Astragalus is a large genus of about 2,000 species of herbs and small shrubs, belonging to the legume family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. The genus is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Common names include milk-vetch (most species), locoweed (in western US) and goat's-thorn (A. gummifer, A. tragacanthus). Some pale-flowered vetches are similar in appearance, but vetches are more vine-like.
There is rising evidence of the numerous benefits of the Astragalus root. According to a recent UCLA AIDS Institute study, a chemical found in the Astragalus root may help in fighting against HIV by slowing down the aging process in our bodies. This is vitally linked, because with age all cells in our bodies (including immune cells) lose the ability to divide, causing changes that lower its disease fighting capabilities. Cells lose the ability to subdivide due to progressive shortening of a part of their chromosome called "telomere" with each cell division. However, the chemical found in the astragalus root, TAT2, can prevent or slow down this progressive telomere shortening. TAT2 is developed by Geron Corporation of Menlo Park, California and is a drug extracted from the astragalus root. This root is said to boost telomerase production and is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to boost the human immune system.
Rita Effrosa, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that TAT2 reduced telomere shortening, increased cells' ability to divide and enhanced their antiviral activity. She hopes that eventually TAT2 can be used to supplement existing anti-retroviral drugs.
What we don't know yet
Safety concerns of telomerase There are some safety concern for telomerase, as it is known to produced at higher than normal rates in cancer cells. What is heartening though is that when TAT2 was administered to cancer cells, it didn't affect the amount of telomerase that was produced by the cells, nor did it change the growth characteristics of immune cells that were incubated with a virus that can trigger cancer.
Further trials are needed to confirm this.