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Astragalus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, often in combination with other herbs, to strengthen the body against disease. It contains antioxidants, which protect cells against damage caused by free radicals, byproducts of cellular energy. Astragalus is used to protect and support the immune system, for preventing colds and upper respiratory infections, to lower blood pressure, to treat diabetes, and to protect the liver.
Astragalus has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic (helps eliminate fluid from the body) properties. It is sometimes used topically for wounds. In addition, studies have shown that astragalus has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system, suggesting that it is indeed effective at preventing colds.
Athletes in particular may benefit from astragalus supplementation because intense training and competition are often associated with increased incidence of colds and upper respiratory tract infections.
In the United States, researchers have investigated astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, astragalus supplements have been shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy.
Recent research in China indicates that astragalus may offer antioxidant benefits to people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function.
Research on using astragalus for people with AIDS has produced inconclusive results.
At low to moderate doses, astragalus has few side effects, although it does interact with a number of other herbs and prescription medications. Because of the herb's clot-fighting properties, it's best to avoid combining it with other blood-thinners such as Coumadin. You could face an increased risk of internal bleeding.
When making Astragalus preparations, be sure to use Astragalus membranaceus only. Other plants in the Astragalus family, including the "locoweed" species found in the United States, can prove toxic.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should talk to your doctor before taking any medication, including herbs.
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