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Astragalus has a long history in Chinese medicine. It is still being used there for Hepatitis and as an adjunctive therapy for Cancer. Today in the western world it has been rediscovered as a “super herb”. This article gives a detail of the various beneficial aspects of this “super herb”.

Introduction

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Astragalus is a large genus of around 3000 species belonging to the legume family Fabaceae. This plant is a native to the temperate regions in the Northern hemisphere. Common names include milk vetch (most species), locoweed (some species in North America) and goat’s thorn. Astragalus root is a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where it is also known as Huang Qi.

It is also used as a “Qi tonifier” in the oriental system of medicine [R].

Most Astragalus supplements contain Astragalus membranaceus and are marketed as life-prolonging extracts for human use.

Root is the only part of the plant used medicinally and is usually harvested from 4-year old plants. Herbalists call astragalus an “adaptogen”.

My Experience With Astragalus

Astragalus is potent Th1 and immune stimulant.  It improves blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body.  It is not advised if you have an overactive immune system already.  I used to take it at night because it made me tired, but I don’t do that anymore.

Most people with CFS and chronic inflammation will not do well with astragalus.  If you do well on it will depend on if you have chronic inflammation because of a chronic infection or because you’re getting it from food, for example.

If you’re suffering from immunodeficiency or cancer, then this is the right herb for you.

Below, I give a bunch of different good options to buy Astragalus, but some people want to to know which one I recommend.

Astragalus Snapshot

    • Immunity10/10
    • Longevity9.5/10
    • Cancer10/10
    • Infections9.0/10

Pros

  • Boosts the Immune system
  • Helps prevent cold and flu
  • Good antioxidant
  • Great for cancer, and reduces the side effects of chemotherapy
  • Great for the Heart
  • Great for the Kidneys
  • Increases Red blood cells and oxygen delivery
  • Enhances energy

Cons

  • Interacts with medicines taken to suppress the immune system
  • Powerfully enhances Th1 immunity, so be careful if you have an autoimmune-like condition
  • Many people report getting headaches if they take too much
  • Some people report insomnia

Traditional Indications

In the Chinese medicinal system, Astragalus is indicated for spleen deficiency symptoms like diarrhea, fatigue, spontaneous sweating and lack of appetite.

Other traditional indications include wasting disorders (a process in which a disease causes muscle and fat tissue to “waste” away), night sweats, chronic ulcerations and sores, numbness and paralysis of the limbs and edema [R].

Astragalus is also traditionally used as an antidiarrheal or a laxative.

Astragalus root has been traditionally used for the treatment of common cold [R].

23 Science-Based Health Benefits of Astragalus

1) Astragalus is an Antioxidant

Astragalus treatment in 43 patients with acute heart attack reduced blood cell-free radicals, blood fat peroxidation and increased superoxide dismutase levels.

Extract of this herb protects rat heart mitochondria against fat peroxidation.

2) Astragalus is an Anti-inflammatory

Both oral and colonic Astragalus (A. membranaceus) treatments exhibited significant protection against DNBS (2,4-Dinitrobenzene sulfonic acid)-induced colitis (inflammation of the inner lining of colon) in rats [R].

Water and alcoholic extracts of Astragalus (A. hamosus) given orally produced a highly significant anti-inflammatory effect in rats when compared to the control in one study [R].

3) Astragalus Boosts the Enzyme Telomerase

TA-65Ⓡ is a natural telomerase activator purified from the root of Astragalus. Use of this natural product in animals showed a decline in percent senescent cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells [R].

In the absence of telomerase, telomeres shorten with time and stress, contributing to aging and disease.

Isomers extracted from Astragalus slowed down telomere shortening rate, reduced DNA damage and improved DNA repair ability (various factors which are responsible for the delay in aging) [R].

4) Astragalus Helps Protect the Heart

Intravenous injection of Astragalus increased the total effective heart function rate by 74.2%  in patients with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) [R].

In another study Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) injected into 19 patients with Congestive heart failure reduced symptoms of chest distress and dyspnea (shortness of breath) in 15 of 19 patients [R]. There was also a significant improvement in left heart activity, end-systolic volume and end-diastolic volume [R].

92 patients with Ischemic heart disease treated with Astragalus, had a significant relief from angina (chest pain) and also an improvement in the effective rate of EKG (Electrocardiogram) by 82.6%. In another study on angina pectoris, 20 patients given Astragalus for two weeks had an increase in the heart output [R].

Astragalus (A. membranaceus injection) combined with conventional treatment appeared to be more effective in the treatment of viral myocarditis (Six RCTs) [R].

Research in animals/lab studies:

Astragalus decreased free radical release and apoptosis in cultured heart muscle cells and was therefore protective against daunorubicin toxicity [R].

Astragalus (Astragaloside) improved post-ischemic heart function and reduced reperfusion arrhythmias in rat hearts. There was also an increase in the blood flow to the heart muscle [R].

A. mongholicus when given to rats with high lipids resulted in a significant decline in the levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. It is thereby likely to reduce heart diseases associated with high lipid content and oxidative stress [R].

It also improved heart function in Sjogren’s syndrome model rats [R].

(Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition which mainly affects the glands that produce saliva and tears, though it can also affect the joints).

Astragalus can improve endothelial-dependent vasodilator function in obese rats [R].

Note: In vascular diseases, endothelial dysfunction is a systemic pathological state of the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels).

5) Astragalus Activates the Immune cells

In one study  8 grams of Astragalus given orally to 14 healthy volunteers for 2 months significantly increased interferon-inducing ability of blood cells. In another study, Astragalus extract given to healthy adults for 20 days increased blood IgM, IgE, and cAMP [R].

A herbal tincture of Astragalus stimulated CD4 and CD8 T-cells and induced the production of CD69 in human subjects [R].

Viral myocarditis patients showed enhanced T3, T4 and T4/T3 cell ratios suggesting an increased immune response when given an extract of Astragalus orally [R].

One Chinese trial also found that astragalus could decrease overactive immune function in people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease [R].

Research in animals/lab studies:

Astragalus polysaccharides (APS) activated B cells and macrophages in mouse and human tumor cell lines [R].

APS suppressed CD4+ CD25+ regulatory T-cells (Treg) activity and initiated the CD4+T-cell-mediated immunity in burned mice with P. aeruginosa infection [R].

They (APS) are a potent adjuvant for the hepatitis B subunit vaccine and can enhance both humoral and cellular immune responses [R].

Astragalus has been shown to have immunologic benefits by stimulating macrophage and natural killer cell activity and inhibiting T-helper cell type 2 cytokines [R].

6) Astragalus Reduces the Side Effects of Chemotherapy and May Help Prevent Cancer

In one study treatment with extracts of Astragalus decreased the immunosuppression observed in the lymphocytes of cancer patients [R].

Astragalus based Chinese herbal medicine combined with platinum-based chemotherapy improves survival, increases tumor response, improves performance status, or reduces chemotherapy toxicity in cancer patients [R].

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) could enhance the immune function, promote production and, maturation of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in chronic myelogenous leukemia patients [R].

Treatment of Astragalus integrated with vinorelbine and cisplatin (VC) had significantly improved Quality of life (QOL) in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (RCT) [R].

Research in animals/lab studies:

Astragalus induced apoptosis of liver tumor cells and had a significant anti-tumor effect on liver cell carcinoma [R].

Astragalus saponins (AST) promoted apoptosis in human colon cancer cells and tumor xenograft without any side effects that were produced by the conventional chemotherapeutic drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) [R].

Injection of this herb suppressed apoptosis of mesothelial cells [R].  Total AST also inhibited human stomach cancer cell growth, decreased the invasion ability and induced the apoptosis of gastric cancer cells [R].

Mechanism: 

Inhibits cell proliferation through accumulation in S phase and G2/M arrest with concomitant suppression of p21 production and inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinase activity [R].

7) Astragalus Helps Prevent Infections

Astragalus (A.membranaceus) helps in treating recurrent tonsillitis in children [R].

It is used as an immune stimulant in treating and preventing colds and upper respiratory tract infections [R].

A herbal mixture containing Astragalus given daily in conjunction with interferon to adults with chronic bronchitis reduced the incidence and duration of Upper Respiratory Tract infections  (URTIs).

Virus:

Astragalus polysaccharide had immunomodulatory effects on cells exposed to Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) and Classical Swine fever virus (CSFV) [R].

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) treatment reduces H9N2 Avian Influenza virus replication and promotes an early humoral immune response. In China, APS is widely used as an immune adjuvant [R].

A. membranaceus has an inhibitory effect on herpes simplex virus type 1(HSV-1) [R].

Astragalus inhibited viral replication while improving abnormal electric activity in the heart muscle tissue of mice infected with Coxsackie B-3 virus [R].

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) possessed anti-HAdV-3 (human adenovirus type-3) capabilities. It inhibited HAdV-3 replication and HAdV-3 induced apoptosis [R].

Animal studies demonstrated oral administration of Astragalus root extract to mice infected with Japanese encephalitis virus increased survival rate by 30-40% [R].

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) is potentially useful as an anti-Epstein Barr virus drug [R].

Sulfated Astragalus polysaccharide (sAPS) had activity against the cellular infectivity of infectious bursal disease virus, and the sulfated modification enhanced its antiviral activity [R].

Astragalus polysaccharide has an inhibitory effect on the replication of hepatitis B virus (HBV) [R].

Others:

Astragalus had shown antibacterial activity against Shigella dysenteriaeStreptococcus hemolyticus, Diplococcus pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus [R].

It showed a significant antifungal activity against Trichophyton verrucosumin guinea pig model of dermatophytosis [R].

Astragalus (A. baibutensis) showed a remarkable antitrypanosomal activity against T. brucei rhodisience and T.cruzi. However, it also exhibits some cellular toxicity in mammalian cells [R].

8) Astragalus is Effective in Wound Healing

Topical application of Astragalus (gum tragacanth) accelerated skin wound contraction and healing in rats [R].

Astragalus (astragaloside IV) could promote ulcerated wound healing in cultured mouse keratinocytes [R].

Mechanism: It decreased Catenin beta-1 (a protein that coordinates cell-cell adhesion and gene transcription) to increase skin cell (keratinocyte) migration and proliferation.

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) has shown to be a promising natural product with both healing and anti-scar effects for wound treatment. These findings suggest the use of Astragaloside IV in the treatment of injury [R].

Mechanism: astragalus mediated keratinocyte proliferation and migration via regulation of the Wnt signaling pathway [R].

9) Astragalus May Combat Stress

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) may reduce immobilized stress-induced anxiety and inflammation in mice [R].

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) and cycloastragenol suppressed ROS-associated Endoplasmic reticulum stress [R].

10) Astragalus Helps Prevent Respiratory Problems

Astragalus played a role in preventing the recurrence of asthma in children. A combination of astragalus and hormones showed better effects [R].

Granules of Astragalus may reduce the incidence of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) in children with nephrotic syndrome [R].

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) could prevent the development of chronic asthma, thus reducing asthma attacks in a ovalbumin sensitized mouse model exposed to repeated Ovalbumin [R].

Mechanism: Astragalus could increase the production of T-bet production and Th1 cytokines such as IFN-y [R].

11) Astragalus Helps Prevent Diabetes

Astragalus could effectively control blood glucose, reduce the free radicals, and promote the antioxidative activity in pregnant women with gestational diabetes [R].

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) could reduce insulin resistance and ER stress induced by high glucose in animals [R].

Zhang et.al showed that Astragalus improved fasting blood glucose levels, glomerular filtration rate (GFR), urinary albumin rate and thickness of the glomerular basement membrane in diabetic rat models [R].

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) could increase pancreatic beta cell mass in type 1 diabetic mice [R].

12) Astragalus is an Anticonvulsant

Astragalus (A. mongholicus) root extract had a powerful anticonvulsant effect against seizures induced by pentylenetetrazol (PTZ) in mice [R].

Mechanism: Anticonvulsant effects may be mediated by its protective actions against oxidative damage and improving mitochondrial dysfunction [R].

13) Astragalus is Neuroprotective and Prevents Memory Loss

Astragalus could enhance the functional recovery in intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke patients (DB-PCT) [R].

Astragalus injection is an effective drug for the treatment of elderly patients with chronic primary insomnia and has fewer side effects [R].

Extract of this herb improves nerve injury after ischemia in mice (by improving energy metabolism and inhibiting apoptosis in the brain tissue) [R].

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) could be used for curing Parkinson’s disease, it decreased the levels of dopamines in 6-hydroxydopamine induced substantia neuron cells [R].

Extract of Astragalus had protective effects on DEX (dexamethasone)-induced neuron injury mouse model [R].

Active components of Astragalus reduced iron overload in Alzheimer’s Disease brain model of rat [R].

14) Astragalus Improves Kidney Function

High-dose Astragalus injection used together with cyclophosphamide (CTX) was effective in decreasing infection rate and urine protein and improving immune function in patients with lupus nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) (RCT) [R].

According to one study, Astragalus injection improved kidney tubule function in patients with IgA nephropathy (a disease which occurs when the antibody Immunoglobulin A lodges in the kidney)  [R].

Astragalus injection showed a protective effect in high blood pressure patients with kidney damage [R].

Research in animals/in the lab:

One study showed that Astragalus (Astragalus polysaccharide) improved proteinuria (abnormal quantities of protein in the urine) and kidney function in animals [R].

Astragalus proved effective against experimentally induced glomerulonephritis in rats, especially in treating proteinuria. Rats fed with Astragalus had less proteinuria [R, R].

Astragalus injection has a protective effect on cisplatin (DDP)-induced kidney toxicity in mice [R].

15) Astragalus May Improve Male Fertility

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Astragalus demonstrated a significant stimulatory effect and increased the motility of human sperms in lab studies [R].

Astragalus (A. membranaceus) has beneficial influences and appears able to improve relative testes weight, sperm parameters and cAMP-responsive element modulator (CREM) (a gene initiating protein that is found in male germ cells)  expression against CP-induced reproductive toxicity in male mice [R].

It could significantly reduce the apoptosis of spermatogenic cells, decrease the level of fat peroxidation and protect glutathione activity in rat testis [R].

16) Astragalus Helps Protect the Intestine

Astragalus (A.membranaceus) could strengthen the movement and muscle tonus in the intestine [R].

High dose of Astragalus (A.membranaceus) has a protective effect on the hemorrhagic shock-reperfusion injury of the intestinal mucosa [R].

Astragalus Polysaccharide (APS) effectively reduces TNBS (trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid)-induced experimental colitis (an inflammatory reaction in the colon) in rats [R].

17) Astragalus Helps Muscle Function and Enhances Exercise Endurance Capacity

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) improves muscle atrophy. In one study APS inhibited dexamethasone-induced injury in muscle cells [R].

Astragalus supplementation in mice could prolong their swimming times, enhance exercise endurance capacity [R].

Mechanism: Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) has the ability to retard and lower the production of blood lactate, and prevent the increase of blood urea nitrogen after exercise [R].

18) Astragalus Helps Bone Function

Astragalus (A. membranaceus) extract significantly improved bone mineral density, biochemical density and ash weight of the femur and tibia in rats with their ovaries taken out.

When combined with supplemental calcium it could also be more protective against the calcium loss in calcium-insufficient postmenopausal women [R].

19) Astragalus Protects the Liver

Oral administration of an alcoholic extract of Astragalus (A. membranaceus) root reduced the liver injury induced by stilbenemidine in mice [R].

Intake of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Astragalus membranaceus, Morus alba, Crataegus pinnatifida, Alisma Orientale, Salvia miltiorrhiza, and Pueraria lobata) may be useful in preventing and improving fatty liver induced by alcohol according to animal studies [R].

20) Astragalus Reduces Fatigue

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Astragalus (Radix Astragali) as a component of a Chinese herbal medicine reduced fatigue by increasing the oxygen uptake and the systemic utility of oxygen in athletes (RCT) (R).

Astragalus could significantly reduce the exercise-induced physical fatigue of altitude-induced low oxygen mice [R] and improved exercise performance in trained mice [R].

Flavonoids this herb reduced chronic fatigue syndrome induced by food intake restriction plus forced swimming in rats [R].

21) Astragalus Helps Treat Anemia and Other Blood Disorders

Therapy with Astragalus (Radix Astragali) or its compound prescription is effective and safe in children with -thalassemia (Prospective clinical study) [R].

60 gms of Astragalus as part of the “Erzhi Busui Decoction” a Chinese herbal medicine when given to patients with severe aplastic anemia reduced its severity [R].

In an analysis of 115 leucopenic cases, a pure preparation of Astragalus was effective in treating patients with leukopenia (a reduction in the number of white blood cells in blood). Increasing the dosage could increase its effectiveness [R].

According to one clinical study, Astragalus injection could promote the recovery of hemopoietic function in chronic aplastic anemic patients [R].

Astragalus membranaceus injection (AMI) can lessen apoptosis of bone marrow cells and promote hematopoietic progenitor cells to differentiate in anemic mice [R].

22) Astragalus is an Anti-fibrotic

Astragalus as a component of a Chinese herb “Danggui Buxue tang” (DBTG) had an inhibitory effect on bleomycin-induced pulmonary scarring of tissue in rats [R, R].

A decoction of Astragalus exerted a significant therapeutic effect on Bile duct (BDL)-induced (or) biliary scarring of tissue in rats [R, R].

Astragalus (as a component of Chinese herbs modified Danggui buxue decoction) had an antifibrotic effect on adriamycin-induced nephropathy in rats [R, R].

Astragalus could be a useful agent against peritoneal dialysis (PD)-induced peritoneal scarring of tissue (PF) in rats [R].

It could be used as a potential agent for managing fibrotic disorders like Systemic scleroderma (characterized by fibrotic changes in the skin) [R].

23) Astragalus Reduces Iron Overload

Astragalus polysaccharide (APS) might have a therapeutic role in treating iron overload, especially in Thalassemia patients as mentioned in one study.

Experiments showed that APS increased hepcidin and reduced iron overload in mice [R].

Active components of Astragalus reduced iron overload in Alzheimer’s Disease rat brain [R].

Astragalus Synergies

Astragalus plus ligustrazine could effectively protect against myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injury during open heart surgery of cardiopulmonary bypass patients (RCT) [R].

Astragalus membranaceus and Goji combined extract significantly inhibited the growth of an experimental transitional renal cell carcinoma in mice [R].

Roots of Astragalus and elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra) extracts together to increase the IFN-beta inducing activity of Lactobacillus acidophilus in rat nerve cells [R].

Astragalus and Panax notoginseng could promote the transformation of bone marrow stem cells and proliferation of endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) in lab experiments [R].

Astragalus and Salvia miltiorrhiza extract (CASE) exhibited inhibitory effects on cell proliferation, invasion and collagen synthesis in keloid fibroblasts (TGF-/Smad pathway) [R].

Astragalus (A. mongholicus) and Angelica sinensis together reduce high lipid content considerably in nephrotic rats [R].

Astragalus (A. mongholicus) and Polygonum multiflorum in combination had more protective effects on thymus against cyclophosphamide-induced injury [R].

Buying & Dosage

Adult doses:

Astragalus root: About 1-4 grams of a fresh dried root.

Powdered root capsules: 250-500 milligrams, two capsules TID (three times a day).

Tincture: 3-6 ml (half-1 tsp) TID.

Child doses: Have not been specified

Textbooks on Chinese herbs recommend taking 9-15 gms of the crude herb per day in decoction form. A decoction is made by boiling the root in water for few minutes and then brewing the tea [R].

Safety and Cautions

Astragalus is considered safe for most adults [R].

Pregnant and lactating women should not take this herb.

It 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. It may also affect blood sugar levels and blood pressure [R].

One study suggested that oral administration of A.membranaceus may lead to increase in CA19-9 and the formation of liver and kidney cysts [R].

Some Astragalus species may be toxic, few of them contain the alkaloid “swainsonine” which may cause “locoism” in livestock. Few species contain potentially toxic levels of selenium.

Potentially Active Chemical Constituents

Polysaccharides are the most important functional constituents in Astragalus and responsible for the antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory capabilities of this herb [R].

It also has several saponins, called Astragalosides (I to X) which are known for their ability to lower cholesterol, improve the immune system and prevent cancer [R].

Astragalus also mainly contains flavonoids which show antioxidative qualities and help prevent heart disease and immunodeficiency viruses. Other constituents include amino acids, folic acid etc and minerals like selenium, zinc, and copper [R].

Molecular Targets

Astragalus (Astragaloside IV) exerted its cellular effects by activating the Src/MEK/ERK pathway [R].

Anticancer activity

Modulates mTOR signaling and decreases COX-2 [R].

Promotes protein expression of Bax, decreases protein expression of Bcl-2 gene, and markedly increases the Bax/Bcl-2 ratio [R].

Anti-inflammatory activity

Suppresses NF-kB and AP-1 signaling pathways [R].

Promoting heart function

Activates Keap1-Nrf2/ARE signaling pathways [R].

Immune cell activation

Activates the TLR4 signaling pathway and inhibits the expression of TGF-beta and frequency of T regulatory cells [R].

Anti-fibrotic effect

Inhibits the synthesis of extracellular matrix and balance the MMP/TIMP-1 system [R].

Inhibits the activation of TGFβ1-ERK1/2 signaling pathways [R].

Regulates TIMP-1, MMP, and TGF-β1 gene expressions [R].

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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5 COMMENTS

  • Stephen Morrissey OMD

    Lee: If you take any herb and feel the way you’re describing, I would stop taking it. You may have an intolerance.

  • Stephen Morrissey OMD

    Comment below was meant to be directed to Joseph…

  • Stephen Morrissey OMD

    Lee, A lot of good information. Well done. Regarding Astragalus for use in common cold, I would not recommend that. Astragalus is good as an immune adjuvant to prevent colds but once you have one, immune tonics are not indicated. The reason you feel lousy from a cold is because of the battle between the pathogen and your immune system. If you strengthen your immune system during the battle then you intensify the battle and can feel worse. Herbs that are anti-pyretic and anti-inflammatory like andrographis and isatis are more indicated during the battle. On another point: People with CFS and auto-immune conditions should not avoid immune tonics like astragalus but would need to combine the tonic herbs with herbs that have a regulatory effect on immune activity. Stephania is a good one if your system or your joints are running hot, Epimedium is a good one to combine with astragalus if you run cold. People with autoimmunity and other chronic inflammatory conditions need to strengthen immunity, and can do so with herbs like astragalus but need to counteract the possible exacerbation of overactive immunity with regulatory herbs like the ones mentioned above. Be well 🙂

  • Lee

    I fall into the MS, CFS category. I took one capsule of astragalus today and I am very sensitive to it. I can feel it in throughout my intestines my head an sinuses. Other than it not making me feel good, it it doing something harmful to me or am I still reaping the benefits of this herb?

  • Pam

    I must have missed it but where is info/resource and how astragalus reduces iron loads. Especially interested in reducing elevated ferritin levels when not supplementing.

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