Astragalus membranaceous (aka Huang Qi or Milkvetch) is a Traditional Chinese Herb for Qi and blood deficiency, and used as an immune tonic and for fatigue.
Watch the video below for a summary of the research into this fantastic herb:
Astragalus is one of the most commonly used herbs prescribed by Chinese herbalists and is thought to nourish the Qi (energy) and blood. Its benefit to the blood is confirmed in a small study of chronic aplastic anaemia, a severe blood deficiency disease, where it significantly improved blood and immune system markers and improved bone marrow function (where our blood is made) (1).
It is also traditionally used for dizziness and fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding, rectal and uterine prolapses, frequent infections, water retention and oedema, to help ulcers and wounds heal, and for long term numbness or paralysis. Several studies show Astragalus can significantly help fatigue from different causes including post-stroke (2) and in patients with chronic fatigue (combined with Chinese sage, Dan Shen) (3).
Traditionally thought to improve exhaustion, shortness of breath and wheezing…
Astragalus is used traditionally as a lung tonic. A small study on children with asthma taking Astragalus showed that it was an effective therapy, when taken throughout the year, to prevent asthma symptoms and improve immune system markers for asthma (4). Patients with severe episodes of COPD (lung disease) had an improvement in lung function when taking Astragalus for 14 days (5).
Research shows it is very safe…
Astragalus is considered a very safe herb with few side effects. It is likely safe in pregnancy as it has been used for clinical studies on pregnant women (see below for gestational diabetes) and children (growth and β-thalassemia (5)) with no adverse effects.
Studies show it may help fatigue after illness or chemotherapy and that it can help symptoms of heart failure…
Astragalus was shown to reduce the toxic side effects of chemotherapy, improve immune system function and suppress cancer growth in cancer patients given Astragalus alongside chemotherapy (6). A significant improvement in quality of life, symptoms and length of life was seen in patients treated with Astragalus alongside chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer (7). The symptoms of exhaustion, shortness of breath and wheezing are common symptoms of heart failure.
Astragalus in doses 4.5-7g daily significantly improved heart function, symptoms and quality of life in patients with heart failure over 1 month (8), and in several other studies it improved heart damage markers and heart function (9)(10)(11). It may also be beneficial for heart function in the time after a heart attack (12) and Astragalus given to patients having open heart surgery helped protect the heart from damage from the bypass machine (13), (14).
Research shows it may also be helpful for fixing a damaged gut…
Animal studies show Astragalus can act as a prebiotic and improve both the gut flora (micro-organisms in the gut very important for health) and also immune system function (13). In Chinese medicine, Huang Qi (Astragalus) is a spleen herb which loosely translates as being good for the energy and digestion, helping symptoms of bloating.
Astragalus may help hay fever and allergic rhinitis…
Patients with moderate to severe hay fever who took Astragalus for 6 weeks experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life (14).
Good for helping diabetes and kidney disease…
Astragalus can improve blood sugar control in Type 2 diabetics (15). It can also help diabetic complications including kidney disease (16) and foot ulcers. A combination of Astragalus and Rehmannia Root significantly improved ulcer healing and improved sensation over 6 months in patients with diabetic foot ulcers (17).
Astragalus is shown to improve kidney function in kidney disease (18) and has been shown to reduce markers of kidney failure in combination with Chinese Angelica Root (Dang Gut) (19). When Astragalus is given when patients undergo a heart bypass (which can damage the kidney) their kidney function was protected (20).
Astragalus is an important herb for increasing immunity…
Several studies show Astragalus can improve immune system markers and white cell (immune cell) tests. This includes a study of patients with low immunity (leucopenia) on blood test (21) in which it significantly increased the function of their immune system. Patients with COPD (lung disease) had a significant improvement in blood markers of their immune system when taking Astragalus over 14 days, which would help them fight off infection more effectively (5).
In children with leukaemia given injections of Astragalus it improved immune markers, reduced chemotherapy side effects and reduced their chance of dying from an infection during cancer treatment (22). In patients with tuberculosis (a serious lung infection) those receiving treatment with Astragalus had a significant improvement in both their immune system function and fighting off the disease (23). It may also help immune function and make treatment more effective in autoimmune diseases like lupus (24).
It may also help:
- Gestational diabetes – Women with gestational diabetes requiring insulin had a significant improvement in blood sugar levels and anti-oxidant activity (health-protective markers) after taking Astragalus (25).
- Growth in children – Astragalus given to children of short stature between 6-8yrs significantly improved growth and height compared to placebo (26).
- Burns – Patients with burns given Astragalus had a better healing reaction and protection from complications when taking Astragalus (27).
- Herpes simplex keratitis (viral eye infection) – There was improved immune function and blood markers in patients treated with Astragalus (28).
- Graves disease (hyperthyroidism) – Astragalus improved symptoms of sweating and palpitations and helped regulate immune function in patient’s with Grave’s disease (29).
Dr Jess says: One of my most important Chinese herbs, it is in most of my Chinese herbal prescriptions and a must for any of my patients with low energy or serious health complaints.
A wonderful restorative and energising herb that I have seen give great results for fatigue, preventing infection and helping the immune system. It is also traditionally used for prolapses and I have seen an improvement in many womens’ symptoms particularly of heaviness and dragging sensations, when taking this herb for a few months.
HOW TO TAKE ASTRAGALUS
Consult your healthcare provider before taking this supplement especially if you have an autoimmune condition, are pregnant, nursing or on any other medication. Organ transplant patients should not take Astragalus as it interferes with cyclophosphamide.
In chicken soup – In China a handful of chopped, dried Astragalus root (called Huang Qi) is often added to nourishing soup (along with Goji berries) to help strengthen and prevent infections, it is mild tasting and a great addition to winter broths.
Make a decocted tea – Add 2 tsp of chopped, dried Astragalus root to 300ml of water in a pan and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and drink. Chinese herbs are traditionally cooked and taken this way. Astragalus combines well with goji berries and liquorice root.
Astragalus root powder – 1-2 tsp of powder can be stirred into drinks or yoghurt and taken daily. (Indigo herbs is a good brand).
Astragalus capsules – Astragalus can be taken in capsule form taking 2-6 capsules daily at times of stress, fatigue or to stop coughs and colds.
Astragalus tincture – Astragalus can be made into an alcoholic tincture by medical herbalists and should be taken at the recommended dosage by your practitioner.