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
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This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
Common Cold and Sore Throat
|Refer to label instructions||Adaptogens such as astragalus are thought to help keep various body systems—including the immune system—functioning optimally.|
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
|Refer to label instructions||Preliminary clinical trials in China suggest that astragalus may be beneficial for people after they have suffered a heart attack.|
|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.|
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.
|Refer to label instructions||Complex polysaccharides in astragalus affect the immune system. One study showed that astragalus elevate antibody levels in healthy people.|
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.
|Refer to label instructions||Astragalus supports the immune system and protects against microbes.|
|Refer to label instructions||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.|
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
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 with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
Interactions with Medicines
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.
Last Review: 08-17-2011
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2013.
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