Also known as milk vetch, huang qi (or huangqi)

Natural Help for Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Astragalus may help treat diabetes and insulin resistance.

Adult-onset diabetes is a progressive disease with serious complications throughout the body. It is characterized by an inability to metabolize and use the energy from the foods eaten efficiently.(183184)

Causes & Complications of Diabetes

Insulin is a hormone crucial to metabolizing glucose. Diabetes is both caused by and contributes to insulin resistance. Though the pancreas is responsible for expressing insulin, diabetes is not a disease that is limited to one organ. Diabetes contributes to, causes, and worsens many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular conditions.(183184)

In fact, the combination of diabetes and heart disease is so frequent that the medical world has grouped them, along with obesity and fatty liver disease, as metabolic syndrome. This syndrome is a major cause of death in diabetic patients is heart disease.(183184)

Herbal Help for Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a growing health problem around the world. The medical community and patients struggle to prevent and treat this complex syndrome with diet, exercise, and medication, often unsuccessfully. Traditional herbal remedies may help—potentially without the serious side effects of conventional drugs.(183184)

Astragalus is one such promising herb. A number of scientific studies suggest it could actually therapeutically intervene in the underlying diseases associated with the syndrome.(184)

How Does It Work?

Crucial aspects of diabetes treatment include:(183184)

  • Improving how well the body processes glucose.
  • Counteracting the effects of high blood sugar.

However, many of the cardiovascular conditions that occur with diabetes also involve unhealthy levels of cholesterol. This means it is essential that any treatment for diabetes also helps improve lipid metabolism.(183184)

The Importance of PPARs

A crucial process that regulates both carbohydrate and fat metabolism involve molecules called PPARs. There are different types of PPARs, and drugs are used to activate these molecules:(184)

  • Drugs that activate PPAR-a are used to improve lipid metabolism
  • Drugs that activate PPAR-c help with glucose metabolism.

Pharmaceutical drugs that increase sensitivity to insulin, like pioglitazone, do so by activating PPAR-c. Unfortunately, these drugs can cause severe side effects (such as obesity).(184)

Herbal Compounds that Activate PPARs

Research has identified potent plant compounds that also stimulate PPAR activity. These include the isoflavones formononectin and calycosin from astragalus:(184)

  • Formononectin activates both PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma, in comparable strength to pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Calycosin also activates PPARs, but not as strongly as formononectin (which did so at even low doses).(184)

In animal studies, formononectin reduced insulin resistance and high blood sugar. It has also been linked to activating proteins which help regulate lipid metabolism.(185)

Astragalus itself has been shown to lower high triglyceride levels caused by a diet high in fat. Moreover, astragalus reduces inflammation of white belly fat, which is linked to obesity. Animal studies indicate astragalus does both by activating PPAR-gamma.(186)

Clinical research confirms that astragalus raises PPAR-gamma in patients with type-2 diabetes. As a result, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels were lowered.(187)

Other Metabolic Benefits of Astragalus

Compounds in astragalus have positive effects on glucose and fat metabolism by different mechanisms other than activating PPAR. Research shows polysaccharide compounds in astragalus activate the AMPK enzyme, considered to be the metabolic master enzyme.(62188)

AMPK is also activated by exercise. It regulates metabolism in multiple organs, including the liver, heart, pancreas, fat tissue, and muscles.(62188)

Evidence of Benefit

Lab and animals suggest that astragalus may offer a safer treatment option for patients with metabolic syndrome, type-2 diabetes, and high cholesterol by stimulating production of proteins involved in metabolic processes.(62)

For example, in one 8-week study, diabetic rats on a high-fat diet were given 700 mg of astragalus polysaccharides per kg of body weight. Tests showed increased AMPK levels that resulted in:(62188)

  • Improved insulin sensitivity.
  • Increased glucose uptake by cells (as measured by blood glucose levels).

Other preclinical studies suggest that astragalus and its compounds can:(189-192)

  • Protect the heart and kidneys from damage caused by diabetes.
  • Significantly protects and improve the function of blood vessels from diabetic damage.
  • Help reverse memory impairment linked to diabetes.

Clinical Studies

Results of multiple clinical studies involving thousands of diabetic patients support that astragalus:(62193-195)

  • Decreases insulin resistance.
  • Significantly reduces fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels.
  • Helps limit negative impact of gestational diabetes.
  • Lowers risk from diabetic nephropathy.
  • Decreases risk of diabetic retinopathy.
  • Reduces body weight.
  • Improves markers for fatty liver disease.

Interestingly, a meta-analysis of 13 clinical studies showed that only oral solutions of astragalus (such as in a tea) were able to reduce long-term markers of diabetes (HbA1c). Astragalus injections did not show any significant reduction in HbA1c).(195)

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Acronym for Peroxisome proliferator activated receptors.
Specifically, astragaloside compounds exert these protective effects by suppressing inflammatory factors while promoting nitric oxide.(189)