Medically reviewed on June 7, 2018
What is Astragalus?
The genus Astragalus is a large group of more than 2,000 species distributed worldwide, commonly known as milk vetches. The Chinese species A. membranaceus and the related A. mongholicus are thought to be varieties of the same species. Both are perennial herbs native to the northern provinces of China and cultivated in China, Korea, and Japan. The dried root is used medicinally. Astragalus roots are sold as long pieces, which have a tough, fibrous skin with a lighter interior. Some products are produced by frying the roots with honey, although the untreated root itself has a sweet, licorice-like taste.
Astragalus membranaceus, Astragalus mongholicus
Astragalus also is known as membranous mild-vetch, huáng chí, huáng qí, hwanggi, meng gu huang qi, ogi, ougi, and Radix Astragali. It is a component of Jin Fu Kang and other combination products.
What is it used for?
Astragalus root is well-known in traditional Chinese medicine and used principally as a tonic and for treatment of diabetes and kidney inflammation. It is an important component of a Chinese therapy thought to restore immune system function.
The most common use of astragalus root in herbal medicine in the US is to stimulate the immune system after cancer therapy. Some studies also reported extract effects on long-term fatigue and cancer-related fatigue. Clinical trials in Chinese populations with immune-related conditions like lupus, myasthenia gravis, and blindness related to herpes simplex infection showed improved immune function.
Initial interest in the extract for use in HIV treatment has not continued, and there have not been any further clinical trials.
Astragalus often is recommended for the prevention of the common cold. However, there are no published clinical trials that support this use. A small study showed improvements in glucose metabolism in diabetes, and a Chinese trial demonstrated positive effect in chronic kidney disease.
What is the recommended dosage?
There is no recent clinical evidence to guide dosage of astragalus products. However, typical recommendations are for 2 to 6 g of the powdered root daily.
Contraindications have not yet been identified
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
Reports are lacking, but the enhancement of the actions of acyclovir and some anticlotting medicines could occur, as could the suppression of immunostimulant medicines. Drugs that suppress the immune system may also be affected.
Allergy to astragalus
Astragalus extract induced mutations in rats.
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