Astragalus is an herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
It has many purported health benefits, including immune-boosting, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects.
Astragalus is believed to prolong life and used to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as fatigue, allergies and the common cold. It’s also used against heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.
What Is Astragalus?
Astragalus, also known as huáng qí or milkvetch, is most commonly known for its use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Though there are over 2,000 species of astragalus, only two are primarily used in supplements — Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus.
Specifically, the root of the plant is made into many different forms of supplements, including liquid extracts, capsules, powders and teas.
Astragalus is sometimes also given as an injection or by IV in a hospital setting.
The root contains many active plant compounds, which are believed to be responsible for its potential benefits.
For example, its active compounds may help strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation.
There’s still limited research on astragalus, but it has uses in treating the common cold, seasonal allergies, heart conditions, kidney disease, chronic fatigue and more.
1) May Boost Your Immune System
Astragalus contains beneficial plant compounds that may enhance your immune system.
The primary role of your immune system is to protect your body against harmful invaders, including bacteria, germs and viruses that can cause illness.
Some evidence shows that astragalus may increase your body’s production of white blood cells, which are the cells of your immune system responsible for preventing illness.
In animal research, astragalus root has been shown to help kill bacteria and viruses in mice with infections.
Though research is limited, it may also help fight viral infections in humans, including the common cold and infection of the liver.
While these studies are promising, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of astragalus for preventing and treating infections.
2) May Improve Heart Function
Astragalus may help improve heart function in those with certain heart conditions.
It’s thought to widen your blood vessels and increase the amount of blood pumped from your heart.
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.
In another study, patients with heart failure received 60 grams per day of astragalus by IV along with conventional treatment. They also had more significant improvements in symptoms than those receiving standard treatment alone.
However, other studies in patients with heart failure have failed to demonstrate any benefits for heart function.
Additionally, some studies suggest that astragalus may reduce symptoms of myocarditis, an inflammatory condition of the heart. Yet, findings are mixed.
3) May Alleviate Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy has many negative side effects. According to some studies, astragalus may help alleviate some of them.
For example, one clinical study in people undergoing chemotherapy found that astragalus given by IV reduced nausea by 36%, vomiting by 50% and diarrhea by 59%.
Similarly, several other studies have demonstrated benefits of the herb for nausea and vomiting in individuals undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer.
Additionally, one clinical study showed that 500 mg of astragalus by IV three times weekly may improve the extreme tiredness associated with chemotherapy. However, astragalus only appeared to be helpful during the first week of treatment.
4) May Help Control Blood Sugar Levels
The active compounds in astragalus root may help lower blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
In fact, it has been identified as the most frequently prescribed herb to help with diabetes management in China.
In animal and test-tube studies, astragalus has been shown to improve sugar metabolism and reduce blood sugar levels. In one animal study, it also led to weight loss.
Though more research is needed, studies in humans so far point to similar effects.
For example, studies have shown that taking 40–60 grams of astragalus per day has the potential to improve blood sugar levels after fasting and after meals in people with type 2 diabetes when taken daily for up to four months.
5) May Improve Kidney Function
Astragalus may support kidney health by improving blood flow and laboratory markers of kidney function, such as measures of protein in the urine.
Proteinuria is a condition in which abnormal amounts of protein are found in urine, which is a sign that the kidneys may be damaged or not functioning normally.
Astragalus has been shown to improve proteinuria in several studies involving individuals with kidney disease.
It may also help prevent infections in people with reduced kidney function.
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.
There are many preliminary studies on astragalus that indicate the herb may have other potential benefits, including:
- Improved symptoms of chronic fatigue: Some evidence shows astragalus may help improve tiredness in people with chronic fatigue syndrome when combined with other herbal supplements.
- Anticancer effects: In test-tube studies, astragalus has promoted apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in various types of cancer cells.
- Improved seasonal allergy symptoms: Though studies are limited, one clinical study found that 160 mg of astragalus twice daily may reduce sneezing and runny nose in individuals with seasonal allergies.