Astragalus

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Astragalus

Uses

Astragalus
© Steven Foster
Common names:
Huang Qi, Milk Vetch
Botanical names:
Astragalus membranaceus

Parts Used & Where Grown

Astragalus is native to northern China and the elevated regions of the Chinese provinces, Yunnan and Sichuan. The portion of the plant used medicinally is the four- to seven-year-old dried root, collected in the spring. While over 2,000 types of astragalus exist worldwide, the Chinese version has been extensively tested, both chemically and pharmacologically.1

What Are "Star" Ratings?

a7_3star   Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

a7_2star   Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

a7_1star   For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:


Used for Amount Why
Common Cold and Sore Throat
Refer to label instructions 1 star   Adaptogens such as astragalus are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.

1 star  Common Cold and Sore Throat

Herbal supplements can help strengthen the immune system and fight infections. Adaptogens, which include eleuthero, Asian ginseng, astragalus, and schisandra, are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally. They have not been systematically evaluated as cold remedies. However, one double-blind trial found that people who were given 100 mg of Asian ginseng extract in combination with a flu vaccine experienced a lower frequency of colds and flu compared with people who received only the flu vaccine.3


Used for Amount Why
Heart Attack
Refer to label instructions 1 star   Preliminary clinical trials in China suggest that astragalus may be beneficial for people after they have suffered a heart attack.
Hepatitis
2.5 grams licorice three times per day providing 750 mg glycyrrhizin, taken under the supervision of a doctor 1 star   Early clinical trials in China suggest astragalus root might benefit people with chronic viral hepatitis.

1 star  Hepatitis

2.5 grams licorice three times per day providing 750 mg glycyrrhizin, taken under the supervision of a doctor

Early clinical trials in China suggest astragalus root might benefit people with chronic viral hepatitis, though it may take one to two months to see results.4 Textbooks on Chinese herbs recommend taking 9–15 grams of the crude herb per day in decoction form. A decoction is made by boiling the root in water for a few minutes and then brewing the tea.


Used for Amount Why
Immune Function
Refer to label instructions 1 star   Complex polysaccharides in astragalus affect the immune system. One study showed that astragalus elevate antibody levels in healthy people.

1 star  Immune Function

Complex polysaccharides present in astragalus and in maitake and coriolus mushrooms appear to act as “immunomodulators” and, as such, are being researched for their potential role in AIDS and cancer. Presently, the only human studies on astragalus indicate that it can prevent white blood cell numbers from falling in people given chemotherapy and radiotherapy and can elevate antibody levels in healthy people.5 Maitake has only been studied in animals as a way to increase immune function.6 The primary immuno-activating polysaccharide found in these mushrooms, beta-D-glucan, is well absorbed when taken orally7 and is currently under investigation as a supportive tool for HIV infection. Results from future research will improve the understanding of the possible benefits of these mushrooms and their constituents.

Used for Amount Why
Infection
Refer to label instructions 1 star   Astragalus supports the immune system and protects against microbes.

1 star  Infection

Herbs that support a person’s immune system in the fight against microbes include the following: American ginseng, andrographis, Asian ginseng, astragalus, coriolus, eleuthero, ligustrum, maitake, picrorhiza, reishi, schisandra, and shiitake.


Used for Amount Why
Lupus
Refer to label instructions 1 star   Though a safe amount has not been established, one preliminary trial found that this herb could decrease overactive immune function in people with this disease.

1 star  Lupus

One Chinese preliminary trial also found that astragalus could decrease overactive immune function in people with systemic lupus erythematosus.8 However, much more research is needed to know whether astragalus is safe in lupus or any other autoimmune disease.

Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)

Shen Nung, the founder of Chinese herbal medicine, classified astragalus as a superior herb in his classical treatise Shen Nung Pen Tsao Ching (circa A.D. 100). The Chinese name huang qi translates as “yellow leader,” referring to the yellow color of the root and its status as one of the most important tonic herbs. Traditional Chinese Medicine used this herb for night sweats, deficiency of chi (e.g., fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite), and diarrhea.2

How It Works

Common names:
Huang Qi, Milk Vetch
Botanical names:
Astragalus membranaceus

How It Works

Astragalus contains numerous components, including flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides (e.g., astragalosides I–VII), amino acids, and trace minerals.9 Several preliminary clinical trials in China have suggested that astragalus can benefit immune function and improve survival in some people with cancer.10 Given the poor quality of these trials, it is difficult to know how useful astragalus really was. One Chinese trial also found that astragalus could decrease overactive immune function in people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease.11 Further trials are needed, however, to know if astragalus is safe for people with SLE, or any other autoimmune disease.

A double-blind trial found that, in people undergoing dialysis for kidney failure, intravenous astragalus improved one facet of immune function compared to the immune function of untreated people.12 Further study is needed to determine if astragalus can help prevent infections in people undergoing dialysis. Early clinical trials in China suggest astragalus root might also benefit people with chronic viral hepatitis, though it may take one to two months to see results.13

In preliminary trials in China, astragalus has been used after people suffer heart attacks.14 More research is needed to determine whether astragalus is truly beneficial in this situation.

How to Use It

Textbooks on Chinese herbs recommend taking 9–15 grams of the crude herb per day in decoction form.15 A decoction is made by boiling the root in water for a few minutes and then brewing the tea. Alternatively, 3–5 ml of tincture three times per day, are sometimes recommended.

Interactions

Common names:
Huang Qi, Milk Vetch
Botanical names:
Astragalus membranaceus

Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

At the time of writing, there were no well-known interactions with this supplement.

Interactions with Medicines

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with this supplement.

Side Effects

Common names:
Huang Qi, Milk Vetch
Botanical names:
Astragalus membranaceus

Side Effects

At the time of writing, there were no well-known side effects caused by this supplement.

References

1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 50–3.

2. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 27–33.

3. Scaglione F, Cattaneo G, Alessandria M, Cogo R. Efficacy and safety of the standardized ginseng extract G 115 for potentiating vaccination against common cold and/or influenza syndrome. Drugs Exptl Clin Res 1996;22:65–72.

4. Tang W, Eisenbrand G. Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1992.

5. Bone K, Morgan M. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Warwick, Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 13–20.

6. Nanba H. Antitumor activity of orally administered ‘D-fraction’ from maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa). J Naturopathic Med 1993;4:10–5.

7. Pengelly A. Medicinal fungi of the world. Modern Phytotherapist 1996;2:1, 3–8 [review].

8. Klepser T, Nisly N. Astragalus as an adjunctive therapy in immunocompromised patients. Alt Med Alert 1999;Nov:125–8 [review].

9. Shu HY. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Palos Verdes, CA: Oriental Healing Arts Press, 1986, 521–3.

10. Klepser T, Nisly N. Astragalus as an adjunctive therapy in immunocompromised patients. Alt Med Alert 1999;Nov:125–8 [review].

11. Klepser T, Nisly N. Astragalus as an adjunctive therapy in immunocompromised patients. Alt Med Alert 1999;Nov:125–8 [review].

12. Qun L, Luo Q, Zhang ZY, et al. Effects of astragalus on IL-2/IL-2R system in patients with maintained hemodialysis. Clin Nephrol 1999;52:333–4 [letter].

13. Tang W, Eisenbrand G. Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1992, 1056.

14. Li SQ, Yuan RX, Gao H. Clinical observation on the treatment of ischemic heart disease with Astragalus membranaceus. Chung Kuo Chung His I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1995;15:77–80 [in Chinese].

15. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 6–7.

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