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NMU 313 – Astragalus Supplementation Boosts Immunity in Elite Athletes

Nutrition/Natural Medicine Update No 313 (March 13, 2024)

With Dr. James Meschino

Topic: Astragalus Supplementation Boosts Immunity in Elite Athletes

Source: J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2021)


Studies have shown that the herb Astragalus helps the body adapt to stress and helps to strengthen and regulate our immune system. A very impressive study in this regard was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in July of 2021. In this study researchers assessed the immune function of elite rowing athletes, who were members of the Polish Rowing Team. These individuals were undergoing a 6- week program of exhaustive training, as they prepared for a major competition. Ten of the team members were instructed to supplement their program with an Astragalus supplement each day (500 mg), while eight of their teammates ingested a placebo pill, in this double-blind, placebo-controlled, six-week study. It is well documented that maximum exertion training weakens the immune system, leaving athletes more prone more frequent upper respiratory tract infections and other problems. This is because high levels of exertion produce a shift in the immune system that encourages the T-helper lymphocyte cells to morph into the Th-2 version rather than the Th-1 version. As such, there is a lower number of Th-1 T helper cells and too many Th-2 T-helper cells. This is problematic because Th-1 T helper cells secrete chemicals (cytokines) that prompt other immune cells to kill any disease-causing viruses, bacteria or other pathogens that may enter the body, and they help to muster an attack against any emerging cancer cells.

In short, Th-1 T helper cells are critical to preventing infections and cancer. On the other hand, Th-2 T lymphocytes have the opposite effect. In fact, another 2021 study in the journal Frontiers of Immunology (Dec 2021) showed the individuals who were most prone to COVID-19 infection, and who suffered more complications and were at higher risk of death, were individuals who showed lower Th-1 levels and higher Th-2 levels. They go on to discuss the fact that light to moderate exercise can increase Th-1 levels and help to strengthen the immune system, which they recommend to immune compromised individuals, such as diabetics, people who are overweight as well as older individuals. Light to moderate regular exercise is known to raise Th-1 levels – helping to prevent COVID-19 infection, complications, and mortality in these at-risk populations. However, over training or high-level exertion training has the opposite effect it. It suppresses Th-1 levels. So, in the study with the Polish Rowing Team the teammates who took the Astragalus supplement each day saw a rise or preservation of their Th-1 T helper lymphocyte levels, while the teammates taking the placebo pill saw a significant decline in their Th-1 levels (and a rise in the Th-2 levels).  A decline in Th-1 levels increases the risk of infection and other problems and is a very undesirable outcome.

The researchers conclude by suggesting that elite athletes or any individual who trains hard (to near maximum exertion) on a regular basis may want to consider taking an Astragalus supplement to help mitigate the decline in Th-1 levels and immune function that are known to result from this type of training.  I personally agree with this. If you participate in heavy exertional sports or training of any kind, then you are leaving yourself open to a decline in Th-1 T helper lymphocytes, which are the quarterback of your entire immune system. When these levels decline you become more prone to virulent infections and cancer. It’s a simple fact. So, individuals involved in heavy training should consider taking Astragalus in my view to helps support their Th-1 levels. But there is more to the story. Simply being over the age of 45 or 50 results in weakened immunity for various reasons. My feeling is that all individuals in this age bracket should support their immune and detoxification systems, as I do, by taking a combination supplement that includes:

  • Astragalus
  • Reishi mushroom extract
  • Milk Thistle
  • Indole-3 Carbinol

Together, these four natural agents help to keep your immune system strong and balanced, help the body rid itself of dangerous compounds and they help to eliminate emerging cancer cells in many body tissues.  Keeping your immune system strong and balanced is a key factor in achieving healthy life expectancy, longevity, and a disease-free existence. I have included the two key references for Astragalus cited here in the text below.


Latour E et al. Standardized astragalus extract for attenuation of the immunosuppression induced by strenuous physical exercise: A randomized controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. July 16, 2021

Supriya R et al. Role of exercise intensity on the Th-1/Th-2 immune modulations during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Front Immunol. 2021, 12:761382.


Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,
Dr. Meschino

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