Astragalus is a unique herb I’ve been fascinated with for the past 15 years. I used to keep jars of it on the shelves in my office to examine while I studied its history. Astragalus smells earthy, almost like fresh-cut grass when it’s dried. And I would open the jars and let it give me a sense of calm and relaxation.
I’ve used it in my practice to help people lower their blood pressure and boost their immune systems. And traditional Chinese medicine prescribes astragalus as a detoxifier, a cancer-fighter, and includes it in many healing formulas called tonics.
We in the West are not accustomed to the whole idea of “tonics.” Yet in my type of medicine, where I focus on health improvement rather than just disease treatment, I find the history of tonics interesting and useful. Tonics are simply mixes of different herbs and nutrients used to improve your overall health.
Heal Your Whole Body
Most Western doctors believe in treating individual symptoms. Each part of your body has a function, and you treat each part individually. But in Eastern medicine, they believe your body is a balance of many functions, and to stay healthy you need to maintain that balance.
They also believe that organs have psychological and physiological functions. For example, a person who is frustrated or angry would be treated for a liver disorder by traditional Chinese doctors.
The astragalus root was often used in tonics meant to strengthen the heart. Known in China as Huang Qi, or in the West as milk vetch root, it was also used in tonics to treat fatigue. This is probably because astragalus strengthens the immune system.
In fact, in a study on astragalus extract, researchers tested a group of people and measured the number of their white blood cells that looked old, and the number that looked young. After three months of supplementing with astragalus extract, their immune systems acted up to 20 years younger.1
Astragalus has been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine because they believe it promotes resilience, good health and long life. In fact, the five best-known formulas in Chinese medicine all have astragalus root in them, and are all used to boost what they call “vital life energy.”2
What those early practitioners didn’t know was that astragalus would later help scientists make the biggest breakthrough in the history of anti-aging medicine…
Make Your Immune System Act Younger
These scientists discovered that astragalus has compounds in it that can turn on telomerase, the enzyme that maintains telomere length.
Telomeres are the caps on the ends of each strand of your DNA. They get shorter each time your cells divide, and the shorter your telomeres get, the older your cells act. Telomerase is the enzyme your body uses to repair and maintain your telomeres.
Telomerase production is turned off most of the time. But recently, researchers isolated a molecule from a rare form of the astragalus plant that turns telomerase production on, causing your cells to act younger.
Keep in mind, you can’t get this effect just by taking astragalus. You need the unique molecule extracted from among the plant’s over 2,000 other compounds.
Activate Your Killer Cells
Medicinal Uses for Astragalus
This versatile root can be used to treat a number of symptoms and diseases, including:
In addition, astragalus increases energy and works as a natural diuretic and antibiotic agent.
But what you can do is strengthen your body’s natural defenses with astragalus. It contains polysaccharides called astragalans that stimulate the creation of new white blood cells, T-cells, killer cells and antibodies. Then these new cells work to activate and restore your immune system. Astragalus also helps your internal organs heal themselves after being damaged from toxins in the environment or disease.
A study conducted in China tested over 1,000 people and found that those taking astragalus had fewer colds. And the people who did get a cold had a much quicker recovery time.3
Another study in Singapore tested 28 people and measured their antibody levels. Fourteen were then given a placebo and 14 were given astragalus. After two weeks, and once more after two months, the participants had their levels measured. The results of the placebo group didn’t change. But, the results of the astragalus group showed a significant increase in the number of antibodies in their systems.4
In fact, astragalus is now a widely used element in cancer treatment, either alone or together with chemotherapy and radiation. That’s because high-tech cancer treatments poison the body to stop cancer cells from spreading and to reduce the size of tumors. But they don’t just destroy the cancer cells. These therapies weaken healthy cells, too. That’s where astragalus comes in. Ninety percent of cancer patients who participated in one study showed normal immune response after being treated with astragalus.5
Astragalus also increases the production of your body’s anti-tumor agent, interferon. These naturally occurring antibodies found in the body harness the ability to slow (or even stop) the growth of tumors by stopping the reproduction of cancerous cells without damaging healthy ones.6
An Italian study showed cancer patients treated with astragalus had the potential to live twice as long as those who received chemotherapy alone. In fact, researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas believe cancer patients who use astragalus will double their chances of survival.
How You Can Use Astragalus
You don’t have to find a traditional Chinese physician to start enjoying the benefits of astragalus. You can do it yourself.
I recommend two to three tablespoons of astragalus root powder daily (about 30-45 grams). You can usually find it already dried and ground at many health-food stores. You can also add the powdered form to various foods and prepared dishes. It has a pleasant, mildly sweet taste.
You may also be able to find the entire astragalus root. You can add it to any dish you simmer for 30 minutes or more, like soups or stews. Before you’re ready to eat, just remove the root.
You can also cook the astragalus root several times because of its unusual density. After this, it softens, and you would customarily eat it with rice.
I like to drink astragalus in a tea. It’s very easy to make. For my special blend, you’ll need:
- A piece of ginger about an inch long
- Four tablespoons of lemon juice
- Four tablespoons of honey
- Two to three slices of astragalus root
To make the tea, first boil one quart of water. Scrape the ginger and astragalus root into a container, then add the remaining components. Pour the boiling water over the ingredients, and cap the container. Let it stand for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Strain the mixture one cup at a time.
You also can take astragalus as a supplement. Take 500 mg of the concentrated extract three times a day.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
1 Harley, C., Weimin L., et al, “A Natural Product Telomerase Activator As Part of a Health Maintenance Program,” Rejuvenation Research 2010
2 Subhuti, Dharmananda, Ph.D. “Practical Aspects of Administering the Herb Astragalus,” Institute for Traditional Medicine. itmonline.org
3 Chang, H., “Pharmacology and applications of Chinese material medica,” World Science 1987
4 Hou, Y., et al, “Interferon induction and lymphocyte transformation stimulated by Astragalus membranaceus in mouse spleen cell cultures,” Zhonghua Weisheng Wuxue Hemian Yixue Zazhi 1981;1(2):137-9
5 Sun, Y., Hersh, E.M., Talpaz, M., et al, “Immune restoration and/or augmentation of local graft versus host reaction by traditional Chinese medicinal herbs,” Cancer 1983;52(1):70-73
6 Cho, W.C., Leung, K.N., ”In vitro and in vivo anti-tumor effects of Astragalus,” Membranaceus.Cancer Letter July 8, 2007;252(1):43-54
7 Morazzoni, P., Bombardelli, E., “Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch) Bunge,” Scientific documentation March 1994 Milano (Italy):1-18