With a healing reputation in Eastern medicine that’s already thousands of years old, the astragalus herb, renowned for its ability to deeply strengthen the immune system, is becoming even more widely used in Western treatments as well.
Derived from a perennial plant native to China, Mongolia and Korea, the plant’s root is dried, prepared into a tincture, tablet or topical treatment, and applied as a natural remedy for all kinds of health conditions, from fatigue, ulcers and liver toxicity, to diabetes, blood pressure and circulation, and even cancer. The potency of this amazing herb is now so widely acknowledged that even the conventional medical community has begun using its isolated compounds as a base ingredient in certain prescription medications.
One of the features that makes astragalus so uniquely effective is the presence of a particular class of polysaccharides, which help to reduce inflammation, regulate blood flow and activate immune cells. It also has antioxidant effects, protecting cells against damage by free radicals, as well as adaptogenic effects, meaning it helps the body respond and adapt more positively to environmental stress factors, both physiological and psychological.
Of the seemingly numberless useful healing applications of astragalus, the following are among the most commonly recognized:
Recovery from cancer
Based on the understanding that common cancer treatments actually make patients more vulnerable to other illnesses by suppressing immune function, Chinese researchers set out in the 1970s to determine whether astragalus might help. What they found was that astragalus not only helped; it made the difference in life or death for some. By stimulating an otherwise depressed and ravaged bone marrow tissue into producing more white blood cells, the body’s first line of defense, building up their sensitivity to harmful micro-organisms and thereby guarding against gastrointestinal poisoning, astragalus effectively increased survival rates among cancer patients.
Due to its powerful antioxidant properties, recent Chinese studies suggest that astragalus may play a helpful role in relieving symptoms of severe forms of heart disease, as well as improving overall heart function.
Cellular health gets a boost from astragalus, which helps to slow your DNA’s degradation over time. Serving a function similar to the plastic caps on the tips of shoelaces, small pieces of DNA called telomeres help to keep chromosomes from unraveling. With each new cell replication; however, these telomeres become gradually shorter, until at last they are no longer useful. Clinical studies on mice have demonstrated the ability of astragalus root extract in helping extend the length, and therefore the life, of these precious telomeres.
Diabetes and blood sugar
Generally speaking, diabetics may do quite well on astragalus. One study has reportedly found that astragalus root can actually help to balance blood sugar – not just lower it, mind you, but balance it. Effectively, that means when blood glucose levels are too low, this amazing herb can help to raise it; conversely, when blood glucose levels creep too high, it can help to lower it. In this way, astragalus root may actually help protect against all kinds of symptoms and possible complications resulting from irregular blood sugar levels.
Seasonal allergies and colds
One study has shown astragalus may be beneficial in reducing symptoms related to allergic rhinitis and hay fever. Plus, due to its apparent antibacterial and antiviral properties, it is also used commonly in traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment or prevention of colds and influenza; though, in some cases it may actually worsen symptoms, especially when given to children with fever.
When used properly and at the appropriate dosages (no more than 25 grams per day), astragalus appears to offer maximum health benefits with very low risk for side effects. Very high doses, on the other hand, may actually work to suppress immune function. Astragalus may also react negatively with other herbal treatments or medications, especially lithium, or drugs designed to suppress the immune system; so be sure to do some research before you begin taking it. Questions also remain about its safety for those with health conditions labeled as “autoimmune,” such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It is typically not recommended for use by pregnant women and nursing mothers. As with any treatment, conventional or alternative, it is strongly recommended to consult your preferred health professional with any questions and concerns you may have.
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