It’s cold and flu season again, and time to make sure your immune system is up to the task of protecting you. One of the best ways to make sure your immune system is first rate is through the use of adaptogens, a group of substances that have nonspecific actions in the body and create minimal disruption while they normalize body functions. Two herbal pillars of Chinese medicine, Astragalas and Schisandra, are adaptogens rapidly gaining favor in the Western world.
Walking the tightrope
You and your immune system do a constant balancing act as you walk the tightrope of life. Let your immune system weaken too much, and the door is opened to pathogens and cancer. Let it strengthen too much, and the result can be systemic inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders. Astragalus and Schisandra function as balance beams to keep you perfectly centered on that tightrope.
Astragalus is a 2000 year old healer
Astragalus, known in Chinese medicine as Huang Qi, has been used for more than 2,000 years to strengthen vitality and stave off illnesses including colds and flu. Its growing popularity in the West may be due to extensive scientific study that began in the 1970’s, documenting the ability of the herb to stimulate the immune system, fight bacteria and viruses, reduce inflammation and protect the liver.
Astragalus is prescribed for shortness of breath, general body weakness, and poor appetite. It has diuretic properties and can be used to treat colds, flu, stomach ulcers, and diabetes. It supports and strengthens body resistance, invigorates, and promotes tissue regeneration. Recent research studies concluded Astragalus acts by augmenting disease fighting white blood cells and clearing out aberrant cells that may create disease in the future.
Astragalus is a perennial plant and a relative of the pea plant. It’s native to the northern and eastern parts of China, Mongolia and Korea. Astragalus contains numerous nutritional components including flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides, saponins, amino acids, and trace minerals.
Research documents the normalizing effects of Astragalus on the body.
In a study reported in the Journal of Food and Medicine, researchers investigated the immune stimulating effects of Astragalus through the effects of the herb on pro-inflammatory cytokines. Astragalus was able to affect production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha when used in high concentrations, lowering the inflammatory response. It was also able to modify responses from artificially stimulated macrophages with identified immuno-modulatory effects to reduce production of TNF-alpha, interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, and IL-12 in a dose-dependent manner. The researchers hypothesized that the historical use of Astragalus may be due to its ability to reduce the inflammatory response that indirectly leads to limiting of clinical symptoms during infection. These results underscore the adaptive, balancing qualities of astragalus.
Other research conducted in the U.S. investigated Astragalus as a treatment for people with compromised immune systems resulting from chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, Astragalus supplements were shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy. Studies performed at the National Cancer Institute and other leading Cancer Institutes in recent years have positively shown that Astragalus strengthens cancer patients’ immune systems, allowing them to recover significantly faster and live longer.
Recent research in China revealed that Astragalus offers antioxidant benefits to people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function.
The Chinese have known for centuries that Astragalus is a superior herb. In the West the benefits of this herb are beginning to be understood by some allopaths. Astragalus is currently well accepted by most naturopaths and holistic healers.
How to use Astragalus
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Astragalus may be given to children to support their immune systems if there is no fever present. The dose should be determined by adjusting the recommended adult dose to account for the weight of the child. The dose for an adult is calculated on a weight of 150 pounds. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 pounds, the appropriate dose of Astragalus would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
Adult doses are as follows:
• Decoction (strong boiled tea): 3-6 g of dried root per 12 oz water, three times per day
• Fluid extract (1:1) in 25% ethanol: 2-4 ml three times per day
• Powdered root: 500-1,000 mg three times a day
• Powered extract: 100 to 150 mg
• Tincture: (1:5) in 30% ethanol: 3-5 ml three times a day
Astragalus has no side effects and can generally be used safely. It does interact with some prescription drugs.
Schisandra, another fine ancient adaptogen
The Chinese name for Schisandra means five-taste-fruit. Its balancing effect includes the taste buds where it produces a mixture of sour, sweet, salty, hot, and bitter tastes. This herbal adaptogen improves vitality and promotes revitalization. It boosts the immune system, and enhances physical endurance and mental concentration. It soothes the nerves, reduces anxiety, and is said to promote radiant skin tone.
Schisandra contains essential oils, acids and lignans that help regenerate liver tissue damaged by alcohol or hepatitis. One group of its lignans is therapeutic against oxidative neuronal damage induced by neurotoxic food additives, making Schisandra a supplement to use before consuming foods suspected of containing MSG or aspartame.
The herb strengthens and tones the body, particularly after exertion or disease. It promotes cellular oxygenation and potentiates the immune system through its beneficial effects on blood circulation. It is said to improve sexual performance for men and women.
Schisandra is research star
The European Journal of Pharmacology has reported a study of Schisandra’s anti-inflammatory ability on plasma nitrate concentration in mice. Results indicated that induced paw edema (swelling) and vascular permeability were inhibited by Schisandra. The herb also had a protective effect on induced sepsis. This study is the first to show that the anti-inflammatory properties of Schisandra result from the inhibition of nitric oxide production, prostaglandin release, and COX-2.
A review of Russian research from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, revealed that Schisandra was used as an adaptogen in the USSR in the early 1960’s. It was included in the National Pharmacopoeia of the USSR and the State Register of Drugs. Animal studies in the USSR have shown that Schisandra increases physical working capacity and affords a stress-protective affect against a broad spectrum of harmful factors including heat shock, skin burn, cooling, frostbite, immobilization, decreased air pressure, aseptic inflammation, irradiation, and heavy metal intoxication.
Schisandra exerts an affect on several body systems including central nervous, sympathetic, endocrine, immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal. It is a blood sugar stabilizer and acid-alkaline balancer in the body. Studies on isolated organs, tissues, cells and enzymes have revealed that Schisandra exhibits strong antioxidant activities, arachidonic acid release, biosynthesis in leucocytes, platelet activating factor activity, carbohydrate-phosphorus metabolism, tissue respiration and oxygen consumption, and the tolerance of the body to oxygen intoxication.
In healthy subjects, Schisandra increases endurance and accuracy of movement, mental performance and working capacity. It generates alterations in the basal level of cortisol in blood and saliva with subsequent effects on the blood cells, vessels and central nervous system. Clinical trials have demonstrated the efficiency of Schisandra in dealing with psychiatric disorders such as neurosis, depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism. It is effective against influenza, chronic sinusitis, otitis, pneumonia, allergic dermatitis, and stomach and duodenal ulcers. It has been used successfully in wound healing.
How to use Schisandra
For use as a general tonic in China, patients are advised to chew dried Schisandra berries daily for 100 days. Daily doses of Schisandra supplements range from 1 to 6 grams. Schisandra is frequently consumed in the form of an infusion.
To make in infusion, pour 1/2 cup berries into a one gallon container of dark fresh fruit juice and allow them to soak for one day. Strain the mixture and drink. Schisandra can be added to tea decoctions and other herbal simmered brews.
There are several combinations of Astragalus and Schisandra on the market that can be easily ordered online. Look for those made with organic or wild crafted herbs.