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Astragalus

For more than 2,000 years, astragalus has been an integral part of traditional

medicine in China, where it is used to balance the life force, or qi. This herb is particularly valuable in fighting disease because of its powerful effect on the immune system.

  Common Uses   Forms   Warnings   What It Is   What It Does   How to Take It   Possible Side Effects
Common Uses
  • Enhances immunity.
  • Helps fight respiratory infections.
  • Bolsters the immune system in people undergoing cancer treatment.

Forms

  • Tablet
  • Capsule
  • Tincture
  • Dried Herb/Tea
Warnings
  • Pregnant women should consult with their doctor before using this herb.
  • Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.

What It Is

Astragalus contains a variety of compounds that stimulate the body's immune system, and in China this native plant has long been used both to treat disease and to prevent it. Botanically, astragalus is related to licorice and the pea. And although its sweet-smelling pale yellow blossoms and delicate structure give the plant a frail appearance, it is actually a very hardy species. Medicinally, the herb's most important part is its root. The plant is harvested when it is four to seven years old; its flat, yellowish roots resemble wide popsicle sticks or tongue depressors. (The Chinese name for astragalus, huang qi, means "yellow leader," a testament both to its color and to its importance as a therapeutic herb.) Astragalus root is loaded with health-promoting substances, including polysaccharides, a class of carbohydrates that appear to be responsible for the herb's immune-boosting effects.

What It Does

A tonic in the truest sense of the word, astragalus seems to enhance overall health by improving a person's resistance to disease, increasing stamina and vitality, and promoting general well-being. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping the body correct or prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. It may have antiviral and antibiotic properties as well. A distinct benefit of astragalus is that it can be safely used with conventional medicine and does not interfere with any standard treatment.

Prevention: This herb is particularly effective in fighting off colds, the flu, bronchitis, and sinus infections because it keeps viruses from gaining a foothold in the respiratory system. Like echinacea, astragalus can squash germs at the first sign of symptoms. And if an illness does develop, astragalus can shorten its duration and reduce its severity. People who frequently suffer from respiratory illnesses should consider using astragalus on a regular basis to prevent recurrences. It also appears to help minimize the health-damaging effects of excessive stress.

Additional benefits: Astragalus is widely used in China to rebuild the immune system of people undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer; in fact, this practice is gaining popularity in the West as well. The herb is especially valuable because it increases the body's production of T cells, macrophages, natural killer cells, interferon, and other immune cells. Astragalus may also protect bone marrow from the immune-suppressing effects of chemotherapy, radiation, toxins, and viruses. The herb, with its immune-stimulating action, might be a treatment possibility for people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In addition, astragalus widens blood vessels and increases blood flow, which makes it useful in controlling excessive perspiration (such as night sweats) and lowering blood pressure. Research has also shown that astragalus can have beneficial effects on the heart.

How to Take It

Dosage: For strengthening the immune system: Take 200 mg of astragalus once or twice a day for three weeks, then alternate, in three-week stints, with echinacea, cat's claw, and pau d'arco. For acute bronchitis: Take 200 mg four times a day until the symptoms ease. Choose a product that contains a standardized extract of astragalus with 0.5% glucosides and 70 polysaccharides.

Guidelines for use: Astragalus can be taken at any time during the day, with or without meals.

Possible Side Effects

Remarkably, even after thousands of years of use in China, there are few (if any) negative reports about taking astragalus. The herb appears to have no side effects of any kind.


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