The Health Benefits of Astragalus

Studies Supporting Astragalus Are Limited

In This Article

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) is a plant native to Asia. The Chinese name of the herb, huang qi, means "yellow leader," because the root is yellow and it is considered to be one of the most important herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Other names for the herb include bei qi, hwanggi, and milk vetch. The part of the plant used medicinally is the root.

astragalus
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Uses for Astragalus

Astragalus is used in traditional Chinese medicine for night sweats and diarrhea. It is also used for energy tonics that are taken daily at certain times of the year. So far, scientific support for the potential benefits of astragalus is lacking.

Some limited studies have provided insight into what health benefits astragalus may be able to provide, but research reviews have generally concluded that most studies are of poor quality.

Immune Function

One of the key uses for astragalus, in alternative medicine, is to improve immune function. Although evidence is needed, one of the ways astragalus is said to work is by increasing the production of immune cells. It may also have mild antiviral activity and help with the prevention of colds. There's little evidence from human studies, however, on the effectiveness of astragalus as an antiviral.

Heart Disease

Astragalus is also used for various heart conditions. It may have a diuretic effect which would lower blood pressure and it may cause blood vessels to relax. It hasn't been explored in human studies, so it shouldn't be used as a replacement for conventional care.

Fatigue and Stamina

There is limited evidence that herbal formulas containing astragalus may be able to help boost strength and stamina in athletes. Additionally, it may help combat fatigue in cancer patients.

Possible Side Effects

People with autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes or systemic lupus erythematosus shouldn't use astragalus unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. People who have had transplant surgery should not use astragalus.

Astragalus may interfere with the effectiveness of corticosteroid medications and drugs that suppress the immune system.

Theoretically, astragalus can increase the effectiveness of antiviral medications such as acyclovir and amantadine.

Astragalus supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications have not been established.

You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of astragalus, talk with your primary care provider first. 

Dosage and Preparation

In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is usually made into a decoction. The roots are boiled in water then removed. It's often combined with other herbs, such as ginseng.

There is not enough scientific evidence to define an appropriate dose of astragalus. The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What to Look For

Astragalus can also be found in supplement form at some health food stores. You may see the raw root in some locations, but more typically the herb is sold in capsule or tablet form.

If you choose to buy this or any supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

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Article Sources

  • Astragalus. Natural Medicines Database. Professional Monograph. 2/6/2019

  • Astragalus. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. September 2016

  • Astragalus. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs, Botanicals, and Other Products.November 5, 2018