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Nutritional Supplement

Astragalus

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

How It Works

Astragalus contains numerous components, including flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides (e.g., astragalosides I–VII), amino acids, and trace minerals.2 Several preliminary clinical trials in China have suggested that astragalus can benefit immune function and improve survival in some people with cancer.3 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.3 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.5 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.6

In preliminary trials in China, astragalus has been used after people suffer heart attacks.7 More research is needed to determine whether astragalus is truly beneficial in this situation.

References

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. Shu HY. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Palos Verdes, CA: Oriental Healing Arts Press, 1986, 521-3.

3. Klepser T, Nisly N. Astragalus as an adjunctive therapy in immunocompromised patients. Alt Med Alert 1999;Nov:125-8 [review].

4. 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].

5. Tang W, Eisenbrand G. Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1992, 1056.

6. 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].

7. 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 Exp Clin Res 1996;22:65-72.

8. Bone K, Morgan M. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Warwick, Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 13-20.

9. Nanba H. Antitumor activity of orally administered ‘D-fraction' from maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa). J Naturopathic Med 1993;4:10-5.

10. Pengelly A. Medicinal fungi of the world. Modern Phytotherapist 1996;2:1, 3-8 [review].

11. Murray MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1995.

12. Klepser T, Nisly N. Astragalus as an adjunctive therapy in immunocompromised patients. Alt Med Alert 1999;Nov:125-8 [review].

13. 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. Chung Kuo Chung His I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1995;15:141-3 [in Chinese].

14. Shi HM, Dai RH, Wang SY. Primary research on the clinical significance of ventricular late potentials (VLPs), and the impact of mexiletine, lidocaine and Astragalus membranaceus on VLPs. Chung His I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1991;11:259, 265-7 [in Chinese].

15. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 27-33.

16. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 6-7.

17. Tong X, Xiao D, Yao F, Huang T. Astragalus membranaceus as a cause of increased CA19-9 and liver and kidney cysts: a case report. J Clin Pharm Ther 2014;39:561–3.

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The information presented by Healthnotes 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 December 2020.