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Astragalus Root: Immunity and The Powerful Health Benefits

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In ancient China during the 16th Century, an interesting plant pops up among the period’s most respected traditional medical texts.

A shrub-like plant with cream-yellow flowers, it was often featured alongside the mighty ginseng in the book’s many passages. The herb also appeared to hold similar powers—almost as potent as ginseng’s to a degree—as a whole-health protective tonic.

The name of this plant? In ancient China, it was called huang qi, or “yellow leader,” no doubt because of its yellow flowers and bright yellow inner root.

As knowledge of its potency spread around the world —including to the United States in the 1920’s, and gaining popularity in the ‘80’s—it earned a new name.

That name is Astragalus, the name given to the healing herb by the Greeks—and the name it’s known by in the Western world today.

ASTRAGALUS: AN ADAPTOGEN OF ASTRONOMICAL VALUE

Much like other medicinal herbs such as licorice or alfalfa, astragalus (scientific names Astragalus membranaceus and mongholicus) is a perennial legume—related to beans, peas, and peanuts. It grows much like a small shrub for a few years, after which its root is harvested once it reaches maturity.

Like many other herbs too, astragalus is an adaptogen. This means that it’s a whole-body protector, helping all systems to resist the effects of stress on a whole—in a word, helping it “adapt” to stress’s weathering effects.

This wondrous role astragalus plays in health has many ways of working for us.

But it’s most recognizable contribution to wellness to date? That would be its impressive immune-boosting capabilities.

IMMUNITY ABOVE ALL ELSE

So how does this fascinating Asian plant have such good effects on the immune system?

Ancient healers for thousands of years have trusted astragalus for strengthening immunity—and merely relying only on the strong evidence-based success of using the plant through their own practices to know what it can do.

Today, however, modern research on the plant lends its own dialogue to the astragalus discussion. In fact, there are almost countless studies—and new ones being undertaken every year—exploring the full potential of this plant’s healing effects.

Science has found that astragalus contains polysaccharides, basically naturally-occurring complex carbohydrates or sugars found in some plants and fungi. And apparently, these polysaccharides can accomplish astounding things for the immune system.

Different polysaccharides with equally amazing health potential have also been found and studied in adaptogenic fungi, such as lion’s mane, reishi mushroom, chaga, turkey tail, cordyceps, maitake, and even more.

There are great benefits to be found in all these above healing mushrooms. And yet, when learning all about astragalus, those who are seeking better immunity just may want to give this plant a try!

HOW DOES ASTRAGALUS WORK FOR IMMUNITY?

Great news: when it comes to astragalus and immunity, the studies really do pile up. People won’t find a more revered, well-respected botanical for immunity in the herbal world—with the exception of some of astragalus’s powerful compatriots (like ginseng, licorice root, or ashwagandha).

And with so much research explaining astragalus and how it possibly works, this is all the more reason to give those who try it better peace of mind—and, even better, some strong faith in knowing that it will work for them!

ACTIVATES T CELLS

A 2011 study of the herb found that the polysaccharides in astragalus helped ramp up the activity of T cells. T cells are basically antibodies created by our immune systems to keep infection, disease, viruses, and other foreign invaders at bay.

In summary, this might not only make the botanical helpful against regular diseases but also helpful in battling autoimmune conditions as well.

FIGHTS VIRUSES

Another thing that makes astragalus’s immune powers so amazing: it can help the body fight viruses. This includes the common cold, mono, influenza, and many others.

A 2013 study observed astragalus’s polysaccharides even suppressing the spread of a strain of bird flu!

If the adaptogen can go so far as to protect the body from such infectious diseases, imagine what it could do against the average cold and flu season—especially considering that there are no pharmaceutical ways to directly kill viruses yet.

IT’S-A POTENT ANTIOXIDANT

One of the ways through which general immune protection happens is by prevention of free radical damage. Namely: by preventing cellular oxidization as an antioxidant.

When DNA and cells begin to oxidize, they “unravel” and in turn cause chronic inflammation. And chronic inflammation is typically a sign of an immune system starting to get a little out of whack and harming the body.

A 2014 study on lambs found that astragalus supplementation boosted immunity via antioxidant action. Beyond concerns about an upcoming cold and flu season, astragalus may be able to protect the body (via the immune system) from general immune threats of all kinds: including the gradual wear-and-tear of natural cellular degeneration.

FIGHT AND REDUCE THE CHANCES CANCER

What about protection against one of the deadliest diseases of all: cancer? Yep, astragalus apparently has some strong evidence for being of benefit on that front as well.

A 2013 study of astragalus did find that it had some strong antitumor activity to reckon with. What more, it was found that its anti-cancer qualities were in part due to its overall beneficial (and activating) effect on the immune system.

SUPPORT IMMUNE-RELATED ILLNESSES

Cancers, viruses, and more may be the first things people think of when they think of immunity. But really, astragalus may be beneficial for immune problems—or immune-related illnesses—of all kinds.

This includes:

A 2014 study on mice found that the plant could alleviate inflammation of airways, thus being of great help to asthma sufferers.

Additionally, a 2011 trial on AIDS patients found that astragalus could help rev up their immunity to normal levels while protecting against damage from certain AIDS treatments—while a 2010 study on mice found that the Asian herb could potentially be very useful for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

AN HERB IMPROVING EVERY IOTA OF IMMUNITY

Even Dr. Josh Axe, functional medicine doctor, gives great praises to the ancient Chinese remedy on his website owing to the plentiful research on its immune properties.

Axe says: “In terms of reputation, boosting the immune system is astragalus’ claim to fame. It’s been used in this capacity for thousands of years.

Although the full extent of the herb’s capabilities are yet to be determined, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that astragalus, used as an adjunct therapy, will someday be used to cure many diseases.”

Now that’s exciting news!

In conclusion, that means that health-lovers can turn to astragalus for immune-boosting on all levels, including:

  • Colds and flus
  • Viral infections
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Extra antioxidants
  • Allergies and inflammation
  • More major immune-related illnesses*

*Note: astragalus is not known or proven to cure any disease. It is only known for strengthening the immune system, which in and of itself separately fights illness independently. If suffering from an immune-related illness, please talk to a doctor before deciding to use astragalus for immune support.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE….

Perhaps the best thing of all about astragalus: it doesn’t just stop at the immune system.

In fact, there are tons of other studies and evidence-based claims that astragalus is capable of so much more. This includes:

REDUCES THE CHANCES (AND TREATMENT) OF DIABETES

A very recent review in 2015 referenced astragalus as a very hopeful diabetes treatment.

Beyond just its polysaccharides, the plant also contains flavonoids and saponins that prevent the inflammation caused by diabetes, increase insulin sensitivity, and the metabolism of glucose (sugar).

CARDIOVASCULAR BENEFITS

The way this ancient Chinese tonic helps the heart and blood vessels is quite versatile. Overall, consumption of the plant could be an enormous help in the prevention of heart disease issues.

One 2012 study pointed out that it could prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a precursor to heart attacks and heart failure. Yet another research article in 2011 went on to find that astragalus could also help lower cholesterol, which makes the cardiovascular system much healthier and also prevents heart disease.

LIVER PROTECTION

Both astragalus’s polysaccharides and saponins may have a way of protecting the liver, most likely owing to some antioxidant action.

This makes the herb not only an immune-booster—it could also help the body rebound from a lifestyle filled with bad diet choices, drugs, excess alcohol, and other chemicals or foods that are rough on this important vital organ.

One study in 2013 showed that alcohol-induced liver damage could be reversed by astragalus in mice test subjects. Even more recently in 2016, a mixture of nutmeg, astragalus, and poria mushroom was found to reduce liver damage and necrosis, making all three botanicals (including astragalus) of high interest for research as liver detoxifiers.

NEUROPROTECTION

What may be most surprising of all is that astragalus can also protect the nerves and brain, on top of boosting immunity, protecting the liver, and so much more.

A 2012 study showed that use of the herb could help prevent the damage of nerve injury. Even more interestingly, a very recent 2017 trial on mice showed that an extract could even stop the very worst neuron damage from stress and brain injury!

When taking astragalus, it’s not just immunity that reaps the benefits of this amazing plant. There is also cardiovascular protection, diabetes prevention, liver detoxification, nervous system benefits, and so much more.

AMAZED BY ASTRAGALUS?

If this incredulous immune tonic of old is impressive, intriguing, and alluring enough that it begs to try, it can be found in our lovingly formulated Optimal Immune.

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RESEARCH
RESEARCH
Mingliang Jin, Ke Zhao, Qingsheng Huang, Peng Shang (2014). Structural features and biological activities of the polysaccharides from Astragalus membranaceus. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules 64: 257-266. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141813013006508
Juan Fu, Zenghui Wang, Linfang Huang, Sihao Zheng, Dongmei Wang, Shilin Chen, Haitao Zhang, Shihai Yang (2014). Review of the Botanical Characteristics, Phytochemistry, and Pharmacology of Astragalus membranaceus (Huangqi). Phytotherapy Research 28(9) 1275-1283. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.5188/full
Qing-yang Liu, yong-ming Yao, Shu-wen Zhang, Zhi-yong Sheng (2011). Astragalus polysaccharides regulate T cell-mediated immunity via CD11chigh CD45RBlow CEs in vitro. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136(3) 457-464. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874110004575
Sanpha Kallon, Xiaorong Li, Jun Li, Cuiying Chen, Qianyun Xi, Shuang Chang, Chunyi Xue, Jingyun Ma, Qingmei Xie, Youngliang Zhang (2013). Astragalus polysaccharide enhances immunity and inhibits H9N2 avian influenza virus in vitro and in vivo. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology 4(22) Retrieved from https://jasbsci.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2049-1891-4-22
R.Z. Zhong, M. Yu, H.W. Liu, H.X. Sun, Y. Cao, D.W. Zhou (2012). Effects of dietary Astragalus polysaccharide and Astragalus membranaceus root supplementation on growth performance, rumen fermentation, immune responses, and antioxidant status of lambs. Animal Feed Science and Technology 174(1-2) 60-67. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0377840112000922
Bin Yang, Bing Xiao, Taoyu Sun (2013). Antitumor and immunomodulatory activity of Astragalus membranaceus polysaccharides in H22 tumor-bearing mice. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules Vol. 62 287-290. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141813013004893
Shih-Ming Chen, Yau-Sheng Tsai, Su-Wen Lee, Ya-Hui Liu, Shuen-Kuei Liao, Wen-Wei Chang, Pei-Jane Tsai (2014). Astragalus membranaceus modulates Th1/2 immune balance and activates PPARy in a murine asthma model. Biochemistry and Cell Biology 92(5) 397-405. Retrieved from http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/bcb-2014-0008#.WdZer2hSxPY
Gang He, Pei-pei Ding, Ya-yi Tan (2011). Effect of astragalus incombination with HAART on AIDS patients. China Tropical Medicine Retrieved from http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-RDYX201105035.htm
Jiang JB, Qiu JD, Yang LH, He JP, Smith GW, Li HQ (2010). Therapeutic effects of astragalus polysaccharides on inflammation and synovial apoptosis in rats with adjuvant-induced arthritis. International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases 13(4) 396-405. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21199477
Dr. Josh Axe (2017). 10 Proven Benefits of Astragalus Root. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/astragalus/
Zhang Kai, Antonio Pugliese, Michela Pugliese, Annamaria Passantino (2015). Biological Active Ingredients of Traditional Chinese Herb Astragalus membranaceus in Treatment of Diabetes: A Systematic Review. Mini Reviews in Mecicinal Chemistry 15(4) 315-329. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/mrmc/2015/00000015/00000004/art00004
Deqing Wang, Yuan Zhuang, Yaping Tian, Graham Neil Thomas, Mingzhong Ying, Brian Tomlinson (2012). Study of the Effects of Total Flavonoids of Astragalus on Atherosclerosis Formation and Potential Mechanisms. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Retrieved from http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/oximed/2012/282383.pdf
Ma Jiangwei, Qiao Zengyong, Xiang Xia (2011). Aqueous extract of Astragalus mongholicus ameliorates high cholesterol diet induced oxidative injury in experimental rats models. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 5(5) 855-858. Retrieved from http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/JMPR/article-abstract/09C566A19280
Rasha M. Allam, Dina A. Selim, Asser I. Ghoneim, Mohamed M. Radwan, Salwa M. Nofal, Amani E. Khalifa, Ola A. Sharaf, Soad M. Toaima, Aya M. Asaad, Nadia A. El-Sebakhy (2013). Hepatoprotective effects of Astragalus kahiricus root extract against ethanol-induced liver apoptosis in rats. Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines 11(4) 354-361. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1875536413600527
Mesfin Yimam, Ping Jiao, Mei Hong, Qi Jia (2016). Hepatoprotective Activity of an Herbal Composition, MAP, a Standardized Blend Comprising Myristica fragans, Astragalus membranaceus, and Poria cocos. Journal of Medicinal Food 19(10) 952-960. Retrieved from http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2016.0048
Xiao-Ping Huang, Hua Tan, Bei-Yang Chen, Chang-Qing Deng (2012). Astragalus Extract Alleviates Nerve Injury after Cerebral Ischemia by Improving Energy Metabolism and Inhibiting Apoptosis. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 35(4) 449-454. Retrieved from https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bpb/35/4/35_4_449/_article
S.M. Gulyaev, L.N. Shantanova, E.T. Batotsyrenova (2017). Morphometric Evaluation of the Neuroprotective Action of an Extract of Astragalus membranaceus in the Brains of Rats during Restraint Stress. Neuroscience and Behavioral Physiology 47(5) 608-611. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11055-017-0441-z

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