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Astragalus ASTRAGALUS ROOT  
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Asparagus Root  |  Avena Sativa

Botanical:   Astragalus membranaceus
Family:   Leguminosae (legume) - Fabaceae (pea)
Other common names:  Locoweed, Milk Vetch Root, Huang Qi, Membranous Milkvetch, Chinese Astragalus

Promote resistance to infection, and hopefully reduce the number of colds and flu with Astragalus Root. Oriental herbalists have used it for centuries to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, treat coronary heart problems and lower blood pressure.  Many people also use it as an overall good-health tonic  to support healthy digestion and to help increase energy levels and stamina.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

History:
Astragalus is native to northern China and the elevated regions of the Chinese provinces, Yunnan and Sichuan.  It is a bushy plant with hairy stems that grow to sixteen inches and includes many species that are used interchangeably (Astragalus mongholicus, Astragalus chinensis).  While over two thousand species of Astragalus exist worldwide, it is the Chinese Astragalus membranaceus   that has been extensively tested, both chemically and pharmacologically.  First recorded for its importance as a tonic herb over two thousand years ago in China, in the classical treatise Shen Nong Pen Tsao Ching , Oriental herbalists have used it for centuries, usually in combination with other herbs, for wide variety of ailments.  Many Western researchers are just beginning to discover its benefits and striking results.  Recent studies suggest that Astragalus appears to help activate the immune system, enhancing the body's natural ability to fight major diseases.  Several preliminary clinical trials in China have suggested that Astragalus Root can benefit immune function and improve survival in some people with cancer, but the quality of the trials left much doubt, and it is difficult to know how useful Astragalus really was.  The portion of the plant used medicinally is the four- to seven-year-old dried root, collected in the spring.  This ancient cure-all contains betaine, beta-sitosterol, calcium, choline, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, flavonoids, triterpene glycosides (e.g., astragalosides I–VII), amino acids, essential fatty acids and polysaccharides (the main nutrients that feed our bodies).

Beneficial Uses:
Astragalus Root is an energy tonic and a mild stimulant that combats fatigue and prolonged stress.  It is used to increase metabolism, stamina, strength and vitality.

Astragalus is considered an herbal "adaptogen," or agent that tends to normalize body functions and reinstate metabolic balance after physically and emotionally stressful situations have altered those functions.  It helps the body to adapt and return to a sense of well-being.

Traditional herbalists have long used Astragalus as a means to manage diabetes, and modern research has indicated that in studies including people with diabetes who also had various complications associated with the disorder (including diabetic retinopathy), the results showed improvements in blood flow through the eye in 82 percent of the participants, and fasting blood sugar was kept below 150 milligrams per deciliter for 77 percent of the participants, without the use of other medications.

Modern Chinese clinical studies have found that the herb contains an anti-clotting agent and acts as a blood thinner with additional vasodilating properties, which may help to prevent coronary heart disease and improve circulation.  Chinese researchers have had good preliminary results using Astragalus compounds called astragalosides in managing congestive heart failure.

Astragalus Root is said to help strengthen and restore normal immune function in seriously debilitated patients.  Many modern researchers claim that the herb appears to increase the production of the body's T-cells (white blood cells), which attack the invaders that cause disease; and it seems to protect healthy cells while defending against unhealthy cells. The herb also activates the important malignant growth suppressing "gene p53" that prevents defective cells from multiplying. Gene p53 acts as a "molecular patrolman" that ensures that genetically defective cells do not multiply and may reduce the risk of serious malignant colorectal, breast and other cancerous diseases. The University of Maryland Medical Center has researched Astragalus in a standardized extract as an alternative support for kidney cancer, as it may strengthen the body and reduce symptoms associated with the disease. This alternative support must always be carried out under a physician's care and may have adverse effects if used with other medications without doctor's approval.

According to clinical trials from the University of California, Berkeley, Astragalus was shown to increase chemotherapy efficacy and reduce toxicity when combined with platinum-based chemotherapy to improve survival and tumor response for systemic treatments for advanced non–small-cell lung cancer.  Astragalus has been shown to have immunologic benefits by stimulating macrophage and natural killer (NK) cell activity and inhibiting T-helper cell type 2 cytokines.

This tonic herb is reputed to protect the immune system and promote resistance to invasive infection. Astragalus Root is said to be useful in treating immune-deficiency related problems, including the debilitating effects of AIDS, by stimulating the activity of T-helper cells that are depleted by AIDS.  It is said to increase production of the immune-system chemical interleukin-2, which fights human papilloma virus.

Astragalus is considered an anti-inflammatory.  It is said to be effective in relieving the discomforts associated with lung weakness and may promote general healing.  It is also thought to accelerate healing in the bronchial tubes and promote better breathing, which can be helpful in cases of emphysema.

As a plant diuretic, urine flow is improved by Astragalus Root, which may also reduce the potential of infection in the bladder. The herb has been used as a treatment for bladder infections caused by Proteus, which can cause kidney stones.  It is also said to be an anti-hypertensive, which promotes healthy blood pressure by helping to rid the body of excess water weight.

When used during cold and flu season, Astragalus Root is thought to be a reliable treatment for the common cold, as well as protect against the number of colds caught or possibly shorten their duration.  The herb seems to increase the body's level of antibodies and interferon (the protein compound that slows the course of viral infection) in the body.  Early clinical trials in China suggest Astragalus Root might also benefit people with chronic viral hepatitis, though it may take one to two months to see results.

Astragalus increases the flow of bile and digestive fluids and supports good digestion and also helps to support adrenal gland, liver and spleen function.  It is a natural antibacterial that helps to eliminate toxins, thus promoting the healing of damaged tissue. In supporting the liver, it is also thought to protect it against the chemical damage caused by chemotherapy.

One preliminary Chinese trial found that Astragalus Root could decrease overactive immune function in people with systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease; but further trials are needed, however, to establish whether Astragalus is  effective or safe for people with SLE, or any other autoimmune disease.  It is thought, however, to stimulate beneficial components of the immune system in patients with lupus (the natural killer [NK] cells) without stimulating the detrimental components involved in rheumatoid arthritis (the B cells).

With regard to Myasthenia gravis, although Astragalus is often an immune stimulant, it is also said to act as an immune suppressant in the treatment of Myasthenia gravis.   In one study, Astragalus significantly reduced patients' nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antibodies, a measure of the disease's severity. Any use of Astragalus for autoimmune diseases should always be conducted only under doctor's direction.

Contraindications:
If you are undergoing chemotherapy, do not take Astragalus Root - or any other medication - without first consulting a doctor who is familiar with this herb.  Astragalus should not be taken if fever is present. Astragalus is incompatible with prescription medications often given after a heart attack and as a blood thinner, it should not be used by those who take blood thinning drugs (Coumadin, etc.)  Some beta-blockers may be less effective when taken with Astragalus, and this herb should be used in consultation with a physician by those on immuno-suppressive therapy.

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