In the Pet healer Podcast we recently discussed adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogenic herbs are those that offer some balance to our immune system, our hormones and promote optimal function of our organs even in the face of stress.
The use of this kind of herbs is getting to be more popular in the newer dog supplements for anxiety, arthritis, and to boost immunity. I plan to write about some of these popular herbs in this and upcoming articles. I wanted to start with an herb that has been used as a tonic herb for maintaining vitality (Qi) for thousands of years in China and Asia because it has strong anecdotal evidence of enhancing longevity. This herb is called Astragalus membranaceus ( Huang Qi) from the family Fabaceae (legume family).
The roots are the parts used but they must come from three- or four-year-old plants for maximum potency. It can be prepared many ways like powder, and alcohol tinctures. There has been some interest in finding the active ingredients that provide the benefits within these roots as it contains Flavonoids, saponin glycosides, polysaccharides, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and trace minerals. In Western medicine, Astragalus is useful as an immune system modulator, anti-cancer, blood pressure regulator in humans and also to prevent liver damage. In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) the uses include clearing pus and detoxifying, replenishing Qi and strengthening the Spleen, and circulating water to reduce edema.
Most senior dog tonic formulas include this adaptogenic herb because it increases their energy and stamina.
It is also included in many supplements that claim to detoxify or support the liver cells. Astragalus is also used to reduce the toxicity of a wide range of pharmaceutical drugs and diminish their side effects, so it has good potential to be used with pets undergoing chemotherapy, or pets in multiple antiseizure medications. There aren't many side effects known other than hypersensitivity to this herb but in traditional Chinese veterinary medicine books it warns against the use in febrile animals or Yin deficiency cases because of the energetic nature of Astragalus being hot. One concern with single herb usage or high doses of Astragalus is the fact that it belongs with the legume family and recent reports of cardiac failure implicates legumes as a culprit. The investigation in determining how exactly legumes interfere with the absorption of the essential amino acid Taurine is ongoing. I believe the small amounts used in Chinese formulas and other supplements has a negligible effect and it might even be cardioprotective. In my practice I see a lot of senior dogs that are weak in the hindlegs, can barely walk even though their arthritic pain is being managed with pharmaceuticals like NSAIDS. I like to add a formula called Qi performance to help strengthen them. In cancer cases I use a formula called Wei Qi booster to help boost their immune response to fight it. Both of these formulas have Astragalus in it and both are extremely effective. Adaptogenic herbs are a great way to help your senior or sick pet regain energetic balance and wellness.