Another one to add to your list is astragalus, a humble root that is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Astragalus is a true miracle herb that can super-charge your immune system, help with detoxification, and give you vibrant longevity!
Astragalus as an Adaptogen
Not surprisingly, astragalus has been in the Chinese traditional medicine pantheon for centuries.
In most cases, only the root of the astragalus plant is used medicinally, and of the thousands of kinds of astragalus plants, only astragalus mongholicus and astragalus membranaceus are typically harvested for healing.
There are several qualities that make astragalus root so powerful for balancing the human body. One of these is its adaptogenic properties.
In a nutshell, adaptogens do what their name implies: they help the body adapt to stressful conditions. This is why they can be so beneficial for a plethora of health conditions.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH-NCCI), “Astragalus has been used as a dietary supplement for many conditions, including for diarrhea, fatigue, anorexia, upper respiratory infections, heart disease, hepatitis, fibromyalgia, and as an adjunctive therapy for cancer .”
Adaptogens do their job mostly through the way they are able to regulate hormones, especially cortisol levels. Natural ways for regulating stress hormones can be especially helpful for those who suffer from chronic stress.
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America study, more than 40% of all U.S. adults admit that they often “lie awake at night because of stress .”
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that is pumped into the body when a person is in “fight or flight” mode. It is a potentially helpful hormone in the body, but only under certain conditions. Too much of it will lead directly to inflammation and higher risk for disease.
Stress management techniques like meditation can be very helpful for lowering cortisol levels, but sometimes they are simply not enough. Adaptogens help the body “turn off” cellular receptors for cortisol in a natural and safe way, while “turning on” signaling for calming and healing hormones and processes .
Astragalus Root Benefits and the Immune System
One of the main benefits of astragalus root in the healing methods of ancient Chinese doctors was its immune-boosting effects.
First, astragalus works on immune system function itself. A 2012 Beijing study published in the journal Fitoterapia found that astragaloside IV, a phytochemical extract from Astragalus mongholicus, has the ability to regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines that can affect certain T cells .
In addition, a 2004 study conducted at Peking University and published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications shed some light on the way polysaccharides in astragalus membranaceus help to regulate the immune system. According to researchers ,
“We herein demonstrate that APS [astragalus membranaceus] activates mouse B cells and macrophages, but not T cells, in terms of proliferation or cytokine production.”
But that’s not all when it comes to how astragalus can benefit the immune system. Inflammation is at the root of many diseases.
A unique 2008 study conducted at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School and published in the Journal of Medicinal Food looked at the adaptogens goldenseal and astragalus and their effects on pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body.
Talking about both herbs, the researchers hypothesized that “their historical use as therapeutic agents may be due to reduction in the pro-inflammatory response that indirectly leads to limiting of clinical symptoms during infection .”
Interestingly, it was also discovered that Astragalus membranaceus was able to influence the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α when used in high concentrations. TNF is a pro-inflammatory immune system cell that plays a role in apoptosis (programmed cell death).
Finally, astragalus directly helps the immune system do its job because of its known antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties via polysaccharide substances. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science found that astragalus was able to protect mitochondria by preventing oxidative stress .
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “In the United States, researchers have looked at astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, astragalus supplements seem to help people recover faster and live longer .”
Astragalus Root for Detoxification
As if all of the above isn’t enough, astragalus can also be used to strengthen and support major detoxification pathways, especially the liver and kidneys.
Your liver is perhaps your most important organ for overall detoxification in this highly-toxic world.
According to research done at Anhui Medical University in Hefei, China, extract of Astragalus membranaceus can protect the liver against cellular damage and liver fibrosis by supporting mechanisms in the body that hunt out liver cancer cells and destroy them.
In this study, investigators combined astragalus extract with extract from the common garden flower Chinese peony. They concluded that “taken together, the present data provides evidence that PAE (extracts of Paeonia lactiflora and Astragalus membranaceus) is a potent antineoplastic drug candidate for the treatment of HCC [hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer] .”
Astragalus Can Benefit the Kidneys
A meta-analysis conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews summarized that “Astragalus may help to decrease the serum creatinine, reduce the amount of protein lost in urine, and diminish the effects of some complications, such as anaemia and malnutrition .”
Studies in Korea shed light on how astragalus does this. Researchers at Kangwon National University and Konkuk University discovered that one of the main components of astragalus, TAT2 or Cycloastragenol, not only helps the brain, but may also provide nourishment for the kidneys .
Still others have focused on how astragalus can help with diabetes-related kidney damage, also known as diabetic nephropathy. Several studies have focused on this link, so much so that astragalus extract has become a common part of natural protocols for individuals with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Not only can astragalus help restore the kidney for diabetics, but it can also help increase insulin sensitivity.
Finally, researchers at Fudan University’s Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, China conducted a meta-analysis on astragalus’ effect on the kidneys of diabetics. The report, published in the January 2011 edition of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, concluded that “the role of Astragalus in the treatment of DN [diabetic nephropathy] can be disclosed and [is] of profound significance .”
Astragalus for Longevity
The newest astragalus research has been focusing on its benefits for longevity, especially where cognition and DNA repair is concerned. There have been several studies on this to date, and many of them have narrowed in on astragalus root’s beneficial effect on telomeres.
Telomeres are bits of DNA located at the end of each chromosome that help protect them from damage. Telomeres are maintained by the enzyme temomerase and, sadly, most individuals today do not have enough telomerase available to prevent on-going telomere damage.
Temomeres shorten with age as well as stress, and can lead to disease and rapid aging.
On the other hand, telomeres can be lengthened through healthy eating, lifestyle changes, and proper supplementation. Scientists at the Spanish National Cancer Centre in Madrid found that astragalus (used in a commercial formula called TA-65) was able to elongate short telomeres and help repair “associated DNA damage .”
Astragalus root was supposedly a core herbal supplement taken by Chinese herbalist and martial artist Li Ching Yuen, who 19th century newspapers and government reports claim to have lived to be over 250 years old! While that may seem hard to believe, what we do know is that astragalus’ powerful restorative, anti-inflammatory, and balancing phytochemical components can absolutely lead to a healthier body and mind as well as a more vibrant life long-term.
The Madrid researchers also found that TA-65 led to improvements in “health-span indicators,” including greater glucose tolerance, improvement in osteoporosis conditions, healthier skin, and less incidence of cancer.
Another study conducted by the Dalian Nationalities University in Dalian, China found that the herb’s polysaccharides seemed to influence both the brain and the body, which may lengthen human life span in general .
Astragalus Root Benefits are Enhanced by Other Herbal Powerhouses
There is no doubt that astragalus root is a powerhouse for the body when taken alone. It is also clear that astragalus works even better (and possibly in a more targeted way) when combined with other health-supporting herbs.
If all this evidence doesn’t convince you that astragalus really is one of the great healing herbs for boosting the immune system, detoxifying the body, and helping you live healthier longer, then nothing will!
This humble root herb from the Chinese herbal pantheon is definitely one to add to your own herbal cabinet for overall great health.