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Astragalus membranaceus monograph

August 1, 2016

Astragalus-89121405-resized-569fee085f9b58eba4adf95d

Astragalus membranaceus
(monograph by Dan Sipple 2015)

Constituents
The biologically active constituents of most medicinal significance in Astragalus are the Polysaccharides and Saponins. The remaining components of Astragalus include triterpenoid Saponins (Astragalosides I to VIII) Isoflavonoids, Polysaccharides, Phytosterols (including Beta-sitosterol), Flavonoids, Essential oils, and Amino acids.

Summary of actions:
Immune-enhancing
Immunomodulatory
Hepatoprotective
Antiviral
Adaptogen
Cardiotonic
Diuretic
Hypotensive
Antioxidant

The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing written in 300 BC is one of the earliest recorded references of Astragalus (Huang Qi) being used for medicinal purposes and was based on the life of Chinese sovereign “Shennong”, whom is said to have lived around 2800 BC. (6). “Wei Qi” in traditional Chinese Medicine is known as the defensive, surface energy that protects the exterior. Conditions related to poor immune function and degenerative illness were thought of as “leaks” or deficiencies of Wei Qi. Astragalus was and still is commonly prescribed to address conditions of this nature in traditional Chinese medicine (7).

Therapeutic Indications:

(Contemporary Western research)

IMMUNE REGULATION:
Several in vitro and in vivo studies conducted on Astragalus membranaceus have confirmed it’s immunostimulatory abilities. Astragalus is particularly useful in cases in which the immune system has been damaged by chemicals or radiation. Further, it has also been found to reverse the T cell abnormalities caused by immunosuppressive medication, radiation and the natural ageing process (2). Astragalus polysaccharides have also been shown to improve and regulate ratios of T lymphocyte subsets into normal ranges, from normal volunteers and cancer patients. Astragalus also enhanced the natural killer cell activity of samples from normal volunteers and those suffering from System Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) patients (3). Astragalus polysaccharides have also been demonstrated to prevent the development of type 1 Diabetes and alleviate airway hypersensitivity in Asthma in laboratory models (3).

ANTI VIRAL 
Astragalus is widely used in both traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western herbal medicine for preventing and treating various viral infections. Most notably, Astragalus is indicated for prevention of common colds and influenza viruses although has demonstrated multiple viral-inhibitory actions across several studies.
Further antiviral activity has also been demonstrated in vitro against Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1, Cytomegalovirus infection and Coxsackie virus B (1).

ANTI AGEING AND LONGEVITY
The link between cellular ageing and “telomere length” is well established and backed with solid research. Telomeres become shorter every time a cell divides which is one of the main biological principles of ageing. The enzyme “telomerase” can lengthen telomeres, slow degeneration and thus promote longevity. The triterpenoid saponin “Astragaloside IV” of the Astragalus plant, has been isolated and repeatedly shown to activate the Telomerase enzyme (4). In addition to its tonic qualities, Astragalus has gained popularity in both complementary and orthodox approaches due its remarkable anti-ageing and rejuvenating qualities.

MALE FERTILITY
Astragalus in its aqueous extract form was tested in vitro and found to have a significant stimulatory effect on sperm motility when compared with controls (1)

CARDIOPROTECTIVE

Astragaloside IV (an isolated Saponin most associated with promoting longevity) demonstrated positive inotropic activity in patients with congestive heart failure, by regulating cardiac function and increase contractility (1).

WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
Polysaccharides from Astragalus were also shown to reduce total cholesterol and triglycerides in the liver, increase Fecal bile acid and neutral sterol excretion, inhibit cholesterol absorption, and by contrast, increase hepatic cholesterol synthesis and HMG-CoA reductase activity (5).

Contraindications:
According to the principles of TCM, it is not advisable to prescribe Astragalus during acute stages of infection (4).
Additionally, immune enhancing herbs such as Astragalus should not be taken by patients whom have undergone transplant surgery and are using immune-suppressant therapy (3).

References:

1. Braun, L, Cohen, M 2007, Herbs & natural supplements, an evidence based guide, 2nd edition, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, Edinburgh.

2. Murray, MT, Pizzorno, J 1998, The encyclopedia of natural medicine, Third edition, Atria Paperback, New York.

3. Bone, K, Mills, S 2013, Principles and practice of Phytotherapy, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, Edinburgh.

4. Chatfield, K 2014, Astragalus: Ancient herbs for modern times, Range of light publishing, CA, pp. 3-31, viewed 22 January 2015,

5. Cheng, Y, Tang, K, Wu, S, Liu, L, Qiang, C, Lin, X, Liu, B 2011, ‘Astragalus polysaccharides lowers plasma cholesterol through mechanisms distinct from statins’, PLoS one, vol. 6, no. 11, pp. 1-9, viewed 24 January 2015

6. Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing 1998, trans Shou-Zhong, Y, Blue Poppy Press, Colorado.*

7. Rencun, Y, Hai, H 2013, Cancer management with Chinese medicine, World Scientific Publishing Co, Singapore.

Photo credit – Pinterest

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