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Table of Contents > Herbs > Astragalus
Astragalus
Botanical Name:  Astragalus membranaceus, Astragalus membranaceus var. mongholicus
Common Names:  Huang-qi, Milk-Vetch Root
 
Overview
Plant Description
Parts Used
Medicinal Uses and Indications
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to promote the discharge of urine, lower blood pressure, and increase endurance. Clinically, it is used primarily for general digestive disorders such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating, as well as chronic phlegm production. This herb is also used for its immune enhancing properties, especially for the prevention and treatment of the common cold and chronic hepatitis.

In the United States, astragalus has been investigated as a possible treatment for patients whose immune systems have been compromised by chemotherapy or radiation. Astragalus supplements have been shown to speed recovery and extend life expectancy in these patients. Research regarding the use of astragalus in people with AIDS has produced intriguing but inconclusive results.

Recent research in China indicates that astragalus may offer antioxidant benefits in people with severe forms of heart disease, relieving symptoms and improving heart function. Because astragalus has many potential applications and few, if any, side effects, it holds promise as an alternative treatment option.


Plant Description

Astragalus is a perennial plant, approximately 16 inches tall, that is native to the northern and eastern parts of China as well as Mongolia. It has hairy stems with leaves made up of 12 to 18 pairs of leaflets. The root is usually harvested from 4-year-old plants.


Parts Used

The dried root is used medicinally.


Medicinal Uses and Indications

Traditional uses include the treatment of the following:

  • Colds and influenza
  • Persistent infection
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Multiple allergies
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fatigue or lack of appetite associated with chemotherapy
  • Anemia
  • Wounds
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Uterine bleeding
  • Prolapsed uterus

It is also used to treat general digestive disturbances, including diarrhea, gas, and bloating.


Available Forms

Astragalus root may be available in a variety of forms:

  • Capsules for internal use
  • Injectable forms for use in clinical settings
  • Ointments for application to the skin

How to Take It

Pediatric

Astragalus may be used in children to support the immune system but should not be used if the child has a fever. The dose should be determined by adjusting the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of astragalus for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage. This dose should be taken once daily for up to one month.

Adult

Recommended doses are as follows:

  • Decoction (strong boiled tea): 3 to 6 g of dried root per 12 oz water
  • Fluid extract (1:1) in 25% ethanol: 2 to 4 mL three times a day
  • Powdered extract (solid): 100 to 150 mg of a product standardized to 0.5% 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy isoflavone. Note: this chemical is only used as a manufacturing marker, not as a guarantee of potency or effectiveness.
  • Ointment: 10% astragalus applied to surface of wound
  • Tincture (1:5) in 30% ethanol: 3 to 5 mL three times a day

Precautions

Astragalus has no known side effects and can be used safely even in individuals who may not tolerate many other supplements.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should consult with your physician before taking any medication, including herbs.


Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use astragalus without first talking to your healthcare provider.

Antiviral medications
Astragalus may increase the effects of some antiviral medications such as acyclovir and interferon.

Cyclophosphamide
Astragalus may also counteract the immune-suppressing effects of cyclophosphamide, a medication used to reduce the chances of rejection in transplant recipients.


Supporting Research

Castillo C, Valencia I, Reyes G, Hong E. An analysis of the antihypertensive properties of 3-nitropropionic acid, a compound from plants in the genus Astragalus [in Spanish]. Arch Inst Cardiol Mex. 1993;63(1):11-16.

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 [in Chinese]. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih. 1995;15(3):141-143.

Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York, NY: DK Publishing; 1996.

Chu DT, Wong WL, Mavligit GM. Immunotherapy with Chinese medicinal herbs. I. Immune restoration of local xenogeneic graft-versus-host reaction in cancer patients by fractionated Astragalus membranaceus in vitro. J Clin Lab Immunol. 1988a;25(3):119-123.

Chu DT, Wong WL, Mavligit GM. Immunotherapy with Chinese medicinal herbs. II. Reversal of cyclophosphamide-induced immune suppression by administration of fractionated Astragalus membranaceus in vivo. J Clin Lab Immunol. 1988b;25(3):125-129.

Hong CY, Ku J, Wu P. Astragalus membranaceus stimulates human sperm motility in vitro. Am J Chin Med. 1992;20(3-4):289-294.

Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs. 2nd ed. New York, NY: CRC Press; 1999.

Khoo KS, Ang PT. Extract of Astragalus membranaceus and Ligustrum lucidum does not prevent cyclophosphamide-induced myelosuppression. Singapore Med J. 1995;36:387-390.

Kurashige A, Akuzawa Y, Endo F. Effects of astragali radix extract on carcinogenesis, cytokine production, and cytotoxicity in mice treated with a carcinogen, N-butyl-Ną-butanolnitrosoamine. Cancer Invest. 1999;17(1):30-35.

Li SQ, Yuan RX, Gao H. Clinical observation on the treatment of ischemic heart disease with Astragalus membranaceus [in Chinese]. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih. 1995;15(2):77-80.

Li XY. Immunomodulating Chinese herbal medicines. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1991;86(suppl 2):159-164.

Luo HM, Dai RH, Li Y. Nuclear cardiology study on effective ingredients of Astragalus membranaceus in treating heart failure [in Chinese]. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih. 1995;15(12):707-709.

Ma J, Peng A, Lin S. Mechanisms of the therapeutic effect of Astragalus membranaceus on sodium and water retention in experimental heart failure. Chin Med J (Engl). 1998;111(1):17-23.

McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, eds. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press; 1997.

Miller L, Murray W, eds. Herbal Medicinals: A Clinician's Guide. New York, NY: Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1998.

Murray M, Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. 2nd ed. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1998.

Peng T, Yang Y, Riesemann H, Kandolf R. The inhibitory effect of Astragalus membranaceus on coxsackie B-3 virus RNA replication. Chin Med Sci J. 1995;10(3):146-150.

Upton R. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium — Astragalus Root. Santa Cruz, Calif: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia; 1999.

Wagner H, Bauer R, Xiao P, Chen J, Offerman F. Chinese drug monographs and analysis — Radix Astragali (Huang Qi). Verlag Fur Ganzheitliche Medizin. 1996;1(8).

Wang LX, Han ZW. The effect of Astragalus polysaccharide on endotoxin-induced toxicity in mice [in Chinese]. Yao Hsueh Hsueh Pao. 1992;27(1):5-9.

White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave Press; 1998: 22, 25.


Review Date: December 2000
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; Marcellus Walker, MD, LAc, St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center, New York, NY; David Winston, Herbalist, Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

 
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Anemia
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Common Cold
Diarrhea
Fibromyalgia
Gastritis
Hepatitis, Viral
Influenza
Peptic Ulcer
Wounds
  Herbs with Similar Uses
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Summary
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