Healthy Living

What Is Astragalus Root: Health Benefits and Side Effects

What Is Astragalus Root: Health Benefits and Side Effects

Key Takeaways

  • Astragalus is an herb that belongs to the family of legumes and beans.
  • The use of astragalus roots in Chinese medicine is considered as a protection against various types of mental, physical, and emotional stress. The benefits provided by this plant goes out to a number of systems in the body and their corresponding disorders.
  • Studies have shown that astragalus extracts can help strengthen the functioning of the immune system. Astragalus boosts the immune system by activating and regulating the T cells, which are essential to human immunity.

What is astragalus?

Astragalus is a plant that belongs to the family of legumes and beans (Leguminosae). It has a long history of boosting the immune system and fighting against diseases. Astragalus has always been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. However, today, the healing power of astragalus extends to various types of medical conditions and diseases. There are over 2,000 species of astragalus, but only two species are widely used for medicinal purposes. They are Astragalus mongholicus and Astragalus membranaceus.

There are three astragalus components, which allow the plant to provide a positive effect on the overall health of humans. The three components are flavonoids, saponins, and polysaccharides. These three active compounds are only available in certain plants including fruits and vegetables.

  • Flavonoids - Provide immense health benefits through cell signaling. They have antioxidative qualities, help prevent the risk of heart-related problems, controls and tends to destroy free radicals, and also helps prevent cancer or any immunodeficiency viruses.
  • Saponin - It is a compound known for its ability to lower the levels of cholesterol in the body along with boosting the immune system and prevention of cancer.
  • Polysaccharides - These molecules have antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory capabilities.

How is astragalus used?

Astragalus can be used in multiple medicinal forms. Currently, it is being used as an addition to the conventional form of treatment. One should note that astragalus should not be used as a replacement for any type of medication unless otherwise instructed by the doctor. Astragalus is available in various health stores and drugstores, and in the following forms:

  • Capsules
  • Dried root used in tea preparations
  • Injections at hospitals or clinics
  • Tablets
  • Tinctures
  • Topical application

There is no standard dosage for astragalus. However, you can consult a doctor to identify the amount of astragalus that should be taken and the frequency of the dose since the dose limit would differ based on the age of the individual. The doctor would also consider other factors such as your medical history and overall health status.

There are general guidelines for astragalus formulations. Adults can tolerate up to 600 mg to 2 grams of astragalus in powdered form. This dose can be divided into three to four doses. One can also prepare astragalus tea with 6 grams of dried roots and 12 ounces of water.

Health Benefits of Astragalus Root

Astragalus roots are known to be one of the most powerful immunity building plants on earth. It is one of the adaptogen herbs, which are beneficial in lowering cortisol levels. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. These roots also help in keeping diseases at bay.

It has a major role in maintaining good heart health. It also fights off cancer and improves the side effects of chemotherapy. Astragalus has numerous health benefits, which are simply unbelievable. Hence, it is regarded as one of the essential herbs that should be part of a person's health and wellness. The use of astragalus roots in Chinese medicine is considered as a protection against various types of mental, physical, and emotional stress. The benefits provided by this plant goes out to a number of systems in the body and their corresponding disorders.

1. Anti-inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is considered as the main culprit behind most diseases. Inflammation has led to a number of diseases, including heart problems and other affected parts of the body. However, due to the saponin and polysaccharide components, astragalus can help reduce the inflammatory response, which happens in connection to a number of medical conditions or diseases. It would also help heal lesions and wounds in patients who have diabetes. 

2. Protects the Heart

The flavonoid component present in astragalus roots are basically antioxidants that help in the prevention of plaque buildup in the arteries, which leads to the narrowing of the blood vessel walls. These antioxidants would help protect the inner wall of the blood vessel.

In one study, it was suggested that the use of astragalus injections in combination with conventional treatment would help in the treatment of myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle. The addition of astragalus injections can help make the treatment more successful. Research has also shown that astragalus has the ability to normalize blood pressure and triglyceride levels. If individuals have high levels of triglycerides, then they can be at higher risk of developing heart-related problems such as a heart attack, atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, and stroke.

During a heart attack, the heart muscles tend to get damaged, which then leads to a lack of blood and oxygen supply. At the same time, due to the overload of calcium, it leads to a secondary case of damage. However, the use of astragalus can help prevent this additional damage to the heart muscles by regulating the calcium homeostasis in the heart.

3. Helps in the Healing of Wounds

Due to the anti-inflammatory properties of astragalus, it is known to have the capability of healing wounds faster. Another name for the dried root form of astragalus is Radix astragali. It is a part of Chinese medicine and has been used for the repair and regeneration of injured organs and tissues.

4. Prevents or Slows Down Tumor Growth

Research has shown that there has been a certain level of effectiveness on all the three components of astragalus (saponins, polysaccharides, and flavonoids) in reducing the growth of tumors. The use of astragalus has also shown potential in the reversal of multidrug-resistant organisms and in the case of chemoresistance in liver cancer treatment.

5. Promotes a Strong Immune System

Astragalus root became popular due to its immune-boosting properties. It was later regarded as a famous herb for the treatment of different types of health problems. If astragalus is used on a regular basis, then it leads to better protection against various kinds of diseases and infections.

Studies have shown that astragalus extracts can help strengthen the functioning of the immune system. Astragalus boosts the immune system by activating and regulating the T cells, which are essential to human immunity. The main function of T cells is to identify and destroy any foreign antigens along with cells that have been infected with viruses or bacteria. Another important role of T cells is that they recognize these foreign antigens and continue to offer protection against these antigens if they tend to invade again in the future long after the infection has been resolved.

Astragalus roots are known to help in the treatment of hepatitis, wherein it displays interferon-like actions in a hepatitis B infection. This herb is also known to delay the progression of HIV infections. Researchers are yet to determine the full capabilities of this herb, however, there have been several pieces of evidence, which point to the fact that someday, this herb would be used to cure most of the ailments.

6. Helps in Diabetes Management

According to studies, astragalus has shown the ability to relieve insulin resistance, and thus, helps to naturally treat diabetes. The three major components of the plant (saponin, flavonoid, and polysaccharides) are known to be very effective in the treatment and regulation of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. These components are known to increase insulin sensitivity, thereby protecting the beta cells in the pancreas.

The beta cells in the pancreas produce as well as release insulin. Astragalus components also act as anti-inflammatory agents when it comes to the symptoms of diabetes. Individuals who have diabetes tend to fear kidney damage. However, the natural use of astragalus has been a long time common treatment used for kidney problems. Also, recent researchers have shown that the use of this herb helps in slowing down kidney damage in diabetic patients, thereby protecting the renal system.

7. Antioxidative Properties

Oxidative stress due to free radical damage is known to be one of the major contributors to disease and aging. Many of the elements found in astragalus are known to fight against these free radicals, thereby preventing oxidative stress. The polysaccharides present in this herb are known to provide a positive effect on the immune system. It also helps in the effective functioning of the brain. All of these properties could help lengthen the life span of humans.

8. Natural Treatment for Colds and Flu

Astragalus has long been used as an effective treatment for colds and flu due to its antiviral properties. Astragalus can be combined with other herbs such as angelica, ginseng, and licorice. Similar to other forms of natural cold remedies, astragalus works better when healthy individuals use astragalus supplements on a regular basis to prevent the onset of viral infections. A proper schedule of using astragalus before the winter season can prevent or reduce the number of colds and other upper respiratory problems in individuals.

9. Helps Relieve Chemotherapy Side Effects

Astragalus has been proven beneficial for individuals who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This herb would help them quickly recover and also extend their life expectancy. Apart from a good recovery, astragalus also helps reduce the symptoms that come along with the treatment such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and bone marrow suppression.

In such cases, astragalus needs to be intravenously given along with some other Chinese herbal mixtures. There have been studies conducted to confirm the ability of astragalus when it comes to reducing chemotherapy side effects as well as increasing the efficacy of the treatment.

10. Supplemental Therapy for Chronic Asthma Cases

Astragalus has also been used for the treatment of chronic asthma. After asthma treatment, it was observed that astragalus helped in the treatment of hypersensitivity in the airways, substantial reduction in the production of mucus, and decrease in inflammation. Thus, by reducing asthma attacks, it was known that individuals would get relief from chronic asthma.

Studies have also revealed that astragalus is successfully used for promoting the growth and functioning of new blood vessels in newborn babies. The following are other health benefits of astragalus:

  • Prevents the degradation of collagen
  • Helps in the successful treatment of eczema
  • Can be used as a mild diuretic
  • Helps the T helper cells to fight off the HIV virus for a longer period of time
  • Helps in the treatment of hepatitis by hindering hepatitis B virus cells in the liver.

Side Effects and Drug Interactions

Generally, astragalus has no side effects and is safe to use in its natural form. However, there can be instances of interactions when taken along with other herbs or supplements. Hence, at the beginning of astragalus intake, one should go for smaller doses to avoid experiencing side effects. Women who are pregnant or are nursing a baby should not use astragalus. They should consult the doctor first before taking it.

Astragalus has the ability to stimulate the immune system, so people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis should speak to their doctor first before taking the herb.