Astragalus (“Huang Qi” in Chinese) has been used for years by Middle Eastern and Chinese cultures in health-restorative tonics and topical rubs. When consumed, this root powder has a sweet taste to the palette and a pleasant warming effect in the tummy and throughout the body.
What is Astragalus?
Astragalus belongs to the legume family (see list). The root of the plant is dug up and dried, then ground up into powder form and can be mixed loose into water or put on food, or into capsules for easy taste-free consumption. It’s been used in traditional Chinese and Persian medicine for thousands of years to promote health, wellness and healing. The Chinese believe it to fortify the “qi” or life-force that resides in all living creatures.
Over the last couple of decades, western science has discovered exactly why the root is so powerful. It contains a very potent blend of antioxidant flavonoids (formononetin & ononin), body-cleansing saponins, along with immune system and energy boosting astragalosides and polysaccharides. Each of these components are thought to impart life-extending benefits to people who consume astragalus root supplements on a daily basis.
There have been some large-scale studies performed in North America and Asia that show hands-down that astragalus boosts immune function via the white blood cells in subjects with immune system deficiencies (and healthy people too). There have also been some well-documented studies on astragalus’ anti-tumor effects on cancer as well.
5 Best Astragalus Supplements
|Overall Rating||5 / 5||5 / 5||4.5 / 5||5 / 5||4.5 / 5|
|Brand||Nature’s Way||Nature’s Answer||Kyolic||Gaia Herbs||Now Foods|
|Serving Size||3 Capsules||1ml||2 Capsules||2 Capsules||1 Capsule|
|Effectiveness||5 / 5||4.9 / 5||4.5 / 5||5 / 5||4.5 / 5|
|Quality||5 / 5||5 / 5||4.5 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5|
|Taste||5 / 5||4.0 / 5||4.2 / 5||5 / 5||4.5 / 5|
|Digestibility||5 / 5||5 / 5||4.4 / 5||5 / 5||5 / 5|
Keep reading to learn about the potential life-extending benefits that astragalus can offer.
Benefits of Using Astragalus
Astragalus has several positive effects on the immune system throughout the body, which is thought to be caused by the assorted polysaccharides present in the root. First, it helps to increase white blood cell proliferation in our bone marrow – the site where this most vital part of our immune system matures. Studies on animals have shown significant boosts in the levels of plasma white blood cells in those treated with the herb.
A study at the West China Hospital of Sichuan University tested people with asthma, who were also prone to other inflammatory conditions caused by environmental irritants. The study pinned 15 healthy subjects against 15 asthmatics. Each showed equal improvements in T-cell function in the body, and increased levels of interferon; a compound that halts the progression of viruses in the body (source).
2.Potential Anti-Cancer Benefits
The immune boosting effects of the astragalus root have been known for centuries, but recent studies show even more promise from this natural supplement – namely in the area of cancer prevention and possible treatment. While most people will do whatever it takes to get rid of it after their diagnosis, chemotherapy and other aggressive treatments have a lot of short and long term side effects on health and well being.
This study on mice showed significant increases in apoptosis rates in the mice that were injected with an astragalus solution (source). Apoptosis is the suicide of cancer cells and apoptosis rates are used in conjunction with other data to assess the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Other studies indicate that astragalus saponins, the main anti-cancer ingredient in the root, is also effective at inhibiting human colon cancer cells too.
Lowers blood pressure and prevents arteriosclerosis by thinning blood. The incredible findings in this study showed some remarkable improvements in many of the key blood indicators that identify early and late stage heart disease. The study identified the polysaccharides found in astragalus as the key ingredient in the fight against heart disease.
After 3 months of administering APS (Astragalus Polysaccharide) to hamsters with raised levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, their numbers plummeted in similar ratios to those enjoyed by subjects taking the popular pharmaceutical statin, simvastatin: total cholesterol (HDL + LDL) lowered by 45.8%, total triglycerides went down 30%, and bad LDL cholesterol numbers dropped by 47.4%.
4.Antioxidant & Anti-Aging Effects
This root is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. Flavonoids work in tandem with several dietary antioxidant compounds and vitamins to control oxidation in the body. Oxidation occurs on our skin, and our blood and organs. While it’s impossible to stop this natural process, eating plenty of antioxidants is an easy way to control it and slow down the ticking clock in our body that is the aging process.
The anti-aging effects of flavonoids don’t just end at controlling oxidation though. It appears they dually act as cell protectants against several natural and non-natural attacks that can occur at the cellular level in the body (learn more).
The adrenals are two organs that sit atop each of our kidneys. When the body is overstressed, adrenal function is almost always compromised, resulting in fatigue, weakened immunity, appetite loss and even clinical depression. Stress can definitely be external (life, love, the pursuit of happiness), but poor diet and environmental toxins often play a much larger role in our stress levels than most of us think.
Astragalus helps to clear toxins out of the body, reduces oxidative stress (as mentioned already) and strengthens the immune system. All of these factors can help to reduce adrenal fatigue. Milk thistle is also recommended being taken for this condition, as it improves liver function to further reduce toxic loads on the body.
Fibromyalgia is a disease with no known precursors. Some speculate it may be caused by nutrient deficiencies, others claim it’s purely a stress-related condition. One thing all people with fibromyalgia know for sure is that in addition to dealing with the constant onslaught of unbearable pain; colds, flus, fevers and other almost daily illnesses are a constant in their lives.
All sources agree that it’s important that sufferers achieve a balanced immune system in order to protect themselves as much as possible. Highly regarded Naturopath, Elizabeth Wotten recommends anywhere from 1500 – 3000 mg daily, split over three separate doses for fibromyalgia suffers – depending on the frequency of their various illnesses and their sensitivity to astragalus.
Other Potential Benefits of Using Astragalus:
As a cell protective, astragalus supplementation is thought to possibly protect cells from the damage done by elevated blood sugar levels. Some short-term studies have shown improvement in the health of people who suffer from gestational diabetes; an autoimmune disorder.
Not enough data exists to offer predictable health improvements in diabetes sufferers. Results are conflicting but feel free to read more about the current studies that have been performed on the astragalus/diabetes connection here.
It should go without saying that when our body is better able to deal with the internal stressors it constantly battles, our sense of wellness increases and the ability to relax increases too. In general, our overall state of health, including immune system function and the level of inflammation in the body determines how agitated or relaxed we feel. This affects our ability to work effectively, wind down in the evening, and to fall and stay asleep at nightime.
Astragalus has shown itself to be a wonderful cell protectant, including in the liver. When our body becomes over toxified, the liver suffers more than any other part of the body. Unchecked toxicity leads to fatty liver, liver fibrosis and potentially liver cancer, as you read about already. Taking astragalus in tandem with other detoxifying compounds like milk thistle, ginseng and reishi mushroom extract is a great way to keep the liver running smoothly.
One of the side effects of too much of this herbal root is increased elimination in the bowels. Increased detoxification leads to increased metabolism; the main cause of constipation in absence of dietary deficiencies like not eating enough fiber, or eating too much.
Better immune system function naturally leads to faster healing – inside and out. While you definitely want to consult with your doctor if you’ve suffered massive internal or external trauma and are considering using astragalus, keep in mind that internal and topical concoctions containing the herb have been used by the Chinese for faster healing and recovery for centuries.
Contraindications With Certain Drugs.
Due to its immune-boosting effect, astragalus has the potential to counteract the use of these and any other immune suppressing drugs:
• Anti-rejection drugs
Talk to your doctor before taking this or any other supplement if you’re on any of the drugs mentioned above. Immune-suppressing drugs help to protect people from the ravaging effects of out-of-control autoimmune malfunctions. Taking a drug to suppress your immune system along with a powerful herb proven to boost immunity is counter-intuitive and dangerous to your health.
Since only limited studies with a handful of participants have been performed on this herbal supplement, there isn’t any official optimal dosage to go with. Dr. Oz recommends taking 200 mg twice a day; once in the morning and again in the evening. Other sources claim up 2 – 6 g a day is perfectly tolerable and may offer more health benefits.
It’s also important to note that the Chinese study on using astragalus to treat the liver cancer hepatocellular carcinoma, that I mentioned earlier in the benefits section, showed the minimum effective dose for treating the disease was 4 g per kg of bodyweight in the mice that were studied.
The Maryland Medical Center, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and other reputable university medical centers are in consensus with their daily astragalus dosing recommendations.
Keep in mind that these recommendations are quite low when looking at the minimum effective doses noted in various studies for improving immunity.
• Standardized astragalus extract: 250 – 500 mg per day.
• Tea: It’s perfectly fine to consume 3 – 6 g of dried astragalus root in 12 ounces of water, 3 times a day
• Fluid extract (1:1 ratio) in 25% ethanol: 2 – 4 mL, 3 times a day
• Powdered root: 250 – 500 mg, 3 – 4 times per day
• Ointment: 10% astragalus ointment applied to surface of wound.
• Tincture (1:5 ratio) in 30% ethanol: 20 – 60 drops, 3 times a day.
Choosing The Best Astragalus Supplement
Unless you’re taking any of the immuno-suppressing drugs mentioned earlier, there is no known side effects of taking more than the recommended dose, other than potential stomach upset and/or overactive bowels.
You’ll find that most concentrated astragalus supplement manufacturers will suggest doses of over 1000 mg a day – usually you’ll have to take 2 – 3 capsules or several drops of a tincture solution to get the suggested dosage. Several immune (including cold prevention) and system cleansing products offer smaller doses of 100 – 300 mg, combined with other supportive herbs, vitamins, and extracts.
When in doubt, start off at a lower dose for several days to assess how your digestive tract will react to the new herb, and work up slowly before consuming the full manufacturer’s recommendation.
Worse case scenario: you’ll be spending more time on the toilet than you’re used to!
Astragalus Supplement Reviews
1.Nature’s Way Astragalus Root
Nature’s Way always gets the nod from me with many of their supplements. Each capsule from this 180 count bottle offers a significant dose of 470 mg. There are few supplement manufactures who keep the price per capsule so low while offering 24 hour phone service to answer any questions you might have about their products. There is no gluten or other known allergens and the ground root is encased in plant-derived cellulose making it easy to get a vegan-friendly dose of astragalus every day. Combine this with some Reishi to get even more polysaccharides in your daily diet.
2.Nature’s Answer Alcohol-Free Astragalus Root
This tincture from Nature’s Answer is great if you want to fine tune your dose of astragalus to get it just right for you. Each drop of liquid contains 133 mg of extract; meaning you can work your way up slowly without any gastrointestinal upset. Getting your astragalus in liquid form also means you don’t have to worry about slugging back two or three pills every day. The taste is mildly sweet and if you don’t find you care for the taste, a few drops in a glass of water will all but mask the taste entirely. As with all Nature’s Answer products, they use their proprietary “Cold Bio-Chelation” process which they claim helps to preserve the nutrients within each extract they sell.
3.Kyolic Garlic Formula 103 Immune Formula
I really like Kyolic Garlic supplements. Garlic itself is known for improving immune system function, but this formulation really takes the cake when it comes to increased immunity and organ cleansing. Each serving contains: 105 mg of vitamin C, 150 mg of premium mushroom complex (shitake, miatake, poria cocos, reishi, and agaricus), 440 mg of garlic extract, 100 mg of astragalus extract, 100 mg of oregano extract, and 80 mg of olive leaf extract. This is a very potent formula to prevent colds, flus, sore throats and sinus infection. Women often use this formula from Kyolic to keep yeast infections at bay.
4.Gaia Herbs Deep Liver Support Liquid Phyto-Capsules
I usually avoid promoting products that don’t list what amount of each ingredient they have in their product (ie., proprietary). However, Gaia has been around so long and has such a bullet-proof reputation, it would be a sin to leave them out. This concoction is made for liver and colon cleansing and maintenance support. The list of herbal extracts is pretty long and includes astragalus. If you have fatty liver disease or are just concerned about keeping it as healthy as possible, give this one a go.
Like so many natural health food supplements on the market, astragalus has not yet been FDA approved for preventing or curing any of the ailments listed in the benefits above. The easiest way to explain the lack of approval is that natural supplements don’t have rigorous and expensive human lab-based studies to back their effectiveness and so aren’t able to bypass the intense scrutiny of the Federal Drug Administration.
When people are trying to decide whether to take a new herbal supplement or not, the choice often comes down to two main questions: 1) Does it do what it says it will? – and – 2) Are the potential benefits worth the price?
Around two thousand years ago, founder of Chinese herbal medicine, Shen Nong, classified astragalus as a “superior immune system boosting herbal tonic.” Mark Stengler, N.D. who’s touted as America’s Natural Doctor, and the founder of the famed Stengler Center of Integrated Medicine, says astragalus is “one of the best long-term immune tonics.”
As you’ve already learned, these two medicine and health experts aren’t the only ones who praise the herbal root’s benefits. The astragalus root has shown to be effective at preventing viral infections like the common cold and even shows promise toward a natural way to stop cancer cells from forming and killing those that already exist in people diagnosed with certain forms of the disease.
In my opinion, astragalus definitely does what it says it will. And you can’t really put a price on health, particularly when most astragalus supplements cost only $0.07 per dose.