The Safe and Effective Immune Enhancer
- Increase antibodies
- Enhance immune function
- Increase the production of interferon
- Stimulate natural killer cells
Immune health depends on eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise, and avoiding environmental toxins and stress. It’s almost impossible to avoid environmental toxins because of plastics, automobile emissions, and the overuse of insecticides and pesticides, just to name a few. Sugar and alcohol consumption inhibit proper immune function. And obesity has been linked to decreased immune function as well. Unless you live in a glass bubble and eat an excellent diet, your immune system could probably use a boost.
Maintaining a strong immune system
About 60 years ago, researcher Weston Price, D.D.S., observed a high degree of immunity among native cultures as he traveled to places like Africa, New Zealand, and the Andes Mountains. The indigenous cultures were virtually free of tuberculosis, cancer, dental disease, and arthritis. Price also noticed that the two strengths these peoples had in common were a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, and an active lifestyle.1 Scientific research has since confirmed Price’s observations: Proper immune function relies on good nutrition,2 physical activity,3 and emotional health.4
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Daily nutritional supplementation is your best bet to insure that your nutritional needs are met, as well as supporting your immune health. For cold and flu season, it’s especially important to take more aggressive measures.
Astragalus is a superb immune enhancer
Western medicine promotes vaccines which contain dead or weakened bacteria, viruses or other materials such as inactive toxins, to stimulate the production of antibodies against a specific pathogen. But as we well know, these vaccines can upset the immune system’s balance and produce side effects which can sometimes be uncomfortable and dangerous.
Fortunately, there are a number of safe herbs and nutrients that enhance overall immunity by stimulating or strengthening the body’s own defense mechanisms without adding stress to the system. According to Chinese medicine, this is called Fu Zheng Therapy, which means “to support the body’s natural balance.”5
Astragalus root has a long track record of doing just that and is considered by some to be “the most powerful immunity-boosting herb.”6 Native to Mongolia and China, the herb has been used for thousands of years in China to ward off illness, strengthen the immune system, and Chi—the building block of all spiritual and physical energy.
While over 2,000 types of Astragalus exist worldwide, the Chinese version has been extensively tested, both chemically and pharmacologically.7
How does Astragalus work?
- Enhances immune function by increasing the activity of certain white blood cells which increases the production of antibodies (IgA and IgG)
- Increases the production of interferon (an anti-viral and anti-tumor agent naturally produced by the body)
- Stimulates natural killer cells
In addition to boosting immunity, Astragalus has antibacterial, adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral effects. It contains numerous components, including polysaccharides, flavonoids, triterpene glycosides, amino acids, and trace minerals.8 It owes most of its immune enhancing effects to polysaccharides; a group of complex sugars responsible for initiating the immune response. Polysaccharides work with other key components to strengthen and build the immune system.
According to James Duke, Ph.D., the world’s leading authority on healing herbs, Astragalus increases white blood cell production of the body’s own anti-viral compounds alpha-and gamma-interferon, which generally protect against viral invasion.9
Your amazing immune system is composed of white blood cells, antibodies (proteins in the blood), the thymus, spleen and liver, all of which help supervise, and control the immune system. It even has its own network of vessels—the lymphatic system—which drains waste products from tissues, and transports it from lymph to lymph node where macrophages filter out debris.
When a foreign invader enters the body, your immune system counter-attacks in two ways: 1) White blood cells-macrophages and phagocytes which are activated by polysaccharides and are manufactured in your bone marrow and thymus—directly attack the invader. Polysaccharides also stimulate T-cell formation and differentiation which seek out and destroy bad bacteria. 2) Antibodies either damage the invaders directly, or alert white cells to mount an attack.
Astragalus also enhances T-cell production and stimulates macrophages,10 which in turn help other immune cells fight bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, toxins, and diseased cells.11 In a small Chinese study, ten people whose heart muscles were infected with Coxsackie B virus—the cause of myocarditis or heart inflammation—received injections of Astragalus extract for three to four months. The activity of their natural killer cells rose 11 to 45 percent. European studies suggest that many of the immune-stimulating compounds in Astragalus are active when taken orally.9
- Astragalus has been especially helpful to people with low energy, and those who tend to get sick easily.
- Several preliminary clinical trials in China have suggested that Astragalus can benefit immune function and improve survival in some people with cancer.12
- It has also been found to suppress tumor growth and restore immune function compromised by tumor growth.13
- Astragalus reduces autoimmune response and may help people who suffer from allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
With a renowned history of being beneficial for heart and cardiovascular ailments, Astragalus is one of the primary herbs used in Chinese medicine for cardiovascular problems and has a lot of research to back it up. Astragalus has been shown to effectively:
- Prevent heart failure14 15
- Relieve anginal pain and prevent heart attack16
- Regulate high blood pressure17
- Treat angina, along with providing dramatic improvements in EKG and cardiogram readings18
- Strengthen the beating and force of contraction of the heart muscle, while also increasing the level of energy production within heart cells19
Play it safe
Astragalus is safe to take on a regular basis and does not appear to suppress the immune system with long-term use. It has no known side effects when used as recommended.20
The cold and flu season is already upon us, and it looks like influenza is going to hit especially hard this year. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Don’t let another week go by without building up your immune defense with Astragalus. And if you do get sick—remember to drink lots of liquids, take extra vitamin C, and extra Astragalus, of course.
- Price W. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. La Mesa (CA): Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation; 1945.
- Beisel W. Nutrition and immune function: overview J Nutr 1996:126:2611S-5S.
- Shephard RJ et al. Exercise, aging and immune function. Int J Sports Med 1995;16(1):1-6.
- Leserman J, et al. Severe stress, depressive symptoms, and changes in lymphocyte subsets in human immunodeficiency virus-infected men: a 2-year follow-up study. Arch Gen Psych 1997;54:279-85.
- Zimmerman, Marcia, C.N. “Immune Enhancers.” Nutrition Science News, Feb. 1999, vol.4, No 2.
- Zand, Janet, OMD, LAc. “Immunity: Colds & Flu.” Energy Times, Sept, 1999.
- Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 50-3.
- Shu HY. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Palos Verdes, CA: Oriental Healing Arts Press, 1986, 521-3.
- Duke, James A., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1997, p. 544.
- Yoshida Y, et al. Immunomodulating activity of Chinese medicinal herbs. Intl J Immunopharmacol1997:19(7):359.
- Lau B, et al. Chinese medicinal herbs inhibit growth of murine renal cell carcinoma. Cancer Biotherapy 1994;9(2):153.
- Klepser T, Nisly N. Astragalus as an adjunctive therapy in immunocompromised patients. Alt Med Alert1999;Nov:125-8 [review].
- Liang H, et al. The effect of astragalus polysaccharides on cell mediated immunity (CMI) in burned mice. Chin J Plast Surg Burns 1994 Mar;10(2):138.
- Ma J, Peng A, Lin S. Mechanisms of the therapeutic effect of astragalus membranaceus on sodium and water retention in experimental heart failure. Chin Med J (Engl) 1998 Jan;111(1):17-23.
- Luo HM, Dai RH, Li Y. Nuclear cardiology study on effective ingredients of Astragalus membranaceus in treating heart failure Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 1995 Dec;15(12):707-9.
- Miller AL. Botanical influences on cardiovascular disease. Altern Med Rev 1998 Dec;3(6):422-31.
- Castillo C, Valencia I, Reyes G, Hong E. An analysis of the antihypertensive properties of 3-nitropropionic acid, a compound from plants in the genus Astragalus Arch Inst Cardiol Mex 1993 Jan-Feb;63(1):11-6.
- Li SQ, Yuan RX, Gao H. Clinical observation on the treatment of ischemic heart disease with Astragalus membranaceus Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 1995 Feb;15(2):77-80.
- Wang Q. Inotropic action of Astragalus membranaceus Bge. saponins and its possible mechanism Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 1992 Sep;17(9):557-9.
- The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Mark Blumenthal ed. American Botanical Council. Austin, Texas.1998.