Astragalus Part 2: A Western Look

How do you do just nothing?
— Winnie the Pooh
Well, when grown ups ask, “what are you going to do?” and you say “nothing,” and then you go and do it.
— Christopher Robin
Some mudra

Some mudra

If you haven’t read Astragalus Part 1:  A Western Look at an Eastern Perspective, please do so.  It will give a more broad perspective, and allow you to read what I think has been learned about the plant in the past few thousand years.  Here you can read what’s been learned in the past hundred years.

Flavonoids are what give astragalus its yellow color.  What’s another yellow food with flavonoids?  Quinoa, brah!  Astragalin, the prominent flavonoid in astragalus is a relative of kaempferol, a potent flavonoid in quinoa.  It’s actually patented as a supercooling agent.  They also contribute to the anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting effects of the plant.

Astragalus contains a group of saponins known as astragalosides.  The most well studied is astragaloside iv.  Some of you may have heard of TA-65.  It’s a supplement that is designed to lengthen your telomeres.  Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences capping the ends of chromosomes.  They provide a buffer from coding DNA and also help keep different chromosomes from joining together.  Every time a chromosome goes through mitosis, producing daughter cells, telomeres are lost.  Eventually, the chromosomes will reach a point where there is too little telomere for the cell to reproduce, at which point it will die (apoptosis).  Telomere length is often used as an indicator of a persons biological age.  I have a BS in Psychology with a focus in neurochemistry from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and we were taught that there’s nothing that can be done about shortening telomeres.  They only move in one direction, the shorter direction.  This is not true.  There were many things we were told that weren’t true, but I though this one was particularly annoying.  How can they say there’s an enzyme that increases the length, but say it’s never present?  

Let me get back on track.  TA-65 has been shown to repair telomeres through the activation of telomerase.  TA-65 is very powerful, and very expensive.  I looked at trying it out once.  It was over $600 a bottle and had to be purchased through a specialist.  I did not try it.  But why am I telling you about this?  Because TA-65 is concentrated astragalus!  More specifically, astragaloside iv.  

I just want to throw in something I think is worth mentioning, before you decide to hop on the telomerase bandwagon, malignant tumors often have elevated telomerase.  I think you can understand why a cancer would want a plentiful supply of telomeres.  I think astragalus, as the whole food, is the better option.  We may want long telomeres, but only on the right chromosomes.  Astragalus root has not only astragaloside iv, but also several other immune boosting factors that could direct where the action will take place.

It also contains a heft quantity of polysaccharides referred to as APS.  Much of the research around them has been directed towards muscle growth.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, because one of Chinese Medicine’s argued benefits of astragalus is it’s ability to help grow flesh.  As a lung tonic, I think this would specifically correlate to the skin.  They also have anti-inflammatory properties, with studies showing it surpassed NF-kB.

In general, polysaccharides are immunomodulators.  These long chain sugars, to me, are more like hormones than macronutrients.  They press buttons.  They’re an active component in many tonic foods.  I came across this study that used the polysaccharides from astragalus as a food source for beneficial gut bacteria!  What an idea!  The goal was to see whether they could enhance the human benefits of the bacteria.  

Interestingly enough, I think that cows like astragalus.  Thinking about bacteria eating astragalus got me wondering.  Mmmm I’m thinking of an astragalus fed raw 5 year aged cheddar.  Don’t bother, I already patented it.   Astragalus isn’t that uncommon can be a hardy plant.  It’s native to China and Mongolia, but grows in the United States as well.  Some farmers plant it to test the quality of the soil.  However, some varieties contain swainsonine and are toxic to livestock.  Those varieties are called “locoweed.”  Guess why.

Thank you for reading!