Showing posts with label astragalus side effects. Show all posts
Showing posts with label astragalus side effects. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What the Heck Is Astragalus Root Anyway?

Astragalus (pronounced like this) is a plant that grows wild in Asia. Its dried roots are considered medicinal in several parts of Asia, where it's liquid extract form is used in clinics and hospitals, often injected directly into the body. In the US, you can find Astragalus root in health food stores usually as a tablet, capsule, or as a liquid extract. But what the heck is it? Is it safe to take, and are there real benefits?

Health Benefits of Astragalus Root

The natural properties of Astragalus root allow it to be classed as an adaptogenic herb – one that protects your body from mental, emotional, or physical stress. It is also known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Claims of Astragalus health benefits include the following:
  • Immune system protection and support
  • Preventing upper respiratory infections
  • Diabetes treatment
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Liver protection
  • Healing skin wounds
  • Antidiarrheal support
Though not a health benefit per se, the gummy sap of the Astragalus plant is sometimes used as a thickener in ice cream, and even as a denture adhesive.

But Does Astragalus Research Support Health Claims?

There is a surprisingly large number of astragalus studies although, not surprisingly, most of the research in in Asian countries where the herb is more widely known and used.  These Asian studies (see footnotes here and here) generally support the health claims related to astragalus as an antioxidant and as a means of improving heart health and lowering cholesterol.

Research on astragalus in the U.S. also supports the use of astragalus to undergird the immune system after its been stressed by chemotherapy or radiation. In one study, Astragalus supplementation not only accelerated cancer patient recovery but also increased their longevity.

But some of the most compelling recent studies on astragalus – including one in Spain and one in the U.S. – show strong evidence that astragalus can have a positive effect on our telomeres – the part of our DNA strands that effect our longevity.  Scientists believe that the shortening of the telomeres equates to shortening of life.  Thus, some theorize that, if we can prevent or slow the telomeres from shortening, we can dramatically increase longevity and health. 

In the 2011 Spanish cancer research, reported in Aging Cell, scientists identified a compound in Astragalus that also activates telomerase, not only increasing the health span of adult mice, but significantly increased average telomere length, which resulted in improvements in glucose tolerance, osteoporosis symptoms, and skin fitness.

Any Astragalus Risks or Astragalus Side Effects?

Astragalus is generally considered safe for adults with no serious side effects. That said, there are some situations in which astragalus should not be taken.
  • For some people, astragalus may have a mild diuretic effect – a useful thing if you are trying to get rid of excess fluid, but a potential risk if you are already dehydrated.
  • Because Astragalus may stimulate the immune system, there could be undesirable side effects for those with autoimmune diseases.
  • Some health practitioners advise against using any adaptogenic herb regularly for long time periods, but rather switching every month or so to a different adaptogen. Here's a list of adaptogenic herbs you could choose to rotate through.
  • Use caution if you have allergies to legumes; those who do often have allergies to astragalus as well.
  • Don't use astragalus if you are using immune system suppressant drugs or lithium.
To be safe, it's best to consult with your doctor before taking any medication or herb.  

Expand your Knowledge

Now that you have a conversational understanding of astragalus and its potential benefits, you can expand your wherewithal on several other complementary health practices, health foods, and herbal buzzwords by checking out our other "what the heck" articles, such as What the Heck Are Free Radicals Anyway?, What the Heck are Antioxidants Anyway?, What the Heck Are Bioflavonoids Anyway?, What the Heck are Superfoods anyway?and What the Heck is Detoxing Anyway?

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer