You’ve probably heard of natural cold remedies like echinacea, garlic, and goldenseal. But here is a remedy that may be even better! It’s an ancient Chinese herb called huang qi, which means “yellow leader,” but you probably know it by its more common name… astragalus.
Native to China, Mongolia, and Korea, astragalus is an herb that grows up to three feet tall. Known botanically as astragalus membranaceus, the yellow root has various medicinal uses.
This super herb has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. The University of Texas has shown it to be an adaptogenic herb which enables viruses, bacteria, and even cancer cells to be “picked up” on the immune system’s radar. In one study, astragalus membranaceus was able to restore immune function in 90% of the cancer patients studied!
Astragalus is a powerful “non-specific” immune modulator. Instead of activating our defense system against a specific disease organism, it modulates immunity by increasing the numbers and activity of macrophages, which are roving white blood cells that engulf invading organisms.
Benefits for Cancer Patients
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the ripple effect on the rest of their health can often cause more trouble than the disease itself. Unfortunately, so can traditional cancer treatments.
During one study, researchers investigated the effects of astragalus on cancer patients with compromised immune systems as a result of chemotherapy. Patients taking the astragalus supplements experienced a faster recovery and improved survival rates.
Scientists examined the effects of astragalus among patients with cancer-related fatigue. They discovered that the group receiving pure astragalus extract showed significant improvements and concluded that it is a promising adjunctive treatment for cancer.
Chinese studies show that astragalus improves the quality of life and the overall immunity of cancer patients undergoing chemo. The roots of the astragalus plant are thought to stimulate the production of interferon. Interferon is an essential chemical that induces the proper functioning of the immune system. Interferon is also effective in fighting cell mutation and cancer development.
This herb is revered for its ability to boost the immune system. When cancer patients undergo chemotherapy, most often, the drugs used cause the body to produce less red and white blood cells. This makes cancer patients more susceptible to infection and general illness that can quickly become serious. Astragalus enables the body to boost its white blood cell count, produce more antibodies and natural killer cells, strengthen its antiviral immunity, and increase the production of interferon.
Based on research conducted at the University of Houston, the use of astragalus enhances the ability of T-cells and NK cells to destroy tumors. It activates interleukin-2, which kills cancer cells and helps relieve the side effects of chemotherapy such as immunosuppression, fatigue, nausea, weight loss, and overall weakness.
In tests at the Hiroshima School of Medicine in Japan, astragalus was shown to directly increase B-cell and T-cell levels, interleukin, and antibody production. But not only does astragalus increase the number of leukocytes, in particular the “hunter” T-cells; it also helps identify the viruses, bacteria, and other rogue cells.
6 Amazing Astragalus Benefits
#1. Wound and Skin Care
When applied topically, it effectively alleviates eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and has also been used to treat wounds. Taken as a tea, the antioxidant property of astragalus improves your blood flow – crucial for great looking skin.
#2. Slow Signs of Aging
Astragalus improves your cellular health by slowing down the wear and tear of your DNA. Within your DNA, there are small strands called telomeres that keep your cells from unraveling. The root extracts help extend the life of your telomeres, making you look younger and slowing down the aging process on a cellular level.
#3. Healthy Heart
Astragalus’s diuretic effect flushes toxins from your body. Many studies have shown that high blood pressure is a critical factor contributing to heart disease. Astragalus aids in blood vessel dilation, which can lower your blood pressure naturally.
#4. Regulates Blood Sugar
Patients with diabetes can safely rely on astragalus to lower and balance their blood glucose levels. One study discovered that it restored high blood sugar to normal and raised blood sugar when it was too low.
#5. Immune System Optimization
Since astragalus contains antibacterial and antiviral properties, it has been used effectively in TCM to treat allergies, colds, flus, and respiratory conditions.
#6. Improves Anemia
Early studies showed that astragalus root increased the blood count of anemic patients, especially those who have aplastic anemia. Though more research is needed in regards to anemia, initial results are promising.
Taking astragalus is generally considered safe. However, it is important to consult your healthcare provider before you add it to your health regimen. Though side effects reported have proved to be minor – diarrhea, bloating, and dehydration – it has been known to interfere with prescribed drugs.
You can find astragalus in several different forms including capsules, tablets, liquid alcohol extract, injectable forms, and topical forms. The recommended dose is between 1-30 grams of powdered root per day, which is available in capsule form.
Astragalus is a source of fascination for researchers and more studies will likely discover further conditions that this ancient herb is able to help. Look for it at your local health food store.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2015. It has been updated and republished in December 2023.