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Astragalus Supplements: All You Need to Know

If you are looking to boost health and function, then sometimes looking backwards will take you forwards -- especially when it comes to supplements.

Despite new supplements hitting the market every other day, some of the most effective options have been around for centuries. In fact, most of the supplements that you find on the shelf of your local supermarket have actually been a staple in eastern medicinal practices since the dawn of time.

And Astragalus is no different.

What is Astragalus?

Astragalus (also known as “Huang Qi” in certain parts of the world) describes a species of about 3000 closely related plants that can be categorised as a type of legume.

However, when we are talking about astragalus, we are really talking about one of two types:

  • Astragalus membranaceus
  • Astragalus mongholicus

The roots of these two Astragalus variants are broken down and consumed in supplement form around the world. These supplements can come in the form of a liquid, a capsule, a powder, or even a tea.

The reason the root of the plant is used to create Astragalus supplements is because it is full to the brim with potent bioactive compounds known as “Astragalosides”, which are thought to lower cholesterol and enhance immune system function.

Moreover, it also contains an abundance of “flavonoids”, which are potent antioxidants that have been linked to reductions in inflammation, as well as improvements in heart and cardiovascular system health.

All of which would suggest that supplementing with Astragalus might have some potent benefits…

The Benefits of Astragalus Supplements

As I alluded to above, Astragalus is full of health boosting compounds -- which means that it offers a host of unique benefits to anyone interested in this whole “health and fitness” thing.

1.    Improved Immune Response

There is a growing body of research demonstrating that Astragalus supplements can have a potent effect on the immune cells of the human body. More specifically, it has been shown to increase the production of both white blood cells and natural killer cells [1].

These specific cells are responsible for reacting to invading pathogens and eradicating them from your body.

As a result, there is reason to believe that Astragalus supplements will enhance your immune response by improving the global function of your immune system. This is obviously going to keep you healthy and training hard without any hiccups.

2.    Better Heart Health

Some of the bioactive compounds found in Astragalus can reduce inflammation throughout the body, while simultaneously promoting better vasodilation (the ‘widening’ of your arteries) and blood flow.

As a result, it can improve heart function.

In fact, research has shown that people with heart failure who supplement with around 4 grams of astragalus per day for as little as two weeks will observe greater improvements in heart health than those people who only receive normal hospital care [2].

Moreover, research in rats has shown that Astragalus can reduce the levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol found in the blood, while concurrently increasing the amount of HDL (or “good”) cholesterol in the blood [3], which is also known to significantly improve heart health.

These findings would indicate that Astragalus offers a potent way to help improve the health of your heart, and may even prevent things like cardiovascular disease as you get older -- all of which is key if you want to keep lifting for a long time (and really, who doesn't…).

3.    Treat Viral Infections

In conjunction with boosting your immune system and making sure you get sick less, there is also some evidence to suggest that taking Astragalus when you get a viral infection can speed up your recovery time.

Research has demonstrated that the supplementation of Astragalus can boost the immune cells of children with chronic tonsillitis (a disease typified by severe tonsil inflammation) [4]. This, in turn, facilitated recovery in a big way.

Moreover, there are a myriad of cell based studies demonstrating that Astragalus can help fight against viral infections of the reproductive and respiratory systems, as well as things like the flu [5].

While more research in humans is needed, there is enough evidence to suggest that taking Astragalus can help you overcome viral infections faster. So if you feel a cold coming on and don't want to stop training, this could be your answer.

4.    Enhanced Blood Sugar Control

Lastly, many of the active compounds found in Astragalus supplements have been shown to help manage blood sugar levels. In fact, in eastern countries, it is often prescribed alongside traditional diabetes medication to better manage blood sugar levels [6].

This means that it may have the ability to help prevent the development of diabetes, which is one of the most prevalent diseases in the western world.

Does Astragalus Have Any Side Effects?

Many people will tell you that because Astragalus has been consumed by people for centuries without any notable issues occurring, you have no reason to worry -- and to be honest, this is not far from the truth.

Research indicates that it is very well tolerated for the vast majority of people who take it, although in a small subset of the population side effects may occur.

These can include:

  • The development of a red rash
  • Itchy sections of skin
  • The onset of a runny nose
  • Feelings of nausea
  • Stomach discomfort and diarrhea

It is also important to note that while Astragalus appears to be very safe in most people, you should avoid taking it if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, currently have an autoimmune disorder, are taking immunosuppressant medications, or have diagnose blood pressure issues.

While it may not pose any issues in these situations, there is currently no research to demonstrate this with real certainty -- so it is probably best to avoid it for now.

And finally, even if you do not fall into one of the categories above, we would encourage you to seek advice from your GP before supplementing with Astragalus.

Astragalus Dosing

When it comes to the Astragalus research, there is some conflicting information regarding dosage because some researches have supplied it via an intravenous drip -- which means that the dosage is lower than what would be taken orally.

So just keep in mind that the recommendations we are providing here strictly relate to oral Astragalus supplements.

Research suggests that taking 2-30mg of Astragalus twice daily (so 4-60 milligrams per day) is enough to improve heart health, boost immune system function, and help manage blood sugar in most individuals.

Obviously this is quite a large range, which means that you should always start conservatively.

We would suggest that you start by taking 4mg per day, spread out into two 2mg doses (taken morning and night). If this is well tolerated, then you can slowly increase your daily dosage towards the 15-40mg range.

At the moment there does not appear to be any real benefit to going above 40mg per day, despite some research studies using 60mg per day.

Main Points

Astragalus offers an excellent way to improve the function of your immune system, fight off viral infections, enhance heart health, and even promote better blood sugar control -- all of which will allow you to keep at the top of your game indefinitely.

If you are someone who is interested in staying swole well into your nineties, then Astragalus could be your answer.

 

References

  1. Block, Keith I., and Mark N. Mead. "Immune system effects of echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus: a review." Integrative cancer therapies 2.3 (2003): 247-267.
  2. Yang, QingYou, Shu Lu, and HuiRu Sun. "Effects of astragalus on cardiac function and serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha level in patients with chronic heart failure." Zhongguo Zhong xi yi jie he za zhi Zhongguo Zhongxiyi jiehe zazhi= Chinese journal of integrated traditional and Western medicine 30.7 (2010): 699-701.
  3. Jiangwei, M. A., Qiao Zengyong, and Xiang Xia. "Aqueous extract of Astragalus mongholicus ameliorates high cholesterol diet induced oxidative injury in experimental rats models." Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 5.5 (2011): 855-858.
  4. Yang, Yong, Li-Dong Wang, and Zong-Bo Chen. "Effects of Astragalus membranaceus on TH cell subset function in children with recurrent tonsillitis." Zhongguo Dang dai er ke za zhi= Chinese Journal of Contemporary Pediatrics 8.5 (2006): 376-378.
  5. Zhuge, Zeng-Yu, et al. "Effects of Astragalus polysaccharide on immune responses of porcine PBMC stimulated with PRRSV or CSFV." PloS one 7.1 (2012): e29320.
  6. Agyemang, Kojo, et al. "Recent advances in Astragalus membranaceus anti-diabetic research: pharmacological effects of its phytochemical constituents." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013).
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