An herb native to China, astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) has been used for more than 2,000 years to balance the vital energy–or qi–which is thought to flow through all beings. A relative of licorice and the pea plant, astragalus appears to give the immune system a powerful boost. Teas, tablets, and other healing formulations are made from the plant’s flat, yellowish root.
In the late 1980s, scientists realized that alpha-lipoic acid, a compound initially classified as a vitamin when it was discovered three decades earlier, possessed potent antioxidant properties that could prevent healthy cells from getting damaged by unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals. In fact, this vitaminlike compound has proved to be many times more potent than such old guard antioxidants as vitamins C and E. As a perk, it even recycles C and E (as well as other antioxidants), enhancing their effectiveness.