Friday, 3 January 2020

Astragalus – A Herb to Watch

Article and Photo © Ann Walker
The root of Astragalus membranaceus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The many laboratory studies carried out so far show that the herb has immune modulating (or modifying) and anti-inflammatory effects (PMID: 26916911). These properties account for the herb’s traditional applications for fatigue of all types, allergies and infections, but its use as an adjunct to chemotherapy to reduce their side effects is a more recent development. But what is the evidence for benefit for those undergoing chemotherapy? There is promising clinical-trial evidence, but it is sparse because most of the studies have been small and of poor quality.

Lack of clinical data is surprising considering the huge amount of laboratory research that has gone into studying this herb and its constituents, but cancer is difficult to study in a clinical trial setting because of ethical considerations. A review by the internationally-recognised Cochrane review collaboration found four trials in which Astragalus was combined with chemotherapy for large bowel cancer (PMID: 15674951).

These showed reduced nausea during chemotherapy and better preservation of the white blood cell count, but it again concluded that more vigorous trials were needed to confirm these results. However, there was no evidence of any harm from including Astragalus in these regimes. While waiting for more evidence of its adjunct value in chemotherapy, Astragalus has been adopted as a key herb in western herbal medicine over the last decade because of the research interest in it. I use it a lot in my clinic, along with other herbs, for reducing susceptibility to infection – both viral and bacterial - and to reduce the symptoms of chemotherapy treatment.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner