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

Anti-Aging Effects of Astragalus

Research suggests astragalus may help reverse the natural shortening of telomeres on chromosomes that occurs with aging.

It seems we all spend time, at some point in our lives, looking for the figurative fountain of youth. While astragalus may not be exactly this magic elixir, research suggests that it may help delay the ravages of time—even down to the parts of our chromosomes that in a very real way determine how long we may live. It's no wonder that Traditional Chinese Medicine promotes astragalus as an herb that strengthens Qi, which is considered to be the life force within us.(3874228)

How can astragalus potentially help us age healthy and slow down the degenerative processes of aging? It turns out that astragalus and its compounds have more than one anti-aging property, including improving the appearance of aging skin and slowing hair loss.(15228229)

Anti-Aging Immune Protection

Research indicates that health is a complex balancing act, and our immune systems play an important role in protecting cells and regulating the body's response to harmful substances and disease processes. As we age, our immune systems often become less efficient and less able to fend off diseases that contribute to aging and death.(70128)

Some of the most potent anti-aging effects of astragalus come from its immune-boosting and regulating properties. These can help counteract the loss of immune function many studies have found in elderly populations. Astragalus also contains zinc, which can help keep the immune system working well. A healthy, optimally functioning immune system can decrease the typically higher risk of disease and infection we encounter as we grow older.(70126128129)

Natural Life Extension?

Research shows that astragalus contains a compound activate telomerase, which can actually increase the length of telomeres. How does this matter, in terms of aging?(74228)

What Are Telomeres?

Telomeres are segments of DNA at the end of chromosomes that help protect the rest of the genetic material on the strands of DNA. These strands are twined together and make up each cell's chromosomes. Without them the chromosomes can become dysfunctional, damaged, and cause the cell to die. As a normal part of cell aging, each time a cell divides the ends of the chromosomes, called telomeres get a little shorter until eventually the cell reaches the end of its life.(75)

Shorter Telomeres Linked to Shorter Lives

Studies have linked the length of telomeres to lifespan. The more cells divide over a lifetime the shorter telomeres become. This has spurred a lot of research to find substances that keep or make the telomeres longer in order to allow people to live longer.(75)

In the body there is actually is an enzyme produced (called telomerase) that prevents the telomeres from getting shorter. Studies show that compounds which activate this enzyme can increase telomere length.(75)

Are Telomerase Activators Effective and Safe to Use as an Anti-Aging Substance?

One of the concerns with using or stimulating production of this enzyme in healthy cells is that it may cause them to become cancerous. That's because telomerase is also stimulated by cancer cells as a survival mechanism. It prevents the rapid shortening of telomeres in cancer cells as they divide at an abnormally high rate. The cells don't go through a normal life cycle and die, resulting in out-of-control growth of tumors. In fact, there are chemotherapy drugs that specifically seek to inhibit telomerase so that cancer cells will die.(75)

However, lab and animal studies suggest that telomerase can be used in normal cells as well to lengthen their life—without increasing malignancy. In the animal studies, TA-65 supplements not only safely lengthened telomere ends but they also improved certain indicators linked to aging. And the US FDA has granted TA-65 GRAS status, meaning it is considered generally safe for use.(75228230)

Is it possible telomerase could help humans increase lifespan? An interesting study on 30 men with low-risk prostate cancer showed that healthy changes in lifestyle actually increased telomerase activity in immune cells—acting to maintain and boost the life of these cells that help protect the body from disease and infection (including cancer). This study suggests that telomerase may be stimulated to work in ways that increase health and damage from aging.(231)

Astragalus Increases Beneficial Telomerase Activity

In an animal study, mice with shortened telomeres and DNA damage were fed a diet supplemented with a substance from the roots of A. membranaceus called a small-molecule activator of telomerase (TA-65). The treatment stimulated the production of telomerase in the mice, resulting in longer telomeres and DNA repair—without increased cancer risk.(74)

And there were visible signs of astragalus' anti-aging effects as well. In female mice, dietary TA-65 demonstrated increased bone and skin health. It also improved sugar metabolism. Other animal studies indicate that dysfunctional telomerase activity can cause impaired sugar metabolism and diabetes, which in turn causes cell damage throughout the body.(74232)

Two clinical trials involving patients positive for CMV corroborate that this astragalus compound increases telomere length.(74228)

Astragalus Protects Mitochondria

According to one theory, damage to mitochondria in cells by free radicals leads to aging. Mitochondria are the organelles in cells that generate cell energy. This process actually produces free radicals.(233)

Healthy mitochondria have antioxidant mechanisms to counter these potentially damaging molecules. However, their function still leaves them particularly vulnerable to damage.(233)

Research in animals suggests that astragalus can help. Results show the herb protects mitochondria by:(233)

  • Reducing levels of free radicals.
  • Increasing levels of antioxidants.

On a practical level, such protection has been shown to protect neurons in models of Parkinson's disease.(64)

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Cycloastragenol (CAG); also called TA-65.(228)