Astragalus Root: Health Benefits and Side Effects

Chinese herbal medicine involves quite a large number of remedies that aim to restore a balance in the body.

At the same time, these herbal remedies aim to resolve certain health problems that people can experience. The idea is to use natural ways to heal the body.

Astragalus is an ancient herb that has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine. The herb has been used for the treatment of several chronic health conditions. Additionally, the plant extract could also reduce common ailments that the population suffers from.

We take a look at what astragalus root extract is in this post. We also consider scientific evidence behind the medicinal plants.

What Is Astragalus?

Astragalus root is a plant that is often mentioned in ancient Chinese medicine and herbal remedies. It is also known by other names, including:

  • astragalus membranaceus

  • astragalus propinquus

  • bei qi

  • huang q ogi

  • hwanggi

  • milk vetch

There are several reasons why the plant is of interest to scientists. From producing an improvement in hormone balance to treating the common cold and flu, or to strengthen immune function.

This is a type of flowering plant. Multiple parts of the plant are used in the production of natural medicine. There are various supplement types available that take advantage of astragalus. These include powders, teas, capsules, and even a few products that are in the form of liquid extracts.

More than 2,000 species of the plant have been discovered to date. Not all of them have been linked to the same health benefits. In most cases, only two specific types of plants are used in Chinese medicines.
The two astragalus plant species mostly used include1:

  • Astragalus membranaceus

  • Astragalus mongholicus

While most people use a supplement, the plant is sometimes used in a hospital setting too.

In this case, intravenous administration of the active compound in the astragalus plant is used. This is often the case when the plant is used as a heart disease treatment2. Other chronic diseases among patients may also be treated in this way.

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Health Benefits Of Astragalus

Numerous studies have been performed on the astragalus plant. The majority of these studies focus on the two main species that we described previously.

These studies aim to determine how the use of this plant extract may benefit the human body. At the moment, a large number of studies do exist to help people understand astragalus benefits.

1) Boost Immune System

Some studies have found the use of astragalus is important for improving immune function3. The immune system plays a critical role in fighting against pathogens in the body.

Studies also show that the use of astragalus helps to fight against many viral infections. This primarily includes a more effective immunity against the common cold. The immune system also plays a role in the fight against cancers – including prostate cancer – as well as many other ailments.

While on the subject of cancer, some evidence also exists that suggests astragalus is useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy. The plant extract may reduce the side effects associated with chemotherapy. Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea were reduced in one study4.

2) Hormonal Balance

There is also evidence that astragalus may affect the balance of hormones in the human body. Several studies have provided evidence on this particular matter.

In one study5, the growth hormone was stimulated with the use of astragalus. This may be especially useful for men. The growth hormone is known to affect other steroid hormones in the male body. This could possibly help with the balance of testosterone, for example.

3) May Improve Heart Function

Astragalus may help improve heart function in those with certain heart conditions. There is a lot of evidence available that this potent herb is useful for patients with heart disease too. The widening of blood vessels helps to ensure more blood reaches the heart. This helps with hypertension.

The active chemicals in the astragalus plant might help to widen the blood vessels. This means vasodilation is enhanced with the use of this particular plant extract. This is likely to result in an improvement in blood circulation. This could also help with blood pressure regulation.

In a clinical study, patients with heart failure were given 2.25 grams of astragalus twice daily for two weeks, along with conventional treatment. They experienced greater improvements in heart function compared to those receiving standard treatment alone (15Trusted Source).

4) Blood Sugar Control

In some regions of China, astragalus has even become a prescription medication. Doctors prescribe medicine often to help in the treatment of diabetes among their patients. The plant’s active chemicals may also have an impact on blood sugar regulation in the human body. It seems like astragalus may reduce blood sugar levels.

5) Kidney Function

Astragalus might also be helpful for the kidneys. The plant extract has been shown to reduce the risk of infections that affect the kidneys, possibly. The use of these supplements also seems to reduce levels of proteinuria in the kidneys. This is a marker used to determine kidney function and damage.

It may also help prevent infections in people with reduced kidney function (30Trusted Source).

For example, 7.5–15 grams of astragalus taken daily for three to six months reduced the risk of infection by 38% in people with a kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome. However, more studies are needed to confirm this effect

Other Potential Health Benefits

  • Liver damage: Astragalus may also be useful in fighting against viral infections that affect the liver. This helps to reduce the risk of suffering liver damage from such infections.
  • Weight loss: The blood sugar regulation that contributes to astragalus usage could be useful for people who are trying to lose weight. Obesity contributes to prostate cancer, hormone imbalances, and other health problems. The risk of these becomes lower with weight loss.
  • Fatigue: The product may also help to reduce fatigue and tiredness. This can be useful in cases where a person often finds themselves tired and fatigued during the day.

  • Allergy: There could also be a possible reduction in allergy symptoms. Astragalus might reduce a runny nose and sneezing symptoms in people with allergies 7.

  • Lung cancer: Platinum-based chemotherapy is used to treat a type of lung cancer called non-small-cell lung cancer. 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.

  • Inflammation: The product has been shown to act as an effective adaptogen in the human body. This means it helps the body better cope with the presence of stressors. These stressors can cause the development of free radicals. They can also contribute to low-grade inflammation.

Who Should Consider Using Astragalus?

Several individuals can benefit from Astragalus. These may include:

  • People diagnosed with diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes

  • Individuals with blood flow problems

  • Patients who have been diagnosed with a heart disease

  • Men undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer

  • Individuals diagnosed with lung cancer

  • Men who want to stimulate an increase in growth hormone

  • Individuals who frequently experience allergy symptoms

  • People who need to strengthen their immune system

Side Effects and Interactions

While astragalus is generally safe for most people, for certain individuals, it should be avoided:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: There’s currently not enough research to demonstrate that astragalus is safe while pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Individuals with autoimmune diseases: .Consider avoiding astragalus if you have an autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Individuals taking immunosuppressant drugs: Since astragalus may increase the activity of your immune system, it may decrease the effects of immunosuppressant drugs.

Astragalus may also have effects on blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Therefore, use this herb with caution if you have diabetes or issues with your blood pressure

Best Way To Take Astragalus

Individuals interested in traditional Chinese medicine should understand how these herbal remedies work.

Astragalus is available in different forms. The reason for using this herb needs to be taken into account when determining what the best way would be to use this plant extract.

As a herbal medicine, many people would consider the use of a tea or dietary supplement. These are effective at producing the desired effects. In some cases, astragaloside IV might be useful. This delivers a more potent dose of the active chemicals that are found in astragalus.

It may yield more effective results in patients who suffer from certain heart diseases. The effects may also be more effective in people who struggle to control their blood sugar levels.

How Do You Pick A Good Astragalus Product?

When choosing an astragalus supplement, it is always important to take note of the ingredients. In some cases, a supplement will only contain astragalus extract — other products many contain other ingredients too.

Looking at the specific type of plant is important too. The most common type is astragalus membranaceous. These supplements contain beta-glucan and other compounds. They may help a person experience the benefits associated with astragalus.

How Long Can You Take Astragalus?

Apart from considering the dosage (8) of astragalus, it is also important to consider how long the supplement can be used. The specific duration depends on why a person uses it.

For improving blood pressure control or as a way of boosting white blood cells in the immune system, long-term use of a low dose is sometimes advised.

In hospital settings, higher doses are sometimes administered. This will often be over a shorter period of time.

In most studies, patients use astragalus safely for a period of about four months. Longer-term studies are still needed to see if there are serious adverse effects that come with usage over a more significant period of time.

Top Astragalus Supplements

There are a lot of supplements on the market when looking to take advantage of traditional Chinese medicine. The same applies to astragalus.

It should be noted that astragaloside IV is only available in a hospital setting. This medicine cannot be obtained from a pharmacy or herbal shop. This type is mostly used in more severe cases. Heart disease patients could benefit from this form of administration. Those undergoing chemotherapy9 might also use an IV method of administration.

Dietary supplements that use this ingredient generally focus on the immune system. Examples include helping with kidney disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Sometimes they also claim to assist with hormonal balance.

Ben’s Estro Clear, containing 500mg of Astragalus, is clinically formulated to flush excess estrogen, helping to contribute to normal hormonal balance.

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Sources

  1. 1 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Astragalus. [online] Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/astragalus
  2. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine. (1995) Clinical observation on the treatment of ischemic heart disease with Astragalus membranaceus. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7787395
  3. Journal of Integrative Cancer Therapies. (2003) Immune system effects of Echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus: a review. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15035888
  4. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medcine. (2002) Clinical study on the effect of Astragalus in efficacy enhancing and toxicity reducing chemotherapy in patients of malignant tumors. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12592686
  5.  Archives of Pharmacal Research. (2003) Induction of growth hormone by the roots of Astragalus membranaceous in pituitary cell culture. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12568355
  6.  Healing Arts Press. (2013) Adaptogenic Remedies in Cancer Therapy. [online] Available at: https://mederifoundation.org/file_download/inline/1f096a12-a469-4860-89fa-85433c1daa9f
  7.  Journal of Phytotherapy Research. (2010) Efficacy and safety of Astragalus membranaceus in the treatment of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19504468
  8.  Livestrong.com. Dosage for Astragalus Root. [online] Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/445773-astragalus-root-herb-dosage/
  9. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Astragalus. [online] Available at: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/astragalus
Alternative Text

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Founder of ZayedMD, Dr. Ahmed believes in making the knowledge as accessible as possible to patients. He had his work featured in reputable publications such as The Huffington Post. Other than his passion for writing, Dr. Ahmed spends​ his time outside the hospital at the gym or with a good book.

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