Astragalus root (Radix astragali) has a history of use for a variety of health conditions. One of the most popular and traditional ways it’s been used is as an immune booster. Though a top and trusted herb in Chinese Herbal Medicine, many people like to use astragalus root in tonics, teas and soups both for its sweet, tannic flavor and to give their health a boost.
Research indicates neither practitioners of herbal medicine nor people who like to use it as a dietary staple have been disappointed. Astragalus contains a variety compounds known for enhancing the immune system and providing additional health benefits.
Active Compounds in Astragalus
Scientists have identified polysaccharides, flavonoids and triterpene saponins as the active compounds in astragalus. Experiments show many of these chemicals possess anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and immune regulatory properties. Astragalus also contains several amino acids, trace minerals and coumarins.
While many of the individual compounds have been identified and some of the most potent tested, most studies typically use astragalus extract.
How Astragalus Boosts the Immune System
The compounds in astragalus each act in unique ways to support the immune system. For example, polysaccharides have been attributed with anti-viral, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects. Saponins are known for their cytotoxic properties. Flavonoids provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and have demonstrated anti-tumor effects.
Although researchers continue to explore how these compounds combine to support the immune system, they have determined they do. Here are a few ways they boost immunity.
Improves Overall Immune Response
It can be difficult to tell if an herb like astragalus works when tested in healthy individuals. Researchers in China solved that problem. They ran a double-blind randomized trial with children suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
During chemotherapy, some children received an astragalus injection while others were the control group. The researchers observed that the children who received astragalus experienced reduced bone marrow suppression. The children’s white blood cell counts also increased.
Another study looked at the effect of astragalus on patients suffering from congestive heart failure. Those who received astragalus showed an improved function based on tests of common immune system factors including an increased CD4/CD8 ratio.
Helps to Regulate Immune Factors
Research shows astragalus provides an immune-modulatory effect.
In one study, 60 patients with chronic aplastic anemia were divided into two groups. In addition to their medication, one group (30 people) received astragalus via injection. That group showed improved lymphocyte activity.
Another study, this time using animal models, found astragalus helped to restore balance between Th1 and Th2 cytokines.
Astragalus also helped restore normal immune function in one hundred sixty patients with herpes simplex keratitis. Once again, the Th1 and Th2 balance was restored in those who received the astragalus. Researchers also noted raised levels of IL-4 and IL-10 after treatment.
Relieves Allergy Symptoms
Patients suffering from seasonal allergies may find relief with astragalus. Researchers conducted a small trial with 48 patients over six weeks. The placebo-controlled trial saw those patients who received the astragalus report much-reduced symptoms and an overall better quality of life.
Provides Support for the Liver
The liver has a vital role in immune response. It regulates the conversion of a specific growth factor, growth factor-beta which is involved in inflammation and specific immune responses. This makes a healthy liver key to immune response. Fatty liver, viral infections that attack the liver like herpes and high blood sugar can have a dramatic impact on the liver. Astragalus has been shown to help support the liver by:
- Improving insulin response, activity attributed to the polysaccharides in astragalus.,
- Protecting against damage from all types of fatty liver disease.,
- Increasing fatty acid metabolism
By protecting the liver, astragalus helps to keep inflammation under control and regulates immune response.
A lot more research is needed to understand the mechanisms of how astragalus and its compounds work. Even so, the ancient experience that recognized astragalus supports the immune system making it a useful way for individuals to boost their immunity and stay healthy!
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