Astragalus

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What other names is Astragalus known by?

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, Milk Vetch, Mongolian Milk, Ogi, Phaca membranacea, Radix Astragali, Radix Astragalus, Réglisse Bâtarde, Réglisse Sauvage.

What is Astragalus?

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

Astragalus is used for many conditions, but so far, there isn't enough scientific evidence to determine whether or not it is effective for any of them.

Astragalus is taken by mouth for the common cold, upper respiratory infections, seasonal allergies, swine flu, fibromyalgia, anemia, HIV/AIDS, and to strengthen and regulate the immune system. It is also used for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Astragalus is also taken by mouth for angina, asthma, irregular menstruation (amenorrhea), menopausal symptoms, and beta-thalassemia, and to improve athletic performance and weight loss.

Some people use astragalus as a general tonic, to protect the liver, and to fight bacteria and viruses. It is also used for hepatitis B, and to prevent and reduce side effects associated with cancer treatment.

Astragalus is commonly used in combination with other herbs. For example, in combination with Ligustrum lucidum (glossy privet), astragalus is used orally for treating breast cancer, cervical cancer, and lung cancer.

Astragalus is sometimes applied to the skin to increase blood flow to the area and to speed wound healing.

Astragalus is injected in to the vein for chest pain, side effects of cancer treatment, heart failure, hearing loss, diabetes, heart attacks, heart infections, kidney failure, lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus), and a specific heart defect (tetralogy of Fallot).

There are several different species of astragalus. Some species contain a toxin called swainsonine 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.

Is Astragalus effective?

There isn't enough information to know if astragalus is effective for the conditions people use it for, including: common cold, chest pain, diabetes, and cancer.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Seasonal allergies. Early research shows that taking a specific product containing 160 mg of astragalus root extract (Lectranal by Milsing d.o.o.) by mouth daily for 3-6 weeks improves symptoms such as running nose, itching, and sneezing in people with seasonal allergies.
  • Irregular menstruation (amenorrhea). Early research shows that taking a combination of astragalus and other herbal ingredients by mouth helps improve the regularity of menstrual cycles in women with irregular menstruation.
  • Chest pain (angina). Early research shows that taking 20 grams of astragalus by mouth three times daily for 2 weeks can improve some measures of heart function in people with chest pain.
  • Lack of new blood cells from bone marrow (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.
  • Asthma. Early research shows that taking a combination of astragalus, cordyceps, Radix stemone (Bai Bu), bulbus fritillariae cirrhosae, and Baikal skullcap by mouth for 6 months does not improve asthma symptoms or lung function in children with mild asthma.
  • Reducing side effects of chemotherapy. Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) daily for 21 days during each course of chemotherapy reduces nausea, vomiting, diarrhea that is associated with chemotherapy treatments.
  • Chemotherapy-related fatigue. Clinical research suggests that administering 500 mg of a specific astragalus extract (PG2 by Pharmagenesis) intravenously (by IV) three times weekly for 4 weeks during chemotherapy improves fatigue scores after one week but not after two and four weeks.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome. Early research shows that some herbal products containing astragalus and other herbal ingredients can reduce feelings of tiredness in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, not all doses seem to work. Also, it's not clear if the benefit is due to astragalus or other herbal ingredients.
  • Liver scarring (cirrhosis). Early research suggests that injecting a combination of astragalus and danshen in to the vein each day for up to 90 days might improve liver function in people with liver cirrhosis. It's too soon to know if the improvement is due to astragalus, danshen, or the combination.
  • Heart failure. Some early research shows that giving 60 grams of 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 suggests that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) for one month then by mouth for 3 months improves blood sugar and insulin levels when taken with antidiabetes drugs. However, other early research suggests that taking astragalus by mouth in combination with other herbal ingredients does not improve blood sugar or insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Vision problems in people with diabetes (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.
  • HIV/AIDS. Evidence on the effects of astragalus in people with HIV/AIDS is inconsistent. People treated with a specific combination containing Baikal skullcap root, glossy privet fruit, astragalus root, and Eupolyphaga et polyphage (Ailing granules) for 4 months show improvements in HIV/AIDs symptoms and immune function. However, taking a different combination containing licorice, yin chen, white mulberry, astragalus, and safflower by mouth for 12 weeks does not show the same benefits.
  • Kidney disease. Early research shows that taking 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 reduce mortality or increase the time until dialysis is needed. Patients with kidney disease are often more susceptible to certain infections. Early research shows that taking astragalus by mouth reduces infections in children with a certain kidney disease called nephrotic syndrome.
  • Lung cancer. Platinum-based chemotherapy is used to treat a type of lung cancer called non-small-cell lung cancer. Analysis of early research suggests that taking herbal products containing astragalus along with platinum-based chemotherapy can reduce the risk of death in people with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer after one, two, and three years of treatment compared to platinum-based chemotherapy alone.
  • Menopausal symptoms. Early research suggests that taking 3-6 grams of a specific combination of astragalus and dong quai called Dang Gui Buxue Tang might reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. However, lower doses do not seem to be effective.
  • Infection in the heart (myocarditis). Several early studies have used astragalus for the treatment of viral myocarditis, but results are inconsistent. The best evidence to date suggests that taking astragalus preparations along with conventional drugs for myocarditis can reduce the number of people with myocarditis who have abnormal heartbeats. However, taking astragalus seems to improve only some but not all blood markers of heart damage.
  • Kidney failure. People who undergo heart surgery have an increase risk of sudden kidney failure after surgery. Giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) prior to, during, and following a certain type of heart surgery seems to protect against sudden kidney failure following heart surgery.
  • A chronic inflammatory disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. Early research shows that giving astragalus intravenously (by IV) for 12 days monthly for a total of 3 months can improve symptoms and reduce infections in people with systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • A heart condition called 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.
  • Weight loss. Early research suggests that taking a combination of astragalus, rhubarb, turmeric, red sage root, ginger, and gallic acid with a low-calorie diet does not improve weight loss in overweight or obese women.
  • Cervical cancer.
  • Fibromyalgia.
More evidence is needed to rate astragalus for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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How does Astragalus work?

Astragalus seems to stimulate and increase the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Are there safety concerns?

Astragalus is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth or given intravenously (by IV) under the supervision of a medical professional. Doses of up to 30 grams/day for 3 months or 40 grams/day for 2 months have been safely taken by mouth. Doses of 80 grams/day intravenously (by IV) have been safely administered for one month. When taken by mouth, astragalus may cause rash, itchy skin, nasal symptoms, or stomach discomfort. However, these events are uncommon. When given by IV, astragalus may cause dizziness or irregular heartbeat.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the safety of astragalus in humans during pregnancy and 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 interactions with medications?



Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)
Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.
Talk with your health provider.

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) is used to make the immune system less active. Astragalus increases the activity of 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.
Talk with your health provider.

Astragalus may be able to increase urination and water removal like a "water pill" (diuretic). As a result, 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.
Talk with your health provider.

Astragalus increases the activity of 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.

Dosing considerations for Astragalus.

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.

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Reviewed on 3/29/2011 12:35:40 PM

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