Astragalus is a traditional Chinese herb derived from the root of the perennial Astragalus membranaceus. In China astragalus enjoyed a long history of use in traditional medicine to strengthen the Wei Ch’i or “defensive energy” or as we call it, the immune system. Regarded as a potent tonic for increasing energy levels and stimulating the immune system, astragalus has also been employed effectively as a diuretic, a vasodilator and as a treatment for respiratory infections. Astragalus has recently become popular with western herbalist and alternative health care providers.
Recent studies in China led researchers to report that astragalus can be part of an effective treatment for supporting the immune systems of cancer patients. Two separate studies followed cancer patients receiving traditional western chemotherapy and radiation treatment. These forms of treatment typically ravage the body’s immune system and leave patients weak and susceptible to new opportunistic infections.
Researchers reported that cancer patients receiving astragalus extracts had twice the survival rate of those only receiving standard therapies. U.S. studies have further confirmed that astragalus possesses unique immunity boosting qualities. Researchers at the University of Texas found that astragalus exhibited strong immunity response on in-vitro cancer cells.
Scientists have isolated a number of active ingredients contained in astragalus, including bioflavanoids, choline, and a polysaccharide called astragalan B. Animal studies have shown that astragalan B is effective at controlling bacterial infections, stimulating the immune system, and protecting the body against a number of toxins.
Astragalan B seems to work by binding to cholesterol on the outer membranes of viruses, destabilizing their defenses and allowing for the body’s immune system to attack the weakened invader. Astragalus also increases interferon production and enhances NK and T cell function, increasing resistance to viral conditions such as hepatitis, AIDS and cancer. Astragalus shows support for peripheral vascular diseases and peripheral circulation.