What is Astragalus?
Astragalus is a genus of plants (there are more than 2,000 species) that primarily consists of herbs and small shrubs. These types of plants grow in most temperate climates within the Northern Hemisphere (x).
Astralagus isn’t the most well-known herb. In fact, it goes by several different names — milkvetch or locoweed. However, that’s not to say it hasn’t played a significant role as an herbal medication through the years.
For centuries, the astragalus plant has been a key component in herbal medicine in regions of China and Persia. Traditional Chinese medicinal practices include the use of astragalus to strengthen qi or ch’i and other superficial resistances. The herb can also extract pus from infected wounds to promote new tissue growth.
Beyond its traditional medical uses, astragalus serves as a dietary supplement (in the form of powder, extract or capsules) to help relieve ailments such as diarrhea, fatigue, eating disorders, heart disease, fibromyalgia, hepatitis and more. The plant’s root itself contains a high concentration of nutrients and is commonly present in soups or stews, teas, extracts, powders and capsules for the added health benefits (x, x).
Astragalus Extract Benefits
The most widely accepted benefit of astragalus root and astragalus supplements (extracts, powders and capsules) is its ability to boost the functions of the body’s immune system. This is why it has been such a popular herb throughout history. And although there have been limited clinical trials done on humans, the herb does have an array of health benefits, including its ability to improve cardiovascular health and promote healthy liver function (x).
Supports Immune System Health
Within the medical communities, astragalus is a known immunostimulant, interacting with our bodies to help stimulate our immune system. Immunostimulants can increase your white blood cell count and increase the natural production of antibodies. This process is what helps your body fight viruses and harmful bacteria. However, as an immunostimulant, it can be dangerous for those with autoimmune disorders. Consult your physician to see how astragalus will interact with any preexisting conditions before adding it to your diet (x).
Astragalus has been revered for decades as a vital part of a healthy and strong diet to promote longevity. It is possible that astragalus may invigorate the body’s energy (the Chinese call this qi or ch’i) and strengthen bodily functions. This is due to the immunostimulant properties that astragalus naturally possesses. However, it is hard to say that it really does promote longevity (x).
Promotes Cardiovascular Health
There is somewhat limited scientific evidence available to support the claims that astragalus promotes the health of the cardiovascular system. Some research suggests that the flavonoids in the astragalus plant can assist in the prevention of plaque buildup within major arteries. These studies also claim that astragalus may have another cardio-protective effect — the prevention of narrowing blood vessels by protecting the inner blood vessel walls. When paired with conventional prescribed medications for heart disease and disorders, many patients have experienced better results with improved heart function. This is evidenced by their ability to walk longer distances than those who only used the prescribed conventional heart medications (x, x).
Since astragalus can support immune system health, it can also stimulate overall liver health and function. In isolated cases, it has helped treat symptoms of fatty liver disease. One study conducted on mice and other animals showed that astragalus root significantly reduced liver injury (x, x).
Treating Other Medical Conditions
The use of astragalus supplements is reportedly effective in treating ailments of the spleen, liver, lungs, circulatory and urinary system. It’s also claimed to be effective in treating arthritis, asthma, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. However, many of these claims are not supported by extensive scientific clinical studies done on humans (x, x).
Astragalus Extract Side Effects
Although astragalus (in natural or supplemental form) is often safe for many adults, there have been many reported side effects. The most common side effects include diarrhea and some mild gastrointestinal effects. It is important that you consult a trusted health care professional before adding supplements of any kind to your diet. Astragalus could potentially interact negatively with certain medications, especially medications that suppress the immune system like those taken after organ transplants or throughout cancer treatments. If you have a severe allergy to legumes of any sort, you could have a negative reaction to astragalus and should ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe for you (x).
Women that are pregnant or breastfeeding their children should not use astragalus supplements or eat any form of astragalus root. Although some studies suggest that astragalus can be beneficial for the treatment of fibromyalgia, it should generally be avoided if you have an autoimmune disorder of any kind. Astragalus has the ability to make your immune system more active, sometimes causing autoimmune disorder symptoms to worsen (x).
There are some species of astragalus, usually the locoweed variety, that contain the neurotoxin swainsonine. This neurotoxin can poison many animals and be very toxic to humans. Another species contains potentially toxic levels of selenium. However, these varieties of astragalus are not often present in most dietary supplements (x, x).
Astragalus Extract Dosage
As with any herbal supplement, proper dosage can vary depending on a bevy of factors. It is best to take 1,300 mg (roughly ¼ tsp) daily, with meals, or as directed by your physician. The dosage amounts recommended are for adults only, and there is currently insufficient information available on astragalus consumption for children (x).
The Bottom Line
Although it has been used medicinally for centuries, there are still very few well-designed clinical studies concluding all of the possible health benefits of astragalus as a supplement. This is partly because astragalus is often mixed with other herbs and medicines, making it difficult to understand its benefits. There are extensive claims aiming to prove the supernatural power of astragalus, but the only thing that has been clinically proven at this time is that it is a powerful immunostimulant and will help protect your body against viruses or bacteria and strengthen your overall immunity. As with any supplement, it is important to keep any preexisting conditions and current medications in mind. Some may not pair well with astragalus. Always consult a trusted health care professional before implementing a supplement into your diet.