Astragalus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Its main use has been to boost the body's immune system. But it also has been used to treat other conditions, including heart disease. That raises the question of exactly what heart benefits astragalus might offer. And if it does offer heart benefits, are there side effects you should know about? Who should and who shouldn't use astragalus?
Astragalus is also called huang qi or milk vetch. It comes from a type of bean or legume. While there are multiple species of astragalus, most astragalus supplements contain Astragalus membranaceus. The herb is said to offer multiple health benefits for multiple conditions, including heart benefits.
Astragalus appears to work by stimulating the immune system. It has antioxidant effects that inhibit free radical production. In the body, free radicals damage cells and are linked to many health problems associated with aging. There is, though, no known way to stop free radicals completely.
What Is Astragalus Used For?
Astragalus is a natural dietary supplement that's used for various health conditions. For instance, it's used to treat the common cold, upper respiratory infections, fibromyalgia, and diabetes. Some proponents of astragalus use it for its heart benefits. They claim it may protect against heart disease. It's also used to help improve overall weakness.
Proponents also say astragalus stimulates the spleen, liver, lungs, circulatory, and urinary system. It's also used to treat arthritis, asthma, and nervous conditions as well as to lower blood sugar and blood pressure.
Does Astragalus Root Have Heart Benefits?
Astragalus is often promoted for its effects on the immune system, liver, and cardiovascular system. There is, though, little research to suggest that astragalus can help protect the heart in humans. More research is needed before experts can make any firm recommendations about using astragalus for its heart benefits.
Astragalus has also been tested for breast cancer, the common cold, hepatitis, and lung cancer. Some preliminary studies suggest a possible benefit. But as with heart benefits, more medical research is needed to understand if astragalus can help with these other health problems.
Are There Side Effects With Astragalus?
Astragalus is usually taken in combination with other herbal supplements. When used appropriately, astragalus appears to be very safe and to have few side effects. Very high doses may suppress the immune system. So you should avoid using astragalus if you are taking immune-suppressing drugs.
Pregnant or nursing women should not use astragalus root. If you have an immune system disease such as multiple sclerosis, lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis, or another condition known as an "autoimmune disease," you should not use astragalus root.
As with any herbal supplement, always check with your health care provider before taking astragalus root.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: "Astragalus Root: Monograph."
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Astragalus."
American Cancer Society: "Astragalus."
The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: "Herbal/Plant Therapies: Astragalus."
University of Maryland Medical Center: "Astragalus."