Astragalus root & the immune system research
Astragalus & Angina - Astragalus & Hepatitus
Chinese herbal medicine practitioners most commonly use Astragalus (Astragalus
membranaceus) as a general tonic and specifically for boosting the immune
system. Most research on astragalus has focused on its immunostimulatory
activity and its apparently powerful ability to restore the activity of a
suppressed immune system. Clinical trials as well as pharmacological data provide
evidence for its usefulness in the prevention of the common cold and as an
adjunct to cancer therapies. It is also useful as a complementary treatment
during chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immune deficiency syndromes.1-3
In traditional Chinese medicine and Western clinical herbal medicine,
astragalus is usually used in combination with other herbal remedies and is
very seldom used as a single herbal treatment. Pharmacological research of
astragalus in combination with ligustrum (Ligustrum lucidum) provides
evidence for activity against cancers of the breast, cervix and lung.
A number of clinical studies have been reported regarding the use of
astragalus for colds and upper respiratory infections. A prophylactic effect
against the common cold was reported in an epidemiological study in China involving 1,000 subjects.
Administration of astragalus, given either orally or as a nasal spray,
decreased the incidence of illness and shortened the length of its course.
Studies exploring this protective effect found that a two-week oral
administration of the preparation enhanced subjects induction of interferon by
peripheral white blood cells. Levels of IgA and IgG (immunoglobulin) antibodies
in nasal secretions increased following two months of treatment.4
The effect of astragalus on the induction of interferon was studied in
another placebo-controlled study involving 28 people. Fourteen volunteers were
given an extract equivalent to 8 g dried root per day and 14 were given
placebos. Blood samples were drawn before treatment, then two weeks and two
months after treatment. Interferon production by leukocytes was statistically
increased after both time periods.5
astragalus is widely used in the treatment of cancer, both as a primary treatment
and as an adjunct to conventional therapies. It is most often combined with
other similarly acting immune-enhancing botanicals. A number of randomized
prospective clinical studies of cancer patients were conducted using an
undisclosed quantity combination of astragalus and ligustrum. The positive effects have therefore to be considered to be due to
the cumulative effects of the two botanicals and cannot be presumed to occur
with astragalus alone.
According to a review article, breast cancer patients given a combination of
astragalus and ligustrum as an adjunct to irradiation treatments showed a
statistically significant decrease in deaths from one in two to one in 10. The
authors cited an additional study in which patients with stage II and stage III
cervical carcinoma who were given the herbs as an adjunct to irradiation showed
a slight, though not statistically significant, increase in survival and
disease-free state. In another study of patients with advanced non-small-cell
lung cancer, the effectiveness of conventional chemotherapy (chemotherapeutic
regimen not reported) was compared to the effectiveness of chemotherapy in
conjunction with the same astragalus-ligustrum preparation. Those with squamous
carcinoma of the lung showed a significant increase in mean survival time from
204 to 465 days, and those with adenocarcinoma showed a less significant
increase in survival time from 192 to 324 days.6
In another review, it was reported that 53 cases of chronic leukopenia
responded favorably to an astragalus extract (1:1; 2 mL daily intramuscularly
for one to two weeks). Improvements in symptoms and white blood cell counts
were observed, but specific data were lacking.4
1. Rou M, Renfu X. The effect of radix Astragali on mouse marrow hemopoesis. J Trad Chin Med 1983;3(3):199-204.
2. Sun Y, et al. Immune restoration and/or
augmentation of local graft-versus-host reaction by traditional Chinese
medicinal herbs. Cancer 1983;52(1):70-3.
3. Sun Y, et al. Preliminary observations on the
effects of the Chinese medicinal herbs Astragalus membranaceus and
Ligustrum lucidum on lymphocyte blastogenic response. J Biol Respon
4. Chang HM, But PH, editors. Pharmacology and
applications of Chinese materia medica. Yeung S, et al, translators.
Singapore: World Sci; 1987, vol. 2. 1,320
5. Hou Y, et al. Interferon induction and
lymphocyte transformation stimulated by Astragalus membranaceus in
mouse spleen cell cultures. Zhonghua Weisheng Wuxue Hemian Yixue Zazhi
6. Morazzoni P, Bombardelli E. Astragalus
membranaceus (Fisch) Bunge. Scientific documentation 30 Mar 1994.
Milano (Italy): Indena SpA. 1994 Mar:1-18
Monographs on Astragalus and the immune system
- Astragalus membranaceus monograph. Alternative Medicine Review, Volume 8,
Number 1, 2003.
Peer- reviewed publication/ Individual studies
-Liu ZG, Xiong ZM, Yu XY Effect of astragalus injection on immune function in patients with congestive heart failure. Affiliated LiyuanHospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430077. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2003 May;23(5):351-3 PMID: 12800417[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
- Duan P, Wang ZM. Clinical study on effect of Astragalus in efficacy enhancing and toxicity reducing of chemotherapy in patients of malignant tumor. Chengdu First Peopte's Hospital, Chengdu 610016. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2002 Jul;22(7):515-7. PMID: 12592686 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
- Mao SP, Cheng KL, Zhou YF. Modulatory effect of Astragalus membranaceus on
Th1/Th2 cytokine in patients with herpes simplex keratitis. Department of
Ophthalmology, College of Applied Science and Technology, Chongqing University of Medical Sciences, Chongqing 400050. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2004 Feb;24(2):121-3. PMID: 15015443 [PubMed -indexed for MEDLINE]
- Gu W, Yang YZ, He MX A study on combination therapy of Western and traditional Chinese medicine of acute viral myocarditis Department of Cardiology, Zhongshan Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Medical University. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1996 Dec;16(12):713-6 PMID: 9772585 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLIN
Astragalus & Angina
Many of the studies on Astragalus have been conducted in China and do not stand up
to Western medical scrutiny where double blind trials are preferred. One study
by Li SQ et al monitored 92 patients suffering from angina who were given the
Chinese herbal medicine Astragalus membranaceus compared with a control group
of patients who were given the drugs Nifedipine and Tab. Salviae miltiorrhizae.
The data revealed that group treated with Astragalus membranaceus experienced
far better results.