Astragalus has been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 2000 years. Today, people that practice Chinese medicine believe that the herb strengthens every system in the body and that it is especially effective in the treatment of fatigue causing illnesses. Many of them consider astragalus to be similar to the herb ginseng. In fact, they prescribe it for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
It’s only been recently that western scientists have begun to study astragalus health benefits. Therefore, this herb still has more questions about its effectiveness than answers. Today, research has shown that the Chinese, whom have used this herb for many years, might have been right all along.
In the year 1983, the first Western study of astragalus took place. It was studied at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. To their surprise, the herb enhanced immunity; in fact, it improved the immune function of nineteen cancer patients that were currently being treated with chemotherapy drugs that suppress the immune system.
Later on, several studies that mostly involved animals have shown that astragalus when given orally or via injection improve certain measures of immune function. According to one study, the human T-cells that are responsible for infection-fighting became noticeably more energetic when treated with astragalus. In another study, it was found that when astragalus was injected into mice, it improved the ability of their infection-fighting macrophages, which are a type of white blood cells to consume bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
In one study done by the Chinese, ten people were administered daily injections of eight grams of astragalus extract that had a viral heart infection and depressed immune systems. To their surprise, immune system function of the patients improved drastically.
Today, many Americans take astragalus while taking immune-suppressing cancer chemotherapy drugs.
Another promising study that was done by the Chinese exposed mice to a cancer chemotherapy drug by the name of stilbenemide, which causes liver damage as a side effect. The mice that only received the cancer drug unfortunately developed liver damage, but those that received the drug as well as an oral astragalus extract did not develop any liver problems.
In addition to strengthening the immune system, astragalus is also known to improve sperm mortality, lower blood pressure, improve heart function, and shows promise in improving the immune system in people with HIV.
If you’re going to be using the dried root sticks, you’ll need to chop 4 or 5 sticks finely and then simmer them in four cups of boiling water for at least one hour. Drink a cup in the morning and a cup in the night. Astragalus has a mild sweet taste to it; however, some people prefer to blend it with other beverage herbs.
You can also get astragalus in a variety of other commercial preparations that include capsules, tablets, and tinctures. Remember to follow the package directions.
The safety factor of astragalus
For the most part, astragalus is considered safe when used as recommended or under the supervision of a doctor or a natural health care practitioner. However, there was a lab study that showed astragalus caused chromosome mutations, which could mean that the herb may be a carcinogenic. This is why the Chinese recommend that you use the herb for a few weeks while you’re ill and not indefinitely.