|Image 1: Astragalus membranaceus, one of the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A purported telomerase activator that contains potent antioxidants.|
Two independent measures of median or mean telomere length (by FlowFISH and qPCR) showed no consistent change with time on PattonProtocol-1 (data not shown).they cleverly handpicked 7 out of 13 tested subjects in which the percentage of nuclei with short telomeres had declined at 12-18 months compared to baseline. Now, while this decline may be statistically significant (p<0.05, according to the scientists), I wonder what happened to the other 6 subjects... and even if you were among those lucky 7, this does by no means indicate that that will actually prolong your life.
Who wants to live forever, anyway...
That I did nevertheless dig a little deeper into the research on astragalus had two reasons. One was that I wanted to find any other data on its potential effects on telomerase length - and more importantly its practical outcome in rodents or even my "favorite" subject of medical research, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, or "C. elegans" (do I have to say that there are no such studies?). The other reason was that astragalus membranaceus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. So, even if it would not make you live forever there obviously had to be some benefits to this flowering plant from the family of Fabaceae. And as it turned out, Chinese researchers have been performing numerous studies into its antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive, and immunomodulatory activity within the last decades, of which a very recent one could be of particular interest for fitness enthusiasts and even professional athletes.
... isn't performance the only thing that counts?
In what they themselves claim is one of the few studies (to my mind the first to be published in an international journal) investigating the effects of Astragalus membranaceus polysaccharides (AMP) on exercise performance, the scientists from the Kunming University in China orally administered 50, 100 or 200mg/kg of previously extracted pure astragalus polysaccharides to 6-8 week old male Sprague-Dawley rats for 30 successive days. In the course of the last week of the experimental period the rats, who had been fed ad-libitum for the whole study period, were accustomed to running on a treadmill for 15-20min at 15-30 m/min (=0.9-1.8km/h), so that they would be able to perform an exercise test that consisted of running on a 10° incline (30m/min, ~75%VO2Max) until exhaustion on day 30.
|Figure 1: Running time to exhaustion (in s, left) in rats who received either saline control or astragalus membranaceus polysaccharides at a dosage of 50, 100 or 200mg /kg per day and the extrapolated dose-response relationship (data calculated based on Deng. 2011)|
|Figure 2: Effects of astragalus supplementation on anti-oxidant enzymes after exhaustive endurance training in rats; values expressed relative to unsupplemented control (data calculated based on Deng. 2011)|
If (the big if ;-) those results could be confirmed in human trials, the +56% increase in exercise endurance in the 200mg/kg (i.e. 35mg/kg for humans) of astragalus could in fact be the "next big thing" in terms of natural ergogenics. For the time being, it is yet only another item on the list of purported benefits, I am now going to conclude on another anon more health related note.
Beyond exercise performance: Cancer protection and immuno-modulation
While I initially voiced some doubts with regard to the purported longevity effects of astragalus, its relatively well-established anti-carcinogenic effects could well help many of us to substantially prolong our lives. After all, numerous studies have established the anti-cancerous activity of various natural constitutents of astragalus. Among the cancer cell lines that were tested were
- colon cancer cells (Tin. 2007, Auyeung. 2010),
- breast cancer cells (Zhou. 2009; Gülcemal. 2011),
- cervical cancer cells (Yalcin. 2011),
- human gastric adenocarcinoma cells (Auyeung. 2011),
- human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells (Hu. 2009; Auyeung. 2009)
From the petri dish to the bedside: APS improved quality of life in cancer patients.
|Image 3: Astragalus has already proven its usefulness as an adjunct to the toxic cocktail cancer patients receive as part of their chemotherapy|
In view of the immune-weakening effects of chemotherapy, it may also be important that astragalus has established anti-viral effects. It has been tested as an adjunct to interferon alpha-2b in anti-herpes therapy (Zhang. 1998) and against (chronic) hepatitis B infections (Wu. 2001; Dang. 2009) - the effects are yet rather mediocre and may be mediated by the same general immune-stimulatory effects of the herb (Block. 2003; Jiang. 2010). In this context, it is particularly noteworthy that a paper on herbal medicinces for viral myocarditis published in the reputable Cocraine Database of Systematic Reviews that ...
[..a]stragalus membranaceus (either as an injection or granules) showed significant positive effects in symptom improvement, normalisation of electrocardiogram results, CPK levels, and cardiac function.And with the current vaccination-hysteria, we may soon see the practical realization of a proposal that has been made by Lin et al. in a recent paper on the effects of Astragalus polysaccharides (APS) on foot-and-mouth disease in swine (Lin. 2010), i.e. the addition of APS as an immuno-modulator for various vaccines (I guess it would certainly be better than mercury, don't you think ;-).
Conclusion: A promising herb... without a future?
|Image 4: If all the info got you interested, Carl Lanore from Super Human Radio has recently sourced a bulk powdered version of astragalus. The bulk source is probably the only way not to run out of money before you notice any effects ;-)|
evidence for using astragalus for any health condition is limited. High-quality clinical trials (studies in people) are generally lacking (NCCAM. 2010),will probably never prescribe it to their patients... unless, well unless some genius of a molecular biologist in one of the pharma-companies applies a few minor melcular tweaks to some of the active ingredients of astragalus, so that his company can file a patent application that goes beyond the extraction technique that has been patented for Harley's (questionable) T-65(R).