Astragalus

Astragalus




Introduction

Native to China, astragalus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicineA whole medical system that originated in China. It is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of qi and imbalance in the forces of yin and yang. Practices such as herbs, meditation, massage, and acupuncture seek to aid healing by restoring the yin-yang balance and the flow of qi.. In the United States, the herb gained popularity in the 1980s. There are actually over 2,000 species of astragalus; however, the two related species Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus are the ones primarily used for health purposes.

Common Name—astragalus, bei qi, huang qi, ogi, hwanggi, milk vetch

Latin NameAstragalus membranaceus, Astragalus mongholicus

What It Is Used For

  • Historically, astragalus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, usually in combination with other herbs, to support and enhance the immune system. It is still widely used in China for chronic hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy in cancer.
  • It is also used to prevent and treat common colds and upper respiratory infections.
  • Astragalus has also been used for heart disease.

How It Is Used

The root of the astragalus plant is typically used in soups, teas, extracts, or capsules. Astragalus is generally used with other herbs, such as ginseng, angelica, and licorice.

What the Science Says

  • The evidence for using astragalus for any health condition is limited. Results from small or preliminary studies suggest that astragalus may benefit heart function and help the immune system fight infections.
  • A few studies have shown potential benefits for using astragalus—in combination with another herb, glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum)—as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. In general, however, these studies were not well designed.
  • NCCAM-funded investigators are studying the effects of astragalus on the body, particularly on the immune system.

Side Effects and Cautions

  • Astragalus is considered safe for most adults. Its possible side effects are not well known because astragalus is generally used in combination with other herbs.
  • Astragalus may interact with medications that suppress the immune system, such as the drug cyclophosphamide taken by cancer patients and similar drugs taken by organ transplant recipients.
  • People should avoid using astragalus species such as “locoweed” that grow in the United States, as these other species may have different effects and side effects.
  • Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Sources

  • Astragalus. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed May 10, 2007.
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus). Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed May 9, 2007.
  • Upton R. Astragalus. In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005:25-30.










last update: August 2009



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