Whilst some herbal teas may offer pleasant alternatives to tea and coffee, some contain pharmacologically active herbal ingredients, which may have unpredictable effects depending on the quantity of tea consumed and strength of the brew. Some herbal teas contain laxative herbal ingredients such as senna, frangula, and cascara. In general stimulant laxative preparations are not recommended during pregnancy and the use of unstandardised laxative preparations is particularly unsuitable. A case of hepatotoxicity in a newborn baby has been documented in which the mother consumed a herbal tea during pregnancy as an expectorant. Following analysis the herbal tea was reported to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are known to be hepatotoxic.
A drug substance taken by a breast-feeding mother presents a hazard if it is transferred to the breast milk in pharmacologically or toxicologically significant amounts. Limited information is available regarding the safety of conventional medicines taken during breast-feeding. Much less information exists for herbal ingredients, and generally the use of herbal remedies is not recommended during lactation.
Herbal remedies have traditionally been used to treat both adults and children. Herbal remedies may offer a milder alternative to some conventional medicines, although the suitability of a herbal remedy needs to be considered with respect to quality, safety and efficacy. Herbal remedies should be used with caution in children and medical advice should be sought if in doubt. Chamomile is a popular remedy used to treat teething pains in babies. However, chamomile is known to contain allergenic sesquiterpene lactones and should therefore be used with caution. The administration of herbal teas to children needs to be considered carefully and professional advice may be needed.
The need for patients to discontinue herbal medicinal products prior to surgery has recently been proposed. The authors considered eight commonly used herbal medicinal products (echinacea, ephedra, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St John’s Wort, valerian). On the evidence available they concluded that the potential existed for direct pharmacological effects, pharmacodynamic interactions and pharmacokinetic interactions. The need for physicians to have a clear understanding of the herbal medicinal products being used by patients and to take a detailed history was highlighted. The American Society of Anaesthesiologists (ASA) has advised patients to tell their doctor if they are taking herbal products before surgery and has reported that a number of anaesthesiologists have reported significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure in some patients who have been taking herbal medicinal products including St John’s Wort, ginkgo and ginseng. MCA is currently investigating a serious adverse reaction associated with the use of ginkgo prior to surgery. In this case, the patient who was undergoing hip replacement experienced uncontrolled bleeding thought to be related to the use of ginkgo.
From the website of the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (www.mhra.gov.uk) Department of Health, UK
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