Astragalus

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What is it?

Astragalus is an herb. The root is used to make medicine.

Astragalus is used for hay fever, diabetes, kidney disease, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

There are several different species of astragalus. Some species contain a nerve toxin and have been linked to livestock poisonings. Some of these species include Astragalus lentiginosus, Astragalus mollissimus, and others. However, these species of astragalus are usually not found in dietary supplements used by humans. Most astragalus supplements contain Astragalus membranaceus.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Although astragalus may have some antiviral activity, there is no good evidence to support using it for COVID-19. Follow healthy lifestyle choices and proven prevention methods instead.

It is effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …

  • Hay fever. Early research shows that taking a specific astragalus root extract by mouth daily for 3-6 weeks improves symptoms such as running nose, itching, and sneezing in people with seasonal allergies.
  • Chest pain (angina). Early research shows that taking astragalus by mouth can improve some measures of heart function in people with chest pain.
  • A condition in which the bone marrow stops making new blood cells (aplastic anemia). Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) together with the steroid stanozolol improves symptoms and blood cell counts more than just the steroid alone in people with aplastic anemia.
  • Diarrhea caused by cancer drug treatment. Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) daily for 21 days during each course of chemotherapy reduces diarrhea from chemotherapy treatments. Using astragalus along with other ingredients also seems to reduce diarrhea from chemotherapy.
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer drug treatment. Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) daily for up to 21 days during each course of chemotherapy reduces nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy treatments. Using astragalus along with other ingredients also seems to reduce nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.
  • Tiredness in people treated with cancer drugs. Early research shows that administering a specific astragalus extract intravenously (by IV) three times weekly for 4 weeks during chemotherapy improves fatigue scores after one week but not after two and four weeks.
  • Long-term kidney disease (chronic kidney disease or CKD). Early research shows that using astragalus along with conventional drugs for kidney disease can improve some measures of kidney function compared to conventional drugs alone. However, it’s not known if astragalus can prevent death or increase the time until dialysis is needed.
  • Heart failure and fluid build up in the body (congestive heart failure or CHF). Some early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) for 20 days improves some symptoms of heart failure. However, other early research using the same dose shows no benefit. When taken by mouth along with conventional drugs for heart failure, some early research shows that astragalus can improve heart function and walking distance compared to conventional drugs alone.
  • Diabetes. Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) or taking astragalus by mouth for up to 4 months improves fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Taking astragalus by mouth seems to improve these outcomes better than giving astragalus by IV. Taking astragalus by mouth might also improve the effect of insulin in the body. The effect of astragalus on HbA1c, which gives an indication of average blood sugar over time, is unclear. Taking astragalus by mouth in combination with other herbal ingredients does not seem to improve blood sugar or insulin levels in people with diabetes.
  • Kidney damage in people with diabetes (diabetic nephropathy). Most early research shows that injecting astragalus into the vein improves some measures of kidney damage in people with diabetic nephropathy.
  • Vision problems in people with diabetes (diabetic retinopathy). Early research suggests that taking herbal products containing astragalus for up to 10 months may improve vision in some people with vision damage caused by diabetes.
  • Hearing loss. Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) daily for 10 days can improve hearing in people with sudden deafness or hearing loss caused by very loud noise.
  • Lung cancer. Platinum-based chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used to treat a type of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer. Analyses of early research show that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) or giving herbal products containing astragalus by mouth or by IV along with platinum-based chemotherapy or radiation therapy can reduce the risk of death in people with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Swelling (inflammation) of the heart (myocarditis). Several early studies have used astragalus for the treatment of viral infections of the heart, but results are not clear. The best evidence suggests that taking astragalus preparations along with conventional drugs can reduce abnormal heartbeats related to the heart infection. However, taking astragalus seems to improve only some but not all blood markers of heart damage.
  • A group of symptoms that indicate kidney damage (nephrotic syndrome). Patients with kidney disease are at a higher risk of infections. Early research shows that taking astragalus by mouth reduces infections in children with a certain kidney disease called nephrotic syndrome.
  • Fatigue after a stroke. Early research shows that taking astragalus for 4 weeks might improve fatigue in people who recently had a stroke.
  • Kidney failure. People who undergo heart surgery have an increased risk of sudden kidney failure after surgery. Giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) before, during, and after heart surgery seems to reduce kidney failure following heart surgery.
  • An autoimmune disease that causes widespread swelling (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE). Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) for 12 days each month for 3 months with conventional drugs can improve symptoms and reduce infections in people with lupus.
  • A heart condition marked by four heart defects (tetralogy of Fallot). Giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) along with conventional treatment for 7 days after surgery to correct a heart condition called tetralogy of Fallot seems to improve heart function and reduce time until recovery compared to conventional treatment alone.
  • Absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea).
  • Asthma.
  • Cervical cancer.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • Colon cancer, rectal cancer.
  • Damage to the immune system caused by cancer drug treatment.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • HIV/AIDS.
  • Kidney damage caused by cancer drugs.
  • Liver scarring (cirrhosis).
  • Low levels of healthy red blood cells (anemia) caused by cancer drug treatment.
  • Obesity.
  • Symptoms of menopause.
  • Other conditions

More evidence is needed to rate astragalus for these uses.

How does it work?
Astragalus seems to stimulate and increase the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Is there concern for the safety of its use?
When taken by mouth: Astragalus is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults. Doses of up to 60 grams per day have been safely used for up to 4 months. Astragalus may cause rash, itchy skin, nasal symptoms, or stomach discomfort. However, these events are uncommon.

When given by IV: Astragalus is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when given intravenously (by IV) under the supervision of a medical professional. Doses of 80 grams per day intravenously (by IV) have been safely administered for up to 4 months. Astragalus may cause dizziness or irregular heartbeat.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if astragalus is safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. However, some research in animals suggests that astragalus can be toxic to the mother and fetus. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

“Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other immune system conditions: Astragalus might make the immune system more active. This could worsen the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. Avoid using astragalus if you have any of these conditions.

Are there any drug interactions?

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) is used to decrease the immune system. Astragalus increases the immune system. Taking astragalus along with cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) might decrease the effectiveness of cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar).

Lithium

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Astragalus might have an effect like a water pill or “diuretic.” Taking astragalus might decrease how well the body gets rid of lithium. This could increase how much lithium is in the body and result in serious side effects. Talk with your healthcare provider before using this product if you are taking lithium. Your lithium dose might need to be changed.

Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Astragalus increases the immune system. Taking astragalus along with medications that decrease the immune system might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.

Are there any interactions with herbs and supplements?
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there any interactions with food?
There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?
The appropriate dose of astragalus depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for astragalus. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

By what other names is the product known?
Astragale, Astragale à Feuilles de Réglisse, Astragale Queue-de-Renard, Astragale Réglissier, Astragali, Astragalo, Astragalus Membranaceus, Astragalus mongholicus, Astragli Membranceus, Beg Kei, Bei Qi, Buck Qi, Chinese Astragalus, Huang Qi, Huang Se, Huangqi, Hwanggi, Membranous Milk Vetch, Membranous Milkvetch, Milk Vetch, Mongolian Milk, Mongolian Milkvetch, Ogi, Phaca membranacea, Radix Astragali, Radix Astragalus, Réglisse Bâtarde, Réglisse Sauvage.

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