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Nov 21, 2011

Astragalus: A Key to Longevity?

"When Li Ching Yuen died in 1932, he was reportedly over 230 years old"  

When Li Ching Yuen died in 1932, he was reportedly over 230 years old.  Records of his birth in Qing dynasty China seem to bear this out.  As the oldest living human that we know about, it is important to study his lifestyle if we wish to emulate his extreme longevity.  Li was known as an expert herbalist, and among the handful of herbs he took on a daily basis was Huang Qi, more commonly known as astragalus root.  In Chinese herbal medicine, huang qi acts to tonify the deep qi (energy), protect and enhance the wei qi (protective qi or immune system) and raise the Yang qi. 

For many centuries, this herb has been among the top 10 most important herbs in Chinese herbalism, and therefore it should come as no shock that this herb was recently discovered to have more amazing properties- it may act to increase longevity!  In 2009, three scientists discovered the key to increasing the functional lifespan of chromosomes, through the activation of a substance called telomerase.  Telomeres are lengths of repeating sequences on the ends of chromosomes that prevent degradation or damage to the valuable genetic material.  Every time a cell undergoes replication, a small amount of this telomere is lost.  When the entire length of the telomere is used up, the cell generally either dies (apoptosis) or enters an “aged” degraded state called senescence.  One theory of aging posits that accumulation of senescent cells leads to reduced function and eventual death.

The most exciting key regarding this discovery was a final component: several labs independently tested hundreds of thousands of substances, and found that astragalus (more specifically, two components within the astragalus root) induced the regeneration of telomeres.  This telomerase- inducing effect has broad implications for longevity, and while still at an early stage, introducing astragalus into your diet can have many health benefits in addition to increasing longevity.  This can include either a quality astragalus extract, or a tea made with quality organic astragalus root.  One cup of astragalus tea per day delivers immune boosting and energy enhancing effects.  Drink to Li Qing Yuen, and your health!

Dustin Bergman, L.Ac