Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) is an Asian plant that’s been used medicinally for centuries. It is called “yellow life energy” in Chinese, which is the word for huang qi.
This is because the root is yellow, and Traditional Chinese Medicine thinks it is one of the most useful herbs (TCM). But Western research hasn’t shown much proof of how well it works yet.
This article looks at the claims about astragalus, what research says about them, possible risks, safe and unsafe doses, and how to buy and store astragalus.
Astragalus is the active ingredient.
● Alternate Name(s): Huang qi, Astragalus membranaceous, bei qi, hwanggi, milk vetch
Legal Status: It can be taken as a liquid, capsule, tablet, intravenously, or by breathing it in.
Dosage: 5 to 60 grammes per day for up to 4 months123
Astragalus has effects on the immune system.4 It shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding, by infants or children, or by people with autoimmune diseases like lupus or type 1 diabetes, or by people who are getting immunosuppressive therapy for cancer or other diseases.
Astragalus is used for:
Astragalus is used to treat a wide range of illnesses in TCM. Scientists have started looking into it as a possible cure for:
Disease of the heart
Problems caused by diabetes7
COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Astragalus is also used to treat constipation, allergies, the common cold, and upper respiratory infections in some people.
But researchers need to do more and better studies on humans before anyone can say for sure if it is safe and effective for any medical use. So far, the research should be seen as preliminary.
The way you use supplements should be based on your needs and health history, and a doctor, pharmacist, or registered dietitian should give you the okay. No supplement is meant to treat, cure, or keep you from getting sick.
In 2016, a study looked at how taking astragalus by mouth could help keep children from getting acute respiratory tract infections. Researchers came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough proof to support this use.5
Astragalus membranaceus was also tested on a small group of adult rowers to see how it affected the immune system after exercise.3 The small, double-blind study used doses of 500 milligrammes (mg) during an intense 6-week training camp.
The people in the treatment group got better than those in the control group. But the study was too small to tell if it changes how the immune system works or not.
Scientists have looked at astragalus for a number of heart problems. It might make you pee more, which could lower your blood pressure and loosen up your blood vessels.
A small study on astragalus for high blood pressure after menopause (hypertension) and metabolic syndrome showed that it might be helpful.2
The study compared the regular treatment to the regular treatment plus either 5 grammes or 10 grammes of astragalus per day.
After a year, those who took 10 grammes of astragalus had lower diastolic blood pressure, smaller waists, and a better ratio of waist to hips. Even though this looks good, more research is still needed.2
A review of studies on Astragalus membranaceous in both people and animals showed that it may help treat viral myocarditis, which is an infection of the heart muscle. In the group that took astragalus, harmful enzymes and levels of troponin (a protein that shows heart damage) went down.
Researchers came to the conclusion that:
Antifibrotic (prevents the thickening and scarring of damaged connective tissue)
Again, more research is needed before astragalus can be recommended to treat viral myocarditis.6
Diabetes can cause complications, such as diabetic kidney disease.
Astragalus has been looked at as a treatment for kidney disease caused by diabetes.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies showed that both taking astragalus by mouth and getting it injected may reduce the loss of protein in urine and the amount of serum creatinine in people with diabetic kidney disease7.
Since there aren’t many good studies, more research is needed.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (COPD)
In studies of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inhaled form of astragalus improved breathing measures 14 days after treatment, such as forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and FEV1/forced vital capacity (FVC).
Researchers also found that it helped people with COPD whose symptoms were getting worse quickly. But more research needs to be done before astragalus can be recommended for COPD.
What Does Astragalus Do to Your Body?
Even “natural” products, like astragalus, can have side effects you don’t want.
Effects that happen often
Some common astragalus side effects may include:
Sickness and loose stools
We don’t know what the long-term side effects are because no studies have been done for more than four months.
Effects That Are Bad
Astragalus is not likely to cause many serious side effects. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any questions you might have.
Astragalus may cause immunomodulation, which is a change or increase in the immune response of your body.4 You shouldn’t use astragalus without a doctor’s advice if you have an autoimmune disease like:
The disease Crohn’s
Type 1 diabetes
Lupus erythematosus systemic (SLE)
If you’ve had an organ transplant, you shouldn’t use astragalus either.
Also, keep in mind that the safety of supplements isn’t usually known for children, people with long-term illnesses, people who take prescription drugs, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How much of the plant should I take?
Researchers don’t have enough scientific data to say how much astragalus is right for different age groups or conditions.
The right dose for you may depend on your age, sex, and medical history, among other things. Talk to your doctor for personalised advice, and always let them know what herbs or supplements you’re taking.
If I take too much astragalus, what will happen?
So far, researchers haven’t come up with a recommended daily dose or an upper limit of how much astragalus is safe to take. If you take too much, you are more likely to have side effects.
If you think you may have taken too much astragalus, call your doctor right away for more information or get emergency medical help.
Astragalus may not work well with more than one group of medicines.
Antivirals: In theory, astragalus could change how well antiviral drugs like acyclovir and amantadine work.
Blood pressure medicines: Astragalus can lower blood pressure.9 Taking it with blood pressure medicines could cause dangerously low blood pressure.
Cancer treatments: In mice, astragalus reduces the amount of oestrogen in the body.10 This means that it may make some cancer treatments that work by lowering oestrogen less effective.
Diuretics and drugs that are affected by diuretics: The diuretic effects of astragalus may affect how well your body processes some drugs. It may also interact with other medicines that make you pee a lot.
Immunomodulators: Astragalus has effects on the immune system.8 It may interact with medicines that suppress or boost the immune system.
Astragalus may also interact with other herbs and supplements that have similar effects to the drugs listed above.
Make sure to carefully read a supplement’s list of ingredients and nutrition facts so you know what’s in it and in what amounts. Always talk to your doctor or nurse about this information and any possible interactions with foods, medicines, or other supplements.
Testing by a third party
In the United States, dietary supplements are not regulated. This means that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not check to make sure they are safe and effective before they can be sold. Try to pick supplements that have been tested by a third party you can trust, like:
Testing doesn’t guarantee that a product is safe and works, but it does mean that the ingredients match what’s on the label and that it hasn’t been tampered with.
Where to find it and what to look for
Most of the time, a decoction is made with astragalus in TCM. The roots are put in water and boiled, then taken out. It is usually mixed with other herbs, like ginseng.
Most health food stores sell Astragalus in the form of a supplement. In some places, you can buy the raw root, but most of the time, the herb is sold in capsule, liquid, or tablet form.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that if you want to buy astragalus or any other supplement, you should look for a Supplement Facts label on the package. This label will have important information about the active ingredients and other ingredients that have been added (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).
You can buy astragalus supplements at health food stores or on the internet. Astragalus comes in tablet, capsule, liquid, and powder forms. Some astragalus supplements come from the root, while others might come from an extract of the root.
Astragalus root might be sold at specialty markets, and it can be used to make tea. Astragalus has been used in hospitals as an injection, but not much is known about how safe or effective it is. There are also forms that you can breathe in.
Astragalus: How to Keep It
Astragalus should be kept in a cool, dry place out of the sun.
If the “use by” date on the package for an astragalus product has passed, don’t use it and throw it away.
Keep astragalus away from children and animals.
Some supplements are thought to be like astragalus.
TCM has used astragalus for a very long time. But so far, Western research isn’t sure if it’s safe and if it works for any condition. Some early research has shown promise in areas like COPD, heart disease, diabetic kidney disease, and supporting the immune system.
Watch out for possible side effects if you take astragalus. You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible drug interactions.
You shouldn’t take astragalus if you have an autoimmune disease, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, if you’ve had an organ transplant, if you have a long-term illness, or if you’re taking a medicine that could react with it. No safe dosages have been found.