6 Astragalus Benefits: Dosage & Safety

Astragalus is a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for immune health. Traditionally, it was used to treat weakness, wounds, anemia, fever, multiple allergies, chronic fatigue, …

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Written by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Astragalus is a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for immune health.

Traditionally, it was used to treat weakness, wounds, anemia, fever, multiple allergies, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, uterine bleeding, and uterine prolapse (Kim et al., 2003).

Clinically, it is used to treat chronic phlegmatic disorders and general gastrointestinal disturbances including stomach ulcers and diarrhea.

In this article, we will look at the health benefits of astragalus, its safety, and its history.

health benefits of astragalus

What is Astragalus?

Astragalus is a perennial herb in the Fabaceae (i.e. legume) family. It was originally native to Asia, growing throughout inner Mongolia and Tibet.

The scientific name for this herb is Astragalus membranaceus, but it’s commonly called astragalus, huangqi (china), astragali radix, or Mongolian milkvetch.

There are many different types of astragalus, in fact, it’s reported that there are 2,000 different varieties of astragalus.

This plant contains a unique group of phytochemicals known as astragalosides, which are thought to be the key to astragalus health benefits.

Astragalus is classified as an adaptogenic herb by some.

It was traditionally used throughout Asia to treat weakness, wounds, anemia, fever, multiple allergies, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, uterine bleeding, and uterine prolapse (Kim et al., 2003).

Clinically, it is used to treat chronic phlegmatic disorders and general gastrointestinal disturbances including stomach ulcers and diarrhea.

Health Benefits of Astragalus:

There are many health benefits of astragalus. Most of the scientific research on this herb has been done via test-tube research or animal studies, there are only a handful of human clinical trials.

health benefits of astragalus

1. May Support Immune Health

Astragalus benefits the immune system via its immunoregulatory properties.

Evidence suggests that astragalus can increase macrophage activity. Macrophages are immune cells that engulf and remove pathogens from the human body. Macrophages are a key part of the body’s innate immune response. Innate immunity can be thought of as your immune system’s quick response team, its goal is to quickly attack and destroy invading pathogens.

A clinical study conducted in the 1970s showed that high doses of astragalus (15.6g daily) helped to increase various markers of immune health, including serum IgM, IgE, and cAMP.

One study found that astragalus has a significant immunological activity when compounded with human vaccines.

An animal study found that astragalus was effective in avian influenza virus in chickens. The researchers also noted that this herb worked to increase overall immunity.

A lab-based study found that astragalus displayed anti-influenza virus activity.

In line with its other antiviral benefits, astragalus has been shown to be effective in combatting the Epstein-Barr virus in the lab.

Summary:

Lab-based studies indicate that astragalus is an effective herb for improving innate immunity. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.

2. May Support Heart Health

Astragalus has been studied extensively for its ability to help with viral myocarditis.

Viral myocarditis is defined as an inflammatory disease that injures the muscular tissues of the heart.

Research indicates that astragalus may be able to support individuals with viral myocarditis through its antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.

All of the clinical research on astragalus and myocarditis has been conducted in China. In these studies, a traditional patented form of astragalus is utilized. It is administered via an IV drip.

A meta-analysis of astragalus and myocarditis, which involved over 2,522 participants across 28 clinical trials, found that astragalus significantly reduced serum myocardial enzymes and cardiac troponin I levels and improved clinical treatment efficiency compared with the control group. The researchers noted that there was no significant difference in the incidence of adverse reactions.

The researcher who conducted the meta-analysis noted that some of the clinical trials had poor execution and/or methodologies. They advocated for more in-depth, robust studies to be conducted to further verify the effectiveness of astragalus for myocarditis.

Summary:

It appears that astragalus may be beneficial for helping to treat those with myocarditis. More robust clinical trials are needed to verify exact dosing and protocols.

3. Cancer-Fighting Properties

Astragalus has been heavily studied in the laboratory for its potential anti-cancer properties.

In recent years, over 20 different studies have looked at astragalus and its potential for helping fight against cancer.

It’s thought that astragalus’ characteristic antitumor properties work by enhancing the body’s immunity.

It’s studied via three different mechanisms:

  • Inhibition of tumor cell proliferation
  • Promote tumor cells apoptosis
  • Inhibit tumor cell metastasis

It should be noted that these studies are all lab-based.

Additionally, a human clinical trial conducted in China showed that astragalus helped to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. It also helped to reduce the toxicity of the treatment. This study involved 120 individuals with malignant tumors.

The researchers noted that astragalus combined with chemotherapy could inhibit the development of tumors, decrease the toxic-adverse effect of chemotherapy, elevate the immune function of the organism and improve the quality of life in patients.

Summary:

Research shows that astragalus may have anti-cancer properties. Further human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.

4. Anti-Aging Properties

Research shows that astragalus benefits the body’s ability to age healthily.

Research shows that free radicals (i.e. unstable molecules) in the body can break down healthy cells, which accelerates the aging process. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals and eliminate them from your body.

Astragalus has strong antioxidant properties, which may lead to its ability to promote healthy aging.

A lab-based study found that astragalus, in combination with angelica (angelica sinensis), demonstrates resistance to oxidation, and is able to scavenge free radicals, improve oxidative stress, inhibit lipid peroxidation, and chelate iron ions.

Another in vitro study found that astragalus increases superoxide dismutase, the body’s front-line defense against reactive oxygen species. Additionally, the researchers found that it blocks the production of malondialdehyde, a reactive molecule that is used as a marker for oxidative stress.

An animal study found that astragalus helped to improve glutathione and total antioxidant capacity.

Summary:

Lab research shows that astragalus has strong anti-oxidant properties. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.

5. May Reduce Respiratory Inflammation

Astragalus is considered one of the best herbs for reducing asthmatic symptoms.

In a study involving 80 children with asthma, researchers discovered that astragalus increased the volume of air that the participants were able to breathe out during a forced expiratory test. It is thought that the anti-inflammatory properties found in astragalus were responsible for this result.

Research involving 28 asthmatic adults found that taking an herbal blend of astragalus, Dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula), and Chinese liquorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) significantly improved the amount of air that the study participants were able to forcibly exhale from the lungs.

In an animal study observing asthmatic mice, astragalus extract was found to have the ability to decrease airway inflammation and hyperresponsiveness.

In another animal study involving mice with allergy-induced asthma, researchers found that astragalus was capable of not only reducing lung inflammation but also decreasing the amount of mucus secreted in the lung tissues.

Summary:

Astragalus may show evidence of being able to reduce lung inflammation, however, additional human studies are required to confirm these findings.

6. Other Benefits

Other purported astragalus benefits include:

  • Tick Prevention – Herbalist Stephen Buhner recommends taking astragalus daily to help prevent tick bites
  • Blood Sugar Regulation – A range of in vitro and animal studies have shown that astragalus can help to stabilize blood sugar levels. Additionally, a study in women with gestational diabetes found that astragalus helped to effectively control blood glucose levels
  • Antiviral Properties Lab studies show that astragalus has antiviral activity

Summary:

Astragalus has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
astragalus and its benefits

Astragalus Safety:

Safety Class: 1

Interaction Class: B

The Botanical Safety Handbook put astragalus in the safety class of 1, meaning it can be safely used when appropriately consumed.

It has an interaction class of “B” which suggests that it should not be used during pregnancy.

In general, this herb is well tolerated and safe to take for most individuals.

Pregnancy & Lactation:

It’s not recommended to take astragalus during pregnancy unless under the supervision of an experienced physician.

Dosing:

Standard dosing for astragalus is as follows:

Tincture: 4-8mL per day of a 1:2 liquid extract

Decoction: 10-30g per day of dried root by decoction (larger doses have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for specific cases)

Sustainability of Astragalus:

Astragalus is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list of plants that are sensitive to the impact of human activities.

According to an ecological study, field cultivated astragalus is the leading product available in the Chinese market. Hence, there is no fear of overharvesting wild populations of this plant.

Naming & Taxonomy:

Astragalus’ scientific name is Astragalus membranaceus. It’s a perennial plant that belongs to the Fabaceae (i.e. legume) family of plants.

The name “astragalus” comes from a Greek word that references a traditional view about astragalus’ positive effect on goat milk production.

Other names for astragalus include Mongolian milkvetch, huáng qí (China), Astragali radix, ogi (Japan), and hwanggi (Korea).

Astragalus grows throughout China, primarily in Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Gansu, Hebei, and the Ningxia Province.

History & Traditional Use:

In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is classified as a herb that tonifies the Qi (energy) and blood (nutrition), hence it is used for postpartum fever and recovery from severe loss of blood.

It was said to tonify the spleen and rase the yang qi of the spleen and stomach.

It was also said to promote urination, tissue healing, and discharge of pus.

Astragalus has sweet and slightly warming properties.

Conclusion:

Astragalus appears to be a safe and well-tolerated herb.

Common usage tells us that this herb is helpful for immune health and heart health.

It also appears that this herb has strong anti-aging properties.

Bone, K. & Mill, S. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy. Churchill Livingston Press.

Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd edition). American Herbal Products Association.

Institute of Epidemic Prevention (1978). Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. 4:4

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About Daniel Powers, MS

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.

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