Astra-what? As-tra-ga-lus! It is also commonly known as Mongolian Milkvetch or Huangqi in Mandarin.
Not very well known for its use in beauty products, astragalus offers an unprecedented potential for improving aging skin, eczema, and other skin issues.
How astragalus benefits the skin
What is astragalus?
Astragalus membranaceus is a medicinal herb that has been used for centuries in many herbal formulations in Traditional Chinese Medicine. As a member of the legume family, this flowering perennial is native to Northern and Eastern China, Mongolia, and Korea.
Astragalus has been commonly used for its many ‘anti-aging’ health benefits, both externally and internally. The main bioactive compounds of Astragalus membranaceus are polysaccharides, flavonoids, amino acids, and saponins. Phytochemical and pharmacological research indicates that the extract of Astragalus membranaceus and Astrali Radix (astragalus root) can increase telomerase activity, and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, anticancer, hypolipidemic, antihyperglycemic, hepatoprotective, expectorant, and diuretic effects. (Li et al., 2005).
In holistic and naturopathic medicine, the root of the Astragalus plant, Astragali Radix, is often ground up and used in compresses or teas, ingested as a dietary supplement, or further processed into oils or tinctures for dermatological benefits. There have also been cases where the water-soluble extract was injected into the body to treat type 2 diabetic nephropathy (Li et al., 2005).
Let’s find out more about Astragalus and how it benefits the skin and body.
What are the skin benefits to using astragalus?
1. Astragalus has Anti-Aging Benefits
Astragalus not only benefits the immune system, it can also benefit the skin and overall skin health. Due to the high level of active ingredients and antioxidants, Astragalus can prevent UV-induced collagen degradation, contributing to its anti-aging qualities.
Exposure to UV radiation damages the skin by reducing levels of type I collagen, leading to premature skin aging (photoaging), which can result in wrinkles, the sagging of the skin, and hyperpigmentation (Chen et al., 2015). Astragaloside IV, an active component of Astragalus, was shown in a study to protect human skin fibroblasts against ultraviolet B (UVB)-induced photoaging, by decreasing the level of MMP-1 (an enzyme that degrades collagen) and increasing the expression of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 and transforming growth factor-β1 (the primary regulator of collagen synthesis ) through autophagy activation (Chen et al., 2015). By protecting the skin against collagen degradation caused by UVB irradiation, Astragalus has exhibited anti-photoaging effects (Liu et al., 2011).
2. Astragalus can help with Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic Dermatitis is a common form of chronic eczema that can affect millions of adults and children. It most commonly occurs when the immune system becomes disordered and overactive, causing inflammation on the skin barrier, resulting in itchy, dry red patches.
Due to Astragalus’ ability to regulate the immune system and inhibit the production of cytokines (pro-inflammatory proteins), studies have shown that it can help with atopic dermatitis. A study showed that topical application of Astragalus significantly improved skin lesions caused by Atopic Dermatitis, along with reducing hyperkeratosis (the abnormal thickening of the skin).
With its host of health benefits, it is conceivable why Astragalus root is used widely as a medicinal tonic in Traditional Chinese medicine. It’s immunoregulatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties demonstrated in research findings show that Astragalus benefits both the body and also the skin. However, more research is still needed to fully solidify these preliminary findings.
3. Astragalus might Benefit Acne
Astragalus may also have an effect on acne symptoms. Two other compounds naturally present in astragalus—namely astragaloside II and isoastragaloside I—increase the levels of a protein hormone in the skin known as adiponectin (Xu et al., 2009).
Adiponectin plays a role in increasing insulin sensitivity and is present in adipose tissue, which is body fat found in the hypodermis (our skin’s deepest layer). Low levels of adiponectin are correlated with acne (Çerman et al., 2016). Since astragalus can help to increase adiponectin, this may have a positive effect on reducing the severity of acne.
4. Astragalus has Immune-Regulatory Benefits
Astragalus contains bioactive compounds that can help regulate the immune system by stimulating or inhibiting enzyme production. Results from studies have shown that it is mainly the crude polysaccharide from astragalus that exhibits immunomodulating and immunorestorative effects. A study in 2005 showed that the crude polysaccharide of Astragalus can help stimulate lymphocyte and macrophage activity, which helps detect, fight bacteria (through phagocytosis) and eliminate any damaged cells. (Lee et al., 2005).
In addition, further literature studies have revealed that Astragalus Root can also enhance mucosal immune function. The health of the mucosal immune system is a major component of general immune health as it is the body’s first line of defense against the external environment. The mucosal immune system consists of lymphoid tissue in the gastrointestinal tract, urogenital tract, and respiratory tract. Studies have found that Astragalus can increase the level of Immunoglobulin A, an antibody that plays an important role in mucosal immune function (Chen et al., 2020)
5. Astragalus is an Adaptogen
Astragalus is also considered an adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps protect the body against various stresses, including physical, mental, and emotional stress. When taken regularly over a long period of time, adaptogens help regulate stress by maintaining a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. A stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands can lead to less fatigue, lower cortisol levels, hormonal balance, and a stronger immune system, among other benefits.
6. Astragalus is an Anti-Inflammatory
With levels of antioxidants such as triterpenoid saponins, polyphenic flavonoids and amino acids, astragalus also acts as an anti-inflammatory. Triterpenoids help minimize inflammation due to their rich antioxidant activity, meaning that they actively fight off free radicals and toxins that cause oxidative stress (aging) on the body. Furthermore, the increased blood supply to the area carries off any damaging allergens or toxins.
In studies, Astragalus was shown to inhibit the inflammation-causing enzyme iNos (inducible Nitric Oxide Synthase) and suppress the production of certain cytokines (pro-inflammatory proteins) (Ryu et al., 2008).
Furthermore, the presence of several secondary metabolites such as polyphenolic flavonoids have various biological effects on cell signaling, cell division and growth, and gene expression. All of these activities are presumed to further contribute to the anti-inflammatory effects of Astragalus. (Ryu et al., 2008).
When to Avoid Astragalus
If you are taking immunosuppressants, it is best to avoid taking Astragalus root.
In terms of general adaptogenic use, many practitioners recommend against using any single "adaptogenic" herbs over long periods of time. Instead, they might suggest rotating among several "adaptogens" every couple of months. (Mount Sinai, 2021).
If you have concerns about introducing Astragalus into your diet or skincare routine, it is strongly recommended that you first consult with your healthcare provider.
Astragalus offers many important benefits to both the skin and body, including anti-aging, eczema relief, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Our Botanical Recovery Serum is an effective moisturizer that contains a high quantity of astragalus root, and is a great option for including it in your skincare routine.
Chen, B., Li, R., Yan, N., Chen, G., Qian, W., Jiang, H. L., Ji, C., & Bi, Z. G. (2015). Astragaloside IV controls collagen reduction in photoaging skin by improving transforming growth factor-β/Smad signaling suppression and inhibiting matrix metalloproteinase-1. Molecular medicine reports, 11(5), 3344–3348. https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2015.3212
Chen, Z., Liu, L., Gao, C., Chen, W., Vong, C. T., Yao, P., Yang, Y., Li, X., Tang, X., Wang, S., & Wang, Y. (2020). Astragali Radix (Huangqi): A promising edible immunomodulatory herbal medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 258, 112895. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2020.112895
Ji Hyun Kim, Mi Hye Kim, Gabsik Yang, Youngbuhm Huh, Sung-Hoon Kim & Woong Mo Yang (2013) Effects of topical application of Astragalus membranaceus on allergic dermatitis, Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, 35:1, 151-156, DOI: 10.3109/08923973.2012.733708
Kim, J. H., Kim, M. H., Yang, G., Huh, Y., Kim, S.-H., & Yang, W. M. (2012). Effects of topical application of Astragalus membranaceus on allergic dermatitis. Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, 35(1), 151–156. https://doi.org/10.3109/08923973.2012.733708
Lee KY, Jeon YJ. 2005. Macrophage activation by polysaccharide isolated from Astragalus membranaceus. Int Immunopharmacol 5(7–8): 1225– 1233.
Li XB, Zhong X, Yu LH, Liu MX, Man A. 2005. Effect of herb injection of Sanqi and Huangqi on type 2 diabetic nephropathy. Anthology Med 24(5): 658– 677.
Liu, X., & Min, W. (2011). Protective effects of astragaloside against ultraviolet A-induced photoaging in human fibroblasts. Zhong xi yi jie he xue bao = Journal of Chinese integrative medicine, 9(3), 328–332. https://doi.org/10.3736/jcim20110315
Liu, P., Zhao, H., & Luo, Y. (2017). Anti-Aging Implications of Astragalus Membranaceus (Huangqi): A Well-Known Chinese Tonic. Aging and disease, 8(6), 868–886. https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2017.0816
Ryu M, Kim HE, Chun M, et al. 2008. Astragali Radix elicits anti-inflammation via activation of MKP-1, concomitant with attenuation of p38 and Erk. J Ethnopharmacol 115(2): 184– 193.
Wen, W., Chen, J., Ding, L., Luo, X., Zheng, X., Dai, Q., Gu, Q., Liu, C., Liang, M., Guo, X., Liu, P., & Li, M. (2018). Astragaloside exerts anti-photoaging effects in UVB-induced premature senescence of rat dermal fibroblasts through enhanced autophagy. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, 657, 31–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.abb.2018.09.007
Xu, Aimin, et al. Selective Elevation of Adiponectin Production by the Natural Compounds Derived from a Medicinal Herb Alleviates Insulin Resistance and Glucose Intolerance in Obese Mice. Endocrinology, vol. 150, no. 2, 1 Feb. 2009, pp. 625–633, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18927219/, 10.1210/en.2008-0999.
Çerman, Aslı Aksu, et al. Dietary Glycemic Factors, Insulin Resistance, and Adiponectin Levels in Acne Vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 75, no. 1, July 2016, pp. 155–162, 10.1016/j.jaad.2016.02.1220. Accessed 2 Jan. 2020.