Health Benefits of Astragalus

Astragalus membranaceus, Image from Wikimedia CommonsAstragalus is a herbaceous perennial plant native to China and a member of the pea family (Fabacea). It is known in different names: locoweed, green dragon, goat’s horn, radix astragali, bei qi, hwanggi, ogi, huang qi, yellow root, and milk vetch. There are more than 2,000 species of Astragalus species worldwide but only two species are known to be medicinal: Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus. The roots of Astragalus have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to stimulate and strengthen the immune system, treat diarrhea, fatigue, and night sweats, invigorate vital energy, and protect the body against disease. Although scientific evidences to support the claimed health benefits of Astragalus are limited, marketers heavily market the product both online and offline as an effective “drug” or food supplement. It is sold as dried roots, liquid extracts, ground roots in tablets and capsules, herbal tea, and in combination with other herbs like ginseng.

Chemical Composition

The biologically active compounds found in Astragalus root extract include polysaccharides (e.g. astragalans), flavonoids, saponins (e.g. astragalosides), phytoesterols, and essential oils.

Medicinal Uses

Astragalus is traditionally used to treat stomach ulcers, hepatitis, heart disease, kidney disease, wounds, fatigue, appetite loss, asthma, allergies, fever, persistent infection, cold, and flu. Bear in mind that these are just claimed health benefits of Astragalus, and they may or may not be supported by scientific evidences or clinical trials. More studies are needed to find out if Astragalus is really effective in treating the illnesses mentioned.

Astragalus extract contains antioxidants which neutralize the body’s free radicals, unstable byproducts of cellular respiration that damages cells and tissues. Free radicals are toxins that should be eliminated because they are linked to degenerative diseases, metabolic diseases, atherosclerosis, cancer, and heart disease.

Astragalus strengthens the immune system by increasing the production of immune system cells like lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells. There are scientists studying the effectiveness of Astragalus in preventing and treating AIDS, flu, cold, and other infections.
In the U.S., researchers have studied the ability of Astragalus to treat patients whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or radiation. The researchers found out that Astragalus supplements speed the recovery and extended the life expectancy of the patients.

There is also a research on the ability of Astragalus to protect the telomere, part of the DNA involved in aging. The researchers are studying if Astragalus intake promotes longevity.[ad#afterpost]

References and Further Reading