Astragalus

Common Names

  • Huang chi
  • Huang qi
  • Milk vetch
  • Radix astragali

What is Astragalus?

Astragalus propinquus (Huang Qi) has been a foundational herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds of years. It is included in formulas to support Wei Qi (Chi), or the conceptual “shield” which serves as a primary defense mechanism against pernicious threats to the system. Sweet and nourishing, Astragalus is often included in recipes for soups, which are used for convalescence and general strengthening of the system. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Astragalus is said to tonify the “spleen” and hence is used for fatigue linked to decreased appetite. Astragalus is part of the Milk Vetch or Fabaceae family. Astragalus herb is traditionally used in its dried powdered form or as a strong decoction, made from boiling the dried root in water for an extended period.

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  • To stimulate the immune system
    Laboratory studies suggest that astragalus stimulates the immune system.
  • To reduce severity of chemotherapy side effects, including immune suppression
    Studies in animals show that astragalus reverses immune suppression caused by cyclophosphamide and stimulates certain cells of the immune system. Astragalus may also reduce the side effects of other types of chemotherapy such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. In addition, it may enhance the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapies, but these observations need to be confirmed in well-designed human studies.
  • To fight bacterial infections
    There is currently no evidence to support this claim, but one study in humans did suggest that astragalus can induce a viral-type immune response.
  • To prevent and treat heart disease
    Lab and animal studies suggest astragalus and its compounds have heart-protective properties as well as blood-thinning effects.
  • To treat diabetes
    Although astragalus has not been specifically studied for this purpose, long-term population studies suggest that astragalus is among several herbs used in Chinese medicine that may improve diabetes-related complications. Clinical trials are needed to confirm such effects.
  • To increase strength and stamina
    An herbal formula containing astragalus reduced fatigue in athletes by increasing uptake and use of oxygen. Another small study showed that a purified astragalus extract infusion may also help manage cancer-related fatigue, but whether an oral formula would work the same way is unknown.
  • You are taking immunosuppressants such as tacrolimus and cyclosporine: Astragalus may lessen their effects.
  • You have a hormone-sensitive cancer: Because astragalus has demonstrated estrogenic effects, it is unknown how it may affect hormone-sensitive cancers or hormonal chemotherapy.
  • You are undergoing cancer treatment: Laboratory studies suggest that certain properties of astragalus might interfere with the effectiveness of some types of cancer treatment.
  • You are taking anticoagulants: Lab studies suggest that astragalus may increase bleeding risk.
  • You are undergoing surgery: Lab studies suggest that astragalus may increase bleeding risk.
  • You are taking diuretic medications: A small study suggests that astragalus may increase their effects.
  • You are taking blood pressure medications: Astragalus may increase the blood pressure-lowering effect.

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.