Astragalus is a medicinal herb that has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a tonic for boosting immunity, longevity, and improving overall health. In this article, we will discuss the many health benefits of astragalus root.
What Is Astragalus?
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), also known as huáng qi, is a flowering plant in the Fabaceae family. There are many different types of astragalus, but Astragalus membranaceus is the variety of astragalus most commonly used as a medicinal herb.
Astragalus is native to northern and eastern parts of China and has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It has also played a role in Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicine) and other medical systems in Asia and Europe.
Astragalus is most commonly used for its immune-supporting benefits, though it also has many other uses. For example, it has been used as an energy tonic, an anti-aging elixir, a remedy for various kidney ailments, an herb for lowering blood pressure, and diabetes medicine, among other astragalus uses.
What Are the Health Benefits of Astragalus?
So, what is astragalus good for? Below, we'll explore the top astragalus benefits:
Astragalus Root May Support Your Immune System
One of the most widely known astragalus root benefits is its ability to support the immune system. Astragalus root contains plant compounds that may be able to support immune function by increasing your body's production of white blood cells. White blood cells are the cells of your immune system responsible for fighting pathogens.
Not only may astragalus increase white blood cell production, but it may also have antibacterial and antiviral properties. One study published in the National Library of Medicine found that astragalus root killed a variety of pathogenic viruses and bacteria in infected mice.
In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is often promoted to boost immunity and treat the common cold. It is also often administered to treat or prevent upper respiratory infections and allergies.
Astragalus root is also easy to incorporate into your diet for a daily immune boost. Most people drink a simple astragalus root tea or take an astragalus supplement. Astragalus can be taken any time of day. Still, many people claim that the best time of day to take astragalus is in the morning, as it can provide immune protection for the rest of the day and may have energy-enhancing properties as well.
Astragalus Root May Boost Energy Levels
Astragalus has long been used as an energy tonic, helping to boost energy and overall vitality. Modern research on astragalus roots also shows that astragalus may help improve strength and stamina.
A study on mice found that astragalus root improved exercise performance and reduced fatigue. Another study found that astragalus root helped reduce fatigue symptoms in those with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Astragalus Root Has Adaptogenic Properties
Astragalus root has also been shown to have adaptogenic properties. Adaptogenic herbs are a category of herbs that enhance the body's natural ability to adapt to stress. These herbs contain compounds that work at a molecular level by regulating a healthy balance in major glands associated with the stress response, such as the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands.
Whenever we experience physical or psychological stress, our bodies undergo a three-stage response that involves an alarm stage, a resistance stage, and an exhaustion stage. The alarm stage refers to the initial reaction that the body experiences when stressed, the resistance stage follows the initial stress reaction of the alarm phase, and the exhaustion stage occurs after the effects of long-term stress.
Adaptogens uniquely enhance the body's ability to cope with stress by allowing the body to stay in the resistance phase longer, delaying exhaustion and preventing fatigue. So, rather than crashing or becoming overwhelmed by stress, the body can better adapt and maintain equilibrium.
For this reason, astragalus may also have potential use as a tonic for lowering stress. Surprisingly, this was one of its common uses in traditional Chinese medicine.
Astragalus Root May Improve Kidney Health
Another one of the primary traditional uses of astragalus is as a kidney tonic. In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are among the most revered and respected organs, as they are seen as the storehouse of "chi" (qi) or life energy in the body. Interestingly, the kidneys are the site on which the adrenal glands sit, which play a significant role in our energy levels and hormone regulation.
Astragalus was commonly used as a remedy for various kidney ailments and a general tonic for preserving kidney health. Modern research suggests that astragalus may support kidney health by improving blood flow and laboratory markers of kidney function, such as measures of protein in the urine. Some research suggests that it may also help prevent infections in people with reduced kidney function. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
Astragalus Root May Help Regulate Blood Sugar
Astragalus root is the most common herb prescribed for diabetes management by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Modern research on astragalus suggests that it may in fact be able to lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Various animal and test-tube studies have shown that astragalus root reduces blood sugar levels and improves sugar metabolism.
Astragalus Root May Support Cardiovascular Health
Astragalus root may also help improve heart function and overall blood circulation. This is because astragalus has vasodilating effects, which means it can expand your blood vessels and increase the amount of blood pumped from your heart.
One study published in the National Library of Medicine found that taking 2.25 grams of astragalus root twice daily for two weeks, when combined with standard treatments, significantly improved heart function more than those receiving the standard treatment alone.
While the research is promising, more human trials are still needed to explore the benefits of astragalus root for heart health.
What Are the Active Compounds in Astragalus Root?
The medicinal benefits of plants are primarily attributed to the bioactive compounds found within them. For example, the Astragalus root possesses many beneficial plant compounds, such as Astragalus polysaccharide, astragaloside, calycosin, formononetin, flavonoids, and triterpenoid saponins.
Does Astragalus Root Have Any Side Effects?
Astragalus root is a safe herb used for centuries and is well tolerated by most people. However, some minor astragalus side effects, including skin rash, stomach discomfort, sinus issues, nausea, and diarrhea, have been reported by some people. These are not common and typically occur when taken at high doses or by those allergic to the plant.
While astragalus is safe for most people, it is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, as there is currently not enough research to support its safety for these groups. Additionally, individuals with autoimmune disorders or those taking immunosuppressant drugs may want to consult with their doctor before taking astragalus root due to its effects on the immune system.
Astragalus root has been used in herbal medicine for thousands of years. There are many different types of astragalus, but Astragalus membranaceus is the variety of astragalus most commonly used as a medicinal herb.
Astragalus is most commonly used for its immune-supporting benefits, though it has many other benefits. Astragalus root has been used as an energy tonic for increasing vitality, strength, and athletic performance. It also has adaptogenic properties that may help reduce stress. Additionally, astragalus root has been shown to benefit kidney health, heart health, and blood sugar.
Astragalus root is considered a very safe herb and is well-tolerated by most people. However, in rare cases, some people have an allergic reaction to it, especially when taken in high doses. It is also not recommended for pregnant women, women that are breastfeeding, people with autoimmune conditions, or people taking immunosuppressant drugs.
As with any new herb or supplement, it is recommended to talk to your doctor before taking astragalus, especially if you have an autoimmune condition or are taking immunosuppressant drugs.