Why Astragalus Could Be Your New Herbal Best Friend

Dr Jess says: One of my most important Chinese herbs, astragalus is in most of my Chinese herbal prescriptions, and is a must for any of my patients with low energy or serious health complaints. 

It’s a wonderful restorative and energising herb that I have seen have great results for fatigue, preventing infection and helping the immune system. It’s also traditionally used for prolapses and I have seen an improvement in many women’s symptoms, particularly of heaviness and dragging sensations, when taking this herb for a few months. 

Astragalus membranaceous (aka Huang Qi or Milkvetch) is a traditional Chinese herb, thought to nourish the Qi (energy) and blood. Its primary use is as an immune tonic and for treating fatigue, bruising and prolapses. 

Astragalus’s benefit to the blood is confirmed in a small study of chronic aplastic anaemia, a severe blood deficiency disease, where it significantly improved blood and immune system markers and improved bone marrow function (where our blood is made).1

It’s also used for dizziness and fatigue, and to treat people who bruise easily and to relieve bleeding, rectal and uterine prolapses, frequent infections, water retention and oedema (excess fluid in the body), to help ulcers and wounds heal, and for long term numbness or paralysis. Several studies show that astragalus can significantly help to relieve fatigue from different causes, including post-stroke2 and in patients with chronic fatigue (combined with Chinese sage, Dan Shen).3

Astragalus is also thought to improve the physical symptoms of exhaustion, shortness of breath and wheezing, and is used in Chinese medicine as a lung tonic. A small study on children with asthma taking astragalus showed that it was an effective therapy, when taken throughout the year, to prevent asthma symptoms and improve immune system markers for asthma.4 Patients with severe episodes of COPD (lung disease) had an improvement in lung function when taking astragalus for 14 days.5

research shows that astragalus is a very safe herb to take

Astragalus is considered a very safe herb with few side effects. It is likely safe in pregnancy, as it has been used for clinical studies on pregnant women (see below for gestational diabetes) and children (growth and β-thalassemia) with no adverse effects.

consider using after illness or chemotherapy, and to help reduce symptoms of heart failure

Astragalus was shown to reduce the toxic side effects of chemotherapy, improve immune system function and suppress cancer growth in cancer patients who were given astragalus alongside chemotherapy.6 A significant improvement in the quality of life, symptoms and length of life was seen in patients treated with Astragalus alongside chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer.7 The symptoms of exhaustion, shortness of breath and wheezing are common symptoms of heart failure.

In the study, astragalus, given in doses 4.5-7g daily, significantly improved heart function, symptoms and quality of life in patients with heart failure over one month,8 and in several other studies, it improved heart damage markers and heart function.9, 10 11 It may also be beneficial for heart function in the time after a heart attack12. Astragalus given to patients who were having open heart surgery helped protect the heart from damage from the bypass machine.13, 14

research shows it may also be helpful for fixing a damaged gut

Animal studies show that astragalus can act as a prebiotic and improve both the gut flora (the micro-organisms in the gut, which are very important for health) and also immune system function.15 In Chinese medicine, Astragalus is considered to be a ‘spleen’ herb which loosely translates as being good for energy and digestion, helping symptoms of bloating.

astragalus may also help hay fever and allergic rhinitis

Patients with moderate to severe hay fever who took astragalus for six weeks experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life.16

it’s good for helping with diabetes and kidney disease

Astragalus can improve blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetics.17 It can also help with diabetic complications including kidney disease18 and foot ulcers. A combination of astragalus and Rehmannia root significantly improved ulcer healing and improved sensation over a period of six months, in patients with diabetic foot ulcers.19

Astragalus is shown to improve kidney function in kidney disease20 and has been shown to reduce markers of kidney failure in combination with Chinese angelica root (Dang Gui).21 When astragalus is given as patients undergo a heart bypass (which can damage the kidney) their kidney function was protected.22

astragalus is an important herb for increasing immunity

Several studies show that astragalus can improve immune system markers and white cell (immune cell) tests. This includes a study of patients with low immunity (leukopenia) on blood test,23 in which it significantly increased the function of their immune system. Patients with COPD (lung disease) had a significant improvement in blood markers of their immune system when taking astragalus over 14 days, which would help them fight off infection more effectively.24

In children with leukaemia who were given injections of astragalus, it improved immune markers, reduced chemotherapy side effects and reduced their chance of dying from an infection during cancer treatment.25  Meanwhile, in patients with tuberculosis (a serious lung infection) those receiving treatment with astragalus had a significant improvement in both their immune system function and fighting off the disease.26 It may also help immune function and make treatment more effective in autoimmune diseases like lupus.27

other benefits of astragalus

  • Women with gestational diabetes requiring insulin had a significant improvement in blood sugar levels and antioxidant activity (health-protective markers), after taking astragalus.28
  • Astragalus given to children of short stature between the ages of 6-8 significantly improved growth and height, compared to a placebo.29
  • Patients with burns who were given astragalus had a better healing reaction and protection from complications.30
  • There were improved immune function and blood markers in patients suffering from herpes simplex keratitis (a viral eye infection), who were treated with astragalus.31
  • Astragalus improved symptoms of sweating and palpitations and helped regulate immune function in patients with Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism.)32

how to take astragalus

  • Consult your healthcare provider before taking this supplement, especially if you have an autoimmune condition, are pregnant, nursing or on any other medication. Organ transplant patients should not take astragalus, as it interferes with cyclophosphamide.
  • In China, a handful of chopped, dried astragalus root is often added to nourishing soup (along with goji berries) to help strengthen and prevent infections. It is mild tasting and a great addition to winter broths.
  • Add 2tsp of chopped, dried astragalus root to 300ml of water in a pan and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and drink. Chinese herbs are traditionally cooked and taken this way. Astragalus combines well with goji berries and liquorice root.
  • 1-2 tsp of astragalus root powder can be stirred into drinks or yoghurt and taken daily. (Indigo Herbs are a good brand).
  • Astragalus can be taken in capsule form, taking 2-6 capsules daily at times of stress or fatigue, or to stop coughs and colds. 
  • Astragalus can be made into an alcoholic tincture by medical herbalists and should be taken at the recommended dosage by your Chinese medicine practitioner.
  • Plant+ from The Natural Doctors contains organic astragalus, as well as ashwagandha and reishi

references

  1. Wang MS, Li J, Di HX, Li ZL, Yang SL, Hou W, Yan JY, Zhao XM. Clinical study on effect of Astragalus Injection and its immuno-regulation action in treating chronic aplastic anemia Chin J Integr Med. 2007 Jun;13(2):98-102. doi: 10.1007/s11655-007-0098-5. PMID: 17609906.
  2. Liu CH, Tsai CH, Li TC, Yang YW, Huang WS, Lu MK, Tseng CH, Huang HC, Chen KF, Hsu TS, Hsu YT, Tsai CH, Hsieh CL. Effects of the traditional Chinese herb Astragalus membranaceus in patients with poststroke fatigue: A double-blind, randomized, controlled preliminary study J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 24;194:954-962. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.10.058. Epub 2016 Oct 20. PMID: 27773802.
  3. Cho JH, Cho CK, Shin JW, Son JY, Kang W, Son CG. Myelophil, an extract mix of Astragali Radix and Salviae Radix, ameliorates chronic fatigue: a randomised, double-blind, controlled pilot study Complement Ther Med. 2009 Jun;17(3):141-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2008.11.003. Epub 2009 Jan 23. PMID: 19398067.
  4. Lin Y, Wang B, Luo XQ. [Clinical study of astragalus’s preventing the recurrence of asthma in children] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2011 Aug;31(8):1090-2. Chinese. PMID: 21910341.
  5. Jiang D, Wang X, Su Q, Jiang S, Yuan F, Zhang C, Gong F, Dong Q, Shi J, Chen B. Milkvetch root improves immune function in patients with acute exacerbation of COPD
  6. [Clinical study on effect of Astragalus in efficacy enhancing and toxicity reducing of chemotherapy in patients of malignant tumor] Biomed Mater Eng. 2015;26 Suppl 1:S2113-21. doi: 10.3233/BME-151517. PMID: 26405990.
  7. Zou YH, Liu XM. [Effect of astragalus injection combined with chemotherapy on quality of life in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2003 Oct;23(10):733-5. Chinese. PMID: 14626183.
  8. Yang QY, Lu S, Sun HR. Clinical effect of Astragalus granule of different dosages on quality of life in patients with chronic heart failure Chin J Integr Med. 2011 Feb;17(2):146-9. doi: 10.1007/s11655-011-0647-9. Epub 2011 Mar 9. PMID: 21390582.
  9. Yang QY, Lu S, Sun HR. [Effects of astragalus on cardiac function and serum tumor necrosis factor-alpha level in patients with chronic heart failure] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2010 Jul;30(7):699-701. Chinese. PMID: 20929124.
  10. Zhang JG, Yang N, He H, Wei GH, Gao DS, Wang XL, Wang XZ, Song GY. [Effect of Astragalus injection on plasma levels of apoptosis-related factors in aged patients with chronic heart failure] Chin J Integr Med. 2005 Sep;11(3):187-90. Chinese. doi: 10.1007/BF02836502. PMID: 16181532.
  11. Luo HM, Dai RH, Li Y. [[Nuclear cardiology study on effective ingredients of Astragalus membranaceus in treating heart failure] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1995 Dec;15(12):707-9. Chinese. PMID: 8732134.
  12. Chen LX, Liao JZ, Guo WQ. [Effects of Astragalus membranaceus on left ventricular function and oxygen free radical in acute myocardial infarction patients and mechanism of its cardiotonic action] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1995 Mar;15(3):141-3. Chinese. PMID: 7647526.
  13. Zhou S, Shao W, Zhang W. [Clinical study of Astragalus injection plus ligustrazine in protecting myocardial ischemia reperfusion injury] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2000 Jul;20(7):504-7. Chinese. PMID: 11789206.
  14. Ti YX, Pan ZX, Wu C. [Intervention of astragalus injection on the kidney injury after cardiopulmonary bypass of infants with congenital heart disease] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2011 May;31(5):631-4. Chinese. PMID: 21812263.
  15. Li SP, Zhao XJ, Wang JY. Synergy of Astragalus polysaccharides and probiotics (Lactobacillus and Bacillus cereus) on immunity and intestinal microbiota in chicks Poult Sci. 2009 Mar;88(3):519-25. doi: 10.3382/ps.2008-00365. PMID: 19211520.
  16.  Matkovic Z, Zivkovic V, Korica M, Plavec D, Pecanic S, Tudoric N. Efficacy and safety of Astragalus membranaceus in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis Phytother Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):175-81. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2877. PMID: 19504468.
  17. Huang CL, Lu YP. [Effect of Astragalus injection on insulin resistance in auxiliary treating patients with diabetes mellitus type 2] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2003 Oct;23(10):779-80. Chinese. PMID: 14626197
  18. Liu ZQ, Li QZ, Qin GJ. [Effect of Astragalus injection on platelet function and plasma endothelin in patients with early stage diabetic nephropathy] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2001 Apr;21(4):274-6. Chinese. PMID: 12577356.
  19. Ko CH, Yi S, Ozaki R, Cochrane H, Chung H, Lau W, Koon CM, Hoi SW, Lo W, Cheng KF, Lau CB, Chan WY, Leung PC, Chan JC. Healing effect of a two-herb recipe (NF3) on foot ulcers in Chinese patients with diabetes: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study  J Diabetes. 2014 Jul;6(4):323-34. doi: 10.1111/1753-0407.12117. Epub 2014 Feb 24. PMID: 24330156.
  20. Li SM, Yan JX, Yang L. [Effects of Astragalus injection on renal tubular function in patients with IgA nephropathy]Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2006 Jun;26(6):504-7. Chinese. PMID: 16841664.
  21. Shen P, Yang X, He L. [Effect of Astragali and Angelica particle on proteinuria in Chinese patients with primary glomerulonephritis] J Tradit Chin Med. 2016 Jun;36(3):299-306. Chinese. doi: 10.1016/s0254-6272(16)30041-3. PMID: 27468543.
  22. Qu ZL, Dong H, Wang SD. [Effects of astragalus injection on renal function in patients after cardiac valve replacement with cardiopulmonary bypass] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2009 Apr;29(4):313-6. Chinese. PMID: 19526755.
  23. Weng XS. Treatment of leucopenia with pure Astragalus preparation–an analysis of 115 leucopenic cases] [Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1995 Aug;15(8):462-4. Chinese. PMID: 8580691.
  24. Jiang D, Wang X, Su Q, Jiang S, Yuan F, Zhang C, Gong F, Dong Q, Shi J, Chen B. Milkvetch root improves immune function in patients with acute exacerbation of COPD Biomed Mater Eng. 2015;26 Suppl 1:S2113-21. doi: 10.3233/BME-151517. PMID: 26405990.
  25. Zhang XJ, Yan M, Liu Y, Wang XM, Nuriding H. [Effects of Huangqi injection on infection factors in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia]. Zhongguo Dang Dai Er Ke Za Zhi. 2014 Feb;16(2):147-51. Chinese. PMID: 24568907.
  26. Niu HR, Lai ZH, Yuan L. [Observation on effect of supplementary treatment by Astragalus injection in treating senile pulmonary tuberculosis patients] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2001 May;21(5):349-50. Chinese. PMID: 12577419.
  27. Cai XY, Xu YL, Lin XJ. Effects of radix Astragali injection on apoptosis of lymphocytes and immune function in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus]  Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2006 May;26(5):443-5. Chinese. PMID: 16883914.[
  28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=astragalus+gestational+diabetes
  29. Lee D, Lee SH, Song J, Jee HJ, Cha SH, Chang GT. Effects of Astragalus Extract Mixture HT042 on Height Growth in Children with Mild Short Stature: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial Phytother Res. 2018 Jan;32(1):49-57. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5886. Epub 2017 Nov 12. PMID: 29130588.
  30. Shi FS, Yang ZG, Di GP. Effect of Astragalus saponin on vascular endothelial cell and its function in burn patients] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2001 Oct;21(10):750-1. Chinese. PMID: 12575608.[
  31. Shi FS, Yang ZG, Di GP. [Effect of Astragalus saponin on vascular endothelial cell and its function in burn patients] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2001 Oct;21(10):750-1. Chinese. PMID: 12575608.
  32. Wu J, Liu DF, Chen Y. [Effects of Radix Astragali on IL-1beta, TNF-alpha and antigen expression of peripheral blood mononuclear cells in patients with Graves disease] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2011 Nov;31(11):1487-90. Chinese. PMID: 22303710.

 

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