Astragalus is a flowering plant native to China and Korea. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the root of the astragalus plant is used as a tonic and adaptogen. The root is sliced and dried, then it’s ground into a powder, steeped as tea, or even added to the stock in stews. Research today finds that it stimulates the immune system and promotes homeostasis in the body. Here are 8 impressive benefits, according to scientific reports:
1. Lowers Stress Levels
In Chinese medicine, astragalus is associated with the “earth” element. It’s considered an adaptogen because it promotes homeostasis in response to stressors and helps the body adapt to stress.
To test the effect of astragalus on stress hormones, scientists in one study looked at milk-producing cows under heat stress. Heat exposure normally reduces milk production in cows, but astragalus intervention was shown to mitigate this effect by lowering cortisol — the main hormone responsible for producing a stress response in the body.
In a study on mice, astragalus was shown to counter the mental and behavioral impairments caused by stress. The mice given astragalus performed better on mazes, which scientists translate to better spatial memory, learning, and anxiety levels.
2. Helps Normalize Blood Sugar Levels
In an analysis of 13 studies on the effects of astragalus on people with type 2 diabetes, astragalus was reported to lower high blood sugar when taken daily at a dose of around 50 mg. Astralagus root is a staple anti-diabetic herb prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine, and modern studies have identified various plant compounds like flavonoids and polysaccharides in astragalus that are responsible for its effects on blood sugar. These medicinal molecules improve insulin sensitivity, helping to regulate and normalize blood glucose levels.
3. Supports Cardiovascular Health
Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries and buildup of plaque that can put you at risk of a heart attack. In a study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers attributed antioxidants in astragalus to its ability to reverse atherosclerosis in rabbits. In the study, rabbits given astragalus had lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, indicating a reduced risk for heart disease after just 12 weeks.
Research on the effects of astragalus on heart disease patients is lacking. However, animal trials suggest astragalus has heart-protective benefits that could assist in preventing cardiovascular disease.
4. Fights Cancer
In human trials, astragalus has been found to increase the anti-tumor effects of chemotherapy. In fact, astragalus can shrink tumors and prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Lab studies show that astragalus has anti-cancer effects against human lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.[7,8,9] One of the ways astragalus works is by enhancing the immune system’s natural defense against cancer cell growth. The antioxidants in astragalus may also help with cancer prevention by protecting cells and organs against oxidative damage.
5. May Counter Chemotherapy Side Effects
In addition to defending the body against cancer, astragalus could also help in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy drugs. According to a review of multiple studies on patients undergoing chemotherapy, astragalus root effectively reduces nausea and vomiting compared to a placebo.
6. Boosts Your Immune System
As an adaptogen, astragalus can stimulate a depressed or burdened immune system. Chronic stress, as well as consuming large amounts of caffeine, sugar, or alcohol, can suppress immune function and make you more vulnerable to colds, flu, and other infections. Astragalus root seems to jumpstart the various immune cells and their functions, causing white blood cells to circulate in the body and mitigate threats more effectively. While more research is needed, it’s possible that supplementing with astragalus could help protect against common colds by strengthening immune function.
7. Supports Kidney Health
One of the traditional uses of astragalus in Chinese medicine is to support kidney health. Astragalus root has been found to improve proteinuria, which is the presence of too much protein in the urine. Chronic kidney disease is characterized by kidney damage affecting the ability of the kidneys to filter waste. In a study on patients with chronic kidney disease, astragalus root supplementation was found to improve kidney function.
8. Protects Brain Health
Amyloid beta is the toxic waste responsible for Alzheimer’s and dementia when it builds up in the brain. In a study on rats injected with amyloid beta, a group of rats also injected with astragalus root were found to have less neurological damage and symptoms of anxiety compared to the control group. While human studies are needed, it’s possible that astragalus could help in the prevention of neurodegeneration.
Astragalus Root Safety
Side effects with astragalus root are rare. Potential side effects that can occur are itching, rash, and gastrointestinal discomfort. Not enough is known about the effects of astragalus on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, who should therefore avoid it. People with an autoimmune disease should approach astragalus with caution because it can stimulate activity in the immune system.
Astragalus Benefits and Uses
There are many reasons astragalus root has been revered in TCM for centuries. It can help protect against diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and even neurological disease like Alzheimer’s and dementia. As an adaptogen, astragalus can help you beat stress and boost your immune system. Astragalus root is found as a tincture, tea, or in capsule form.
Please note that it is important to consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplement, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking any medications.
- “Analysis of Astragalus Polysaccharide Intervention in Heat-Stressed Dairy Cows’ Serum Metabolomics” by Hanfang Zeng, Yumeng Xi, Yeqing Li, Zedong Wang, Lin Zhang and Zhaoyu Han, 29 March 2020, Animals.
- “The Effects of Astragalus Membranaceus on Repeated Restraint Stress-induced Biochemical and Behavioral Responses” by Hyun-Jung Park, Hyun Young Kim, Kun-Ho Yoon, Kyung Soo Kim and Insop Shim, 17 August 2009, The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology.
- “The effect of Astragalus as an adjuvant treatment in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A (preliminary) meta-analysis” by Huiping Tian, Jun Lu, Hairong He, Lu Zhang, Yalin Dong, Hongping Yao, Weiyi Feng and Siwen Wang, 3 June 2016, Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
- “Recent Advances in Astragalus membranaceus Anti-Diabetic Research: Pharmacological Effects of Its Phytochemical Constituents” by Kojo Agyemang, Lifeng Han, Erwei Liu, Yi Zhang, Tao Wang and Xiumei Gao, 17 November 2013, Evidence-Based Medicinal Plants for Modern Chronic Diseases.
- “Study of the Effects of Total Flavonoids of Astragalus on Atherosclerosis Formation and Potential Mechanisms” by Deqing Wang, Yuan Zhuang, Yaping Tian, Graham Neil Thomas, Mingzhong Ying and Brian Tomlinson, 29 January 2012, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
- “Anti-tumor effects and mechanisms of Astragalus membranaceus (AM) and its specific immunopotentiation: Status and prospect” by Shanshan Li, Yi Sun, Jin Huang, Bin Wang, Yinan Gong, Yuxin Fang, Yangyang Liu, Shenjun Wang, Yi Guo, Hong Wang, Zhifang Xu and Yongming Guo, 1 April 2020, Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
- “Anticancer activity of Astragalus polysaccharide in human non-small cell lung cancer cells” by Chao-Yan Wu, Yuan Ke, Yi-Fei Zeng, Ying-Wen Zhang and Hai-Jun Yu, 4 December 2017, Cancer Cell International.
- “Anti-tumor potential of astragalus polysaccharides on breast cancer cell line mediated by macrophage activation” by Wenfang Li, Kedong Song, Shuping Wang, Chenghong Zhang, Meiling Zhuang, Yiwei Wang and Tianqing Liu, 8 January 2019, Materials Science and Engineering: C.
- “Astragalus saponins modulates colon cancer development by regulating calpain-mediated glucose-regulated protein expression” by Yue Wang, Kathy K Auyeung, Xiaoyu Zhang and Joshua K Ko, 15 October 2014, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
- “Integrative Medicine for Relief of Nausea and Vomiting in the Treatment of Colorectal Cancer Using Oxaliplatin-Based Chemotherapy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” by Meng hua Chen, Brian H. May, Iris W. Zhou, Anthony L. Zhang and Charlie C. Xue, 23 February 2016, Phytotherapy Research.
- “Astragalus membranaceus Extract Activates Immune Response in Macrophages via Heparanase” by Qiaojing Qin, Jianying Niu, Zhaoxia Wang, Wangjie Xu, Zhongdong Qiao and Yong Gu, 13 June 2012, Molecules.
- “Oral Astragalus Root Supplementation for Mild to Moderate Chronic Kidney Disease: A Self-Controlled Case-Series” by Tetsuhiro Yoshino, Yuko Horiba, Masaru Mimura and Kenji Watanabe, 1 March 2022, Frontiers in Pharmacology.
- “Neuroprotection and anxiety like behavior reduction of Allium hirtifolium and Astragalus hamosus in the Aβ-injected rat” by Z. Bahaeddin, A. Yans, F. Khodagholi and S. Sahranavard, October 2016, Research Journal of Pharmacognosy.
This is a general information article and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before taking any herbal supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine. Herbal supplements can interact with certain medications and may not be safe for everyone. Some supplements may not have been adequately tested for safety or effectiveness, and their claims may not have been evaluated by the FDA. Additionally, the dosage and purity of supplements can vary between brands, so it is important to purchase supplements from a reputable source. Keep in mind that the use of herbal supplements is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or medical condition.