Astragalus extract is a well known home remedy that can have a number of positive effects on your immune system. The astragalus herb has been widely used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, and is well known for the effects this herb can have with your immune system. There are many ways that this herb can be taken, including extract form and astragalus tea. Many of these effects have been proven, and can provide benefits in many areas, including your immune system.
Helps with Stimulation of White Blood Cells
The first immune system benefit that the astragalus herb can provide is the stimulation of the white blood cells, making your body better prepared to fight off any invaders. This herb contains polysaccharides, and these compounds have two distinct benefits. The production of white blood cells are stimulated and the T cell activity is increased. This means that your immune system creates more immune cells and makes them act more aggressively to defend your systems. These results from taking astragalus extract or drinking astragalus tea do not go away quickly either. Studies have shown that this herb can boost your immune system cells for up to three days after the herb is taken. This can be very helpful for many people, especially patients undergoing chemotherapy which reduces their natural immunities.
Boosts Number of Stem Cells, Bone Marrow, and Lymph Tissues
Another benefit to your immune system from the astragalus herb concerns your stem cells, bone marrow, and lymph tissues. Stem cells have the ability to change into many different types of cells. Using astragalus regularly can help to boost the number of stem cells that are available. The herb also helps to stimulate these stem cells so that they mature into immune cells that are strong and active. This means a much healthier immune system which not only can fight off any threats but also keep a high level of active mature stem cells ready to join in.
Helps to Stimulate Your Spleen
The third benefit that you can see from drinking astragalus tea or taking astragalus extract has to do with your spleen. This herb helps to stimulate your spleen, so there is increased activity. Your spleen is one of the natural filters for your system, and helps to remove toxins and other materials which can be harmful. Taking the astragalus herb can keep your spleen healthy and actively at work filtering your body. This is important to prevent ill health and a healthy body and immune system. Without an actively working spleen, toxins and other harmful components can build up in your system and cause many medical problems.
Boosts Production of Messenger Molecules for Hormones
Another terrific benefit of the astragalus herb that concerns your immune system is a boost to the production of messenger molecules for hormones. These messenger molecules are critical, because they are needed to send a signal to your immune system, and other bodily systems, that a virus or bacteria is present and needs to be destroyed. Drinking astragalus tea or taking the extract can help keep your body fit, with an appropriate amount of messenger molecules needed for hormone production to keep your immune system in great shape and working at high efficiency.
HOW THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WORKS
Our immune system recognizes and destroys anything foreign to the body, including cells like bacteria and other microbes, and foreign particles including toxic compounds. This recognition and destruction is performed by cells in the circulatory and the lymphatic systems. These cells are produced in the bone marrow and lymphatic tissue (thymus, lymph nodes, spleen and tonsils) respectively. The cells begin their lives as "stem cells". These cells are so featureless that there is no way to determine what type of blood cell they will ultimately become. They may develop into any of a number of different kind of cells, for instance: red blood cells, various types of white blood cells, etc. These cells are then released into the blood stream and are carried to all parts of the body. There are essentially two types of cells, one of which is called "memory cells". Memory cells, as the name implies, remember specific foreign cells or chemicals to which they have been exposed, and react immediately when they are next exposed to those compounds. Drugs which effect the memory cells stimulate immunity only to one disease or antigen. Vaccines are an example of drugs which effect memory cells.
Most herbs for the immune system don't affect memory cells, but are general immune system stimulators (immunostimulants). They increase the activity of the immune system but are not specific to a particular disease or "antigen" (a protein against which immune cells act). Rather, they increase resistance by mobilizing "effector cells" which act against all foreign particles, rather than just one specific type (i.e. a measles virus).
Remarkably, since the discovery of penicillin, our scientists, in search of drugs against infectious disease, have looked only for chemicals which kill bacteria or viruses. Finally, they are coming to realize that it is possible to boost the immune system, which can then fight naturally against infectious agents, without the drawbacks of antibiotic therapy. While immune stimulants cannot replace antibiotics in some cases, they have proven far superior in others.
Chinese astragalus root, Astragalus membranaceus, is widely used throughout the Orient as a tonic food and medicinal plant. In Asia, this plant is sold as dried slices of root, six to twelve inch long. Research has shown that this root and its extracts are powerful stimulators of the immune system. In Asia the roots are frequently boiled, along with other herb ingredients--and frequently some chicken broth--to produce a tonic/medicinal soup. Astragalus has been used for thousands of years in China. First mentioned in the Divine Husbandman's Classic of the Materia Medica, an ancient Chinese medicinal text, astragalus is said to "tonify the Spleen, Blood and Qi", and is used for "wasting and thirsting syndrome". Some of the specific Chinese uses hint at a stimulant effect on the immune system. For example, it used as a tonic for the lungs, for frequent colds or shortness of breath. The Chinese also use it (internally) for chronic ulcerations and other persistent external infections.
Astragalus stimulates virtually every phase of immune system activity. It increases the number of "stem cells" in the marrow and lymph tissue, and stimulates their development into active immune cells which are released into the body. Research documenting this also demonstrated that astragalus could promote or trigger immune cells from the "resting" state into heightened activity. Another study on an astragalus-based Chinese remedy demonstrated "the tendency to stimulate immune response" without suppressive effects. Long-term use (for 35 days) heightened the activity of spleen cells. The remedy also decreased negative side effects of steroid therapy on the immune system. The author recommended using it in combination with steroid therapy "to alleviate the adverse effects" of the steroid.
Perhaps the best evidence to date for the powerful immunostimulant effects of astragalus come from the University of Texas Medical Center in Houston. There, scientists tested damaged immune system cells from cancer patients, compared against cells from the blood of normal human subjects. Astragalus extracts were able to completely restore the function of cancer patients' immune cells,,,. In some cases, the compromised cells were stimulated to greater activity than those from normal human subjects. The study concluded, "a complete immune restoration can be achieved by using a fractionated extract of Astragalus membranaceus, a traditional Chinese medicinal herb found to possess immune restorative activity in vitro".
Astragalus has also been found to stimulate the production of interferon, and increase its effects in fighting disease. The combined effect of interferon and astragalus root "resulted not only in decreased common cold incidence but also in shortening the course of illness... The average course of illness of the patients in the combined treatment group was 2.6 days as compared to 4.6 days in the control group." In the same study, the astragalus root was found to increase the life span of human cells in culture. The authors report no toxicity to human cells. "On the contrary, cell counts indicated that the vital cells in cultures treated with this drug for three weeks were markedly more numerous than those without treatment". The treated cells also became resistant to a common virus and astragalus promoted regeneration of cells in the bronchi of virus-infected mice.
As if this weren't impressive enough, another study probed the activity of macrophages, one of the major cells responsible for consuming invading microbes. The activity of the macrophages was significantly enhanced within six hours of treatment, and the enhancement persisted for at least seventy-two hours. The extract also significantly inhibited the growth of tumor cells in mice, especially when combined with the extract Ligustrum lucidum (privet). The authors remark that astragalus extract "may thus restore immunocompetence; potentially beneficial for cancer patients as well as AIDS patients".
Most consumers probably use astragalus to prevent and treat colds and other minor diseases. In the Chinese research mentioned above, astragalus reduced the incidence of common colds among users, and shortened the duration of colds by almost half.
Dr. Diane Spindler has 20 years of experience in Microbiology and Biochemical research. Her continued education in related fields combined with a passion for healing inspired her to open her practice ?Mountain Holistic Health, Inc.? in Indian Hills, Colorado in 1996. Dr. Di is a Licensed and Certified Traditional Naturopath with a PhD in Nutrition. Her services are availible locally and long distance. To contact her call 303-697-1736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The statements in all articles have not been evaluated by the FDA. The nutritional information, suggestions, and research provided are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease and should not be used as a substitute for sound medical advice. Please see your health care professional in all matters pertaining to your physical health.
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