You probably know I set great store by herbal remedies for a variety of ailments that befall dogs and the people who care for them. But there’s one herb I haven’t discussed thus far: astragalus.
Used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine as a restorative tonic, Astragalus (also known as huang xi) is used alone or in combination with other herbs to slow the aging process and boost the immune system, so it can combat conditions as common as the cold and as serious as cancer.
There are more than 2,000 species of this plant, but the one primarily used for medicinal purposes is Astragalus membranaceus.
Astragalus is also an adaptogen, which means it increases general resistance to stress and disease, normalizing disturbances in the body’s ability to balance itself.
Integrative veterinarians appreciate astragalus.
“Astragalus membranaceus is one of the most important botanicals used to fight cancer in dogs and cats,” says veterinarian Douglas Kramer. “Astragalus is known to have anti-tumor properties, including the ability to inhibit cancer metastasis, the spread of cancer cells throughout the body.”
There is also evidence to suggest that by acting as a strong natural antioxidant and immune enhancer, astragalus decreases the negative side effects caused by many chemotherapy drugs. It also helps to protect the heart and kidneys from damage, so it’s well suited to treat cancer in these organs.
Having used astragalus to help my rescued dogs conquer mange (which results from immune-system collapse) and cope with the ravages of chemotherapy, I had firsthand experience with both of these animal astragalus applications (the tincture I’d used was made by Buck Mountain Botanicals). But since it’s been a while since I’ve managed a dog with mange or cancer, I’d forgotten about this amazing plant and its immune-boosting property.
Until, that is, I came across Celebration Herbals’ astragalus tea bags at the health food store. I bought them, tried them, and promptly relegated them to the back of the kitchen cabinet (the bland taste, I confess, was nothing worth writing about).
Then, early this month, I got sick as, well, a dog. I succumbed to the nasty flu that’s been raging around New York City. I couldn’t taste or smell anything anyhow, and was under orders to drink as much hot tea as I possibly could.
Figuring, as I usually do, that what works for my dogs works for me, I moved the astragalus tea bags to the front of the cabinet in the hope that they might jump-start my seriously compromised immune system. I brewed and drank some, then brewed and drank some more (raw honey and cinnamon vastly improve the taste, I discovered).
I was so sick I could barely walk my dogs, but too broke to afford my dog walker. So my routine went like this: Walk the dogs, set iPhone alarm, repair to bed, wake up, eat navel oranges, take Umcka Cold Care, drink astragalus tea, and repeat.
Neighbors told me they’d struggled with this ferocious flu for a solid month. Mercifully, I pulled through in two weeks. And I suspect I have the astragalus tea to thank for my illness’s shortened duration.
Meanwhile, in China, where astragalus has been used to fight colds and upper respiratory infections for centuries, recent scientific research has shown that it can activate an enzyme called telomerase; this enzyme lengthens telomeres, which extend the lifespan of DNA.
Dr. Mehmet Oz explains, in his inimitable way, why telomeres need to be long: “If you imagine DNA as a shoelace, telomeres are the plastic aglets at each end … Researchers have discovered correlations between telomere length and susceptibility to certain aging-related diseases, like cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks, atherosclerosis, and strokes), diabetes, and cancer.”
The biotech firms Geron Corp. and TA Therapeutics of Hong Kong have been working on deriving a telomerase activator from astragalus. The plant’s chemical constituent cycloastragenol is also being studied to help combat HIV and infections associated with chronic diseases and aging.
Do you have experience with the healing benefits of astragalus, for your dogs or yourself? Please share in the comments!
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