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Does Astragalus Help With Weight Loss?

When you’re trying to lose weight you want to have every trick on your side. You know you need to work out and eat healthily, but any other natural advantage would be greatly appreciated.

Chinese herbal remedies are becoming increasingly popular. These supplements tend to be high in bioactive compound which makes them an interesting area of research, particularly on their potential weight loss benefits.

In this article we’ll take a look at Astragalus – one such Chinese herb that been reported to help improve overall health.

But could it help you lose weight? Let’s find out…


What is Astragalus?

Astragalus membranaceus is the family name for around 3,000 different species of shrubs. Otherwise known as milkvetch or Huang-Qi, this herb is amongst the most popular health-promoting medicinal herbs in traditional Chinese medicine [1]. You’ll find it naturally in China as well as Mongolia and Siberia too.

The plant contains a number of bioactive compounds including saponins and flavonoids. You’ll also find a range of amino and phenolic acids as well as polysaccharides and the disaccharide sucrose. A large proportion of bioactive compounds are found in the root of this plant.

All in all there are around 40 saponins in the root of astragalus. The most abundant of these is astragaloside IV. This particular saponin is used to control the quality rating of the herb when used in supplement form [2].

Astragalus is labelled as a general health tonic and life-prolonging extract, commonly used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial compound. It has been said to provide a number of benefits including [3]:

  • Boosts your immune system
  • Protects against heart disease
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Antioxidant qualities
  • Decreases cancer risk


Key Point: Astragalus is a Chinese herb that contains a number of bioactive compounds reported to improve overall health.


Astragalus and Health

Immune System

Much of the current health-based research into astragalus relates to its immune system effects. It’s been used to treat common colds, respiratory conditions and chronic fatigue. If anything, this would be its ‘claim to fame’.

One study found that a dose of 1.23 g per day over 7 days helped to activate a number of types of T-cells [1]. These cells help the immune system function effectively, so any increase will be beneficial to your well-being.

Due to its anti-viral properties, astragalus can also help to prevent the common cold.  Especially when used regularly over the winter months. It could also help get rid of symptoms of flu and other upper respiratory tract illnesses. The herb may also help to reduce the symptoms of hayfever as well as rhinitis too [2].

Cardiac Function

Astragalus may also offer cardio-protective benefits. A 2014 Chinese review study reported that when combined with conventional therapy, astragalus helped to control viral myocarditis [3].

In the study, published in Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 639 participants were injected with the herb extract. When assessed, the volunteers reported a significant decrease in the enzymes responsible for the illness.

When a heart attack occurs there is a reduction in how much oxygen and nutrients can feed the muscle cells of the heart walls. This is quickly then followed by a surge in calcium which can contribute towards secondary damage. It appears that Astragalus helps to regulate calcium levels within the heart which can then help to prevent further damage.

Similar studies have shown the herbs’ ability to regulate other cardiac functions as well, including protection of heart cells and maintenance of healthy blood pressure.

There are also studies that show astragaloside IV can decrease triglyceride levels too [2]. It does this by promoting an increase in cells that ‘clean up’ circulating debris within the artery walls.

Astragalus as an Adaptogen

Used either on its own or in combination with other remedies, astragalus provides adaptogen properties. This means that it helps you restore balance when your body is exposed to physical or mental stress.

Astragalus has been shown to offer neuroprotective benefits at high doses. One study showed that it helped to offset the natural increase in stress hormone levels associated with Alzheimer’s disease medication [4]. The fact that astragalus can help you manage stress hormone levels is an important aspect of health.



Key Point: Although the full potential of the herb is currently under investigation, it does appear to help with immune system health.


Can Astragalus Help You Lose Weight?

The first thing you’ll notice is that other than the odd celebrity doctor recommendation, there’s actually very little clinical data to back up any astragalus weight loss claims. It’s certainly not as well researched as other weight loss nutrients such as green tea or caffeine anhydrous.

The only real mechanism that astragalus might offer for weight loss is its ability to increase glucose uptake. In a limited number of studies, the herb has been shown to benefit illnesses such as diabetes.

The adaptogenic properties of the herb, alongside the saponin and flavonoid content helps to increase insulin sensitivity in both type 1 and type 2 diabetics [5]. Whilst this might play a small role in how fatty acids are taken up and circulated by the body, it is certainly not as important as other mechanisms such as thermogenesis.

At a very big push this herb might give you an energy boost which will allow you to work hard in the gym. But currently there’s no evidence to back this up.

Ultimately, when you put astragalus at the side of a more well-researched fat loss supplement it just doesn’t hold its ground. There are a number of nutrients and herbs that have found to directly affect weight loss in robust clinical trials.

There is just no direct research at present to say that astragalus can assist with weight loss. And whilst evidence is mounting relating to its ability to boost your immune system, we suggest you avoid this herb until more clinical data is made available.


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References

  1. Shao, BM et al. A study on the immune receptors for polysaccharides from the roots of Astragalus membranaceus, a Chinese medicinal herb. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 2004; 320: 1103–1111
  2. Ren, S et al. Pharmacological effects of Astragaloside IV: a literature review. J Tradit Chin Med 2013; 33(3): 413-416
  3. Zhang, J et al. Systematic review of the renal protective effect of Astragalus membranaceus (root) on diabetic nephropathy in animal models. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009; 126(2): 189-96
  4. Zwickey, H et al. The effect of Echinacea purpurea, Astragalus membranaceus and Glycyrrhiza glabra on CD25 expression in humans: a pilot study. Phytother Res. 2007; 21(11): 1109-12
  5. Matkovic Z et al. Efficacy and safety of Astragalus membranaceus in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res. 2010; 24: 175-81
  6. Piao, YL et al. Astragalus membranaceus injection combined with conventional treatment for viral myocarditis: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Chin J Integr Med. 2014; 20(10): 787-91
  7. Li, WZ et al. Protective effect of extract of Astragalus on learning and memory impairments and neurons’ apoptosis induced by glucocorticoids in 12-month-old male mice. Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2011; 294(6): 1003-14
  8. Agyemang, K et al. Recent Advances in Astragalus membranaceus Anti-Diabetic Research: Pharmacological Effects of Its Phytochemical Constituents. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013


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