What is Astragalus?
Astragalus is a plant native to Asia. The Chinese name of the herb, huang qi, means "yellow leader", because the root is yellow and it is considered to be one of the most important herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. The part of the plant used medicinally is the root.
In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is usually made into a decoction - the roots are boiled in water then removed. It's often combined with other herbs, such as ginseng. Astragalus can also be found in supplement form at some health food stores.Other names: Astragalus membranaceous, Huang Qi, Bei Qi, Hwanggi, Milk Vetch
Why Do People Use Astragalus?
Astragalus is used in traditional Chinese medicine for night sweats, diarrhea and for energy tonics that are taken daily at certain times of the year.
1) Immune Function
One of the key uses for astragalus is to improve immune function. Although more evidence is needed, one of the ways astragalus is thought to work is by increasing the production of immune cells. It may also have mild antiviral activity and help with the prevention of colds. There's little evidence from human studies, however, on the effectiveness of astragalus as an antiviral.
Astragalus is also used for various heart conditions. It may have a diuretic effect which would lower blood pressure and it may cause blood vessels to relax. It hasn't been explored in human studies, so it shouldn't be used as a replacement for conventional care.
Side Effects and Safety Concerns
People with autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes or systemic lupus erythematosus shouldn't use astragalus unless recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner. People who have had transplant surgery should not use astragalus.
The safety of astragalus in pregnant or nursing women or children isn't known.
Astragalus may interfere with the effectiveness of corticosteroid medications, such as:
- Nasacort (triamcinolone)
- Beconase, Vancenase (beclomethasone)
- Decadron (dexamethasone)
- Deltasone (prednisone)
- Medrol (methylprednisolone)
Astragalus may decrease the effectiveness of drugs that suppress the immune system, such as Imuran (azathioprine), CellCept, cyclosporine, Prograf, Rapamune and Zenapak.
Theoretically, astragalus can increase the effectiveness of antiviral medications such as acyclovir and amantadine.