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The Science of Astragalus

For those interested in herbal medicine, there has long been an interest in the healing benefits of astragalus and, as an antipathogen and tonic, it has been used successfully for over 4,000 years.

Astragalus is a thorny shrub that can grow to approximately three feet in height. It is native to Northern China and to the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan and is grown throughout Mongolia, Japan, and Korea. It grows in open wooded areas, alongside forest edges or grasslands. Each branch has between 8-12 pairs of leaves, although it is the root that is mainly used in a medicinal capacity. The plant is usually four or five years old when harvested, and it is thought that harvesting at the wrong times can be detrimental to the concentrations of active ingredients within. It is a member of the pea family. Among over 1750 species within the genus, Astragalus membranaceus is mainly used, but A. trigonus and A. gummifera may be used on occasion.

A staple component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is a sweet and warming herb with specialized beneficial properties for the lung, spleen and heart meridians.

In addition, it has been proven useful for those who are susceptible to viral infections, for wounds that are slow to heal, decreased appetite, fever, uterine prolapse/bleeding, edema, muscle pain, diabetes, and uterine, ovarian, or even colon cancer.

This herb is a popular component of many TCM tonics and is often utilized with ginseng, angelica, or licorice. In modern day health, it is often recommended for those suffering from impaired immunity, fatigue or, those who need a general health tonic.

Astragalus is an adaptogen which is a natural element known to help your body adapt to stressful situations. It strengthens the metabolism, increases the metabolic rate, improves the immune system and, can be used to help heal wounds.

Believed to boost stamina and energy levels, it promotes the metabolism of liver and serum proteins, generates antibody growth, and promotes the production of white blood cells which leads naturally to greater immune resistance against viruses. It also helps digestion, reducing gastric acid and promoting the healing process for stomach ulcers while inhibiting gastric secretions. Astragalus has antioxidant effects which limit free radical production that damages cells. The benefits of this herb are far-reaching and so it makes sense to understand all the benefits and to add this to your home first-aid kit.

Astragalus contains three components that allow the plant to have such a positive impact on human health:
  • Saponins,
  • Flavonoids and
  • Polysaccharides, which are all active compounds contained in certain plants, including some fruits and vegetables.

Saponins

The astragalus root is the part that contains the important saponin constituents. These saponins have diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antihypertensive effects. Because of the various elements contained in the plant (amino acids, coumarins, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, polysaccharides, and trace minerals), it is still unclear which agents are involved in which effects. Saponins are also well-known for their ability to lower cholesterol and enhance the immune system.

Flavonoids

Many different subclasses of flavonoids have been described from the genus Astragalus including flavones, flavonols, flavanones, flavanonols, chalcones, aurones, isoflavones, isoflavones, and pterocarpans. The number of flavones from the genus according to our literature survey is 22. Flavonols are the most frequently isolated compounds. Among them, quercetin, kaempferol, and their glycosides were found in a higher number of Astragalus species. Flavonoids provide health benefits through cell signaling. They demonstrate antioxidative qualities, control and scavenge free radicals, and can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and immunodeficiency viruses.

Polysaccharides

Recently, a great deal of interest has been developed to isolate and investigate novel bioactive components with health benefit effects from natural resources. The dried root of Astragalus membranaceus, one of the most popular health-promoting herbal medicines, has been used historically as an immune-modulating agent for the treatment of the common cold, diarrhea, fatigue, and anorexia for more than 2000 years. Modern phytochemistry and pharmacological experiments have proven that polysaccharide is one of the major active ingredients in the root of A. membranaceus with various important bioactivities, such as immunomodulation, antioxidant, antitumor, anti-diabetes, antiviral, hepatoprotection, anti-inflammation, anti-atherosclerosis, hematopoiesis, and neuroprotection.

Summary of The Health Benefits of Astragalus

Some of the health benefits of Astragalus include:

  • Extraordinary qualities to support the prostate and relieve prostate symptoms in conjunction with soybeans
  • Enhance the immune system and offer protection against cold and the flu
  • Excellent anti-inflammatory properties
  • Excellent antioxidant action
  • May provide kidney support
  • May provide anti-aging effects
  • Provide wound healing and reduce scarring
  • May alleviate symptoms associated with chemotherapy

The Science of Soybeans

The soybean (Glycine max) is an extremely important plant native to East Asia and it is grown for its edible bean. Classed as an oilseed as opposed to a pulse, it contains significant levels of B vitamins, dietary minerals, and phytic acid. Grown annually, it produces more oil and protein per acre of land than most other crops. It provides a protein packed alternative to meat, supplies a high number of nutrients when consumed, and is a versatile food plant. A hot weather crop, soybean grows year-round in the tropics but they need soil moisture for the germination process and dry weather for the production of dry seeds.

Soybean contains many beneficial nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

It is one of the least expensive sources of protein in a diet. Soybean also contains most of the essential amino acids for human nutrition:

  • Molybdenum – an essential trace element
  • Vitamin K1 – plays a vital role in blood clotting
  • Folate – also known as Vitamin B9, performs various functions within the human body and is especially important during pregnancy
  • Copper –a rare mineral in the Western world and deficiency could impact heart health
  • Manganese – a trace element found in food and drinking water. It can be difficult to absorb from the soya bean due to high phytic acid levels.
  • Phosphorous -this is an essential mineral for the use of carbohydrates and fats. Needed for growth, maintenance, reparation of cells, etc
  • Thiamin – also known as Vitamin B1, plays an important role in metabolic functions

Soy Isoflavones

The three soybean isoflavones, genistein, daidzein, and glycitein, are the main isoflavones, which are a subclass of flavonoids, present in soybeans. These three isoflavones and their various glycoside forms account for roughly 50, 40 and 10 percent of total isoflavone content respectively.

Soy isoflavones have been identified as dietary components having an important role in the incidence of prostate and breast cancers in Asian countries. Asian soy consumption can serve as one guide for Western vegetarian soy intake recommendations.

However, there is confusion among health professionals about the amount of soy consumed in Asia. Popular sources have suggested that among Asians, soyfoods are used primarily only as condiments and consumed almost exclusively in fermented forms. Both of these statements are without merit.

Not surprisingly, however, there is a wide range of soy intake among Asian countries and even among regions within the same country.

In Japan, the average isoflavone intake (by older Japanese men) equates to 40 mg daily and this is provided by 10-12 g of soy protein. A single serving – ½ cup of edamame or tofu or 1 cup of soymilk is equivalent to 25 mg of isoflavones or 3.5 mg isoflavones per gram of protein respectively. Soya products which have been processed have lower levels of isoflavone concentrations.

Isoflavones have a chemical structure similar to the female hormone estrogen, and they bind to estrogen receptors. Isoflavones are most commonly referred to as phytoestrogens. It is worth noting that isoflavones and estrogen exert different physiologic effects and the molecules are different, too. Isoflavones can affect selective tissue due to the binding and transactivation of the estrogen receptor beta.

Soy foods are extremely useful in helping men meet their protein requirements while they provide low levels of saturated fat. In fact, soy foods can be provided as protein-rich options. Evidence indicates that there is reduced stress on the kidneys and may be more beneficial over other proteins by reducing exercise-induced oxidation and inflammation. This means that soy protein can be useful for those who wish to increase muscle mass.

Phospholipids

The oil of the Soybean contains 1-3% phospholipids among which 35% is phosphatidyl choline, 25% is phosphatidyl ethanolamine, ~15% is phosphatidyl inositol, and ~5-10% is phosphatidic acid. During the degumming process, phospholipids are removed from the oil and then used as a natural food emulsifier. These are polar lipids, contributing to the structure of the cell membrane.

Saponins

There is currently much scientific interest in Saponins as they have unique chemical structures and physiological functions. Soybeans contain 2% saponins (triterpene glycosides). Soy saponins are found to have various biological effects, including anti-cancer, anti-oxidative, hepatoprotective, anti-hyperlipidemic, etc.

Ferritins

Soybean contains ferritin, a multimeric iron storage protein. It is recommended for those who suffer from anemia.

Summary of The Health Benefits of Soybean

The many health benefits of soybean include the following:

Soybeans, in conjunction with Astragalus, improve prostate health and may relieve the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, including:

  • A weak or slow urinary stream
  • A feeling of incomplete bladder emptying
  • Difficulty starting urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Urgency to urinate
  • Getting up frequently at night to urinate
  • Soybeans may relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Soybeans may increase metabolic activity
  • Soybeans may support a healthy weight gain
  • Soybeans maybe help prevent osteoporosis
  • Soybeans improve digestive and bone health
  • Soybeans help lower cholesterol levels
  • Soybeans may help prevent heart attacks and strokes
  • Soybeans may help reduce the risk of insomnia and sleeping disorders

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