Common Names

  • Huang chi
  • Huang qi
  • Milk vetch
  • Radix astragali

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

Astragalus has immunostimulant effects, but it has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.

Scientists believe that astragalus works by stimulating several factors of the immune system. In laboratory studies, astragalus extracts increase the activity of monocytes, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes, even when their activity is suppressed by substances such as steroids. In addition, astragalus reversed immune suppression from cyclophosphamide (a commonly used chemotherapy drug) in rats.

Astragalus extracts also protected liver cells from chemical injury in animals and in laboratory studies. Studies conducted in China suggest that astragalus may protect the kidneys when used in combination with the herb Angelica sinensis. In senile rats, astragalus increased the ability of their brain cells to respond to stimuli, but it is still unknown if these effects occur in humans.

An herbal formula containing astragalus has been shown to reduce fatigue in athletes by increasing uptake and use of oxygen.

Purported Uses

  • To stimulate the immune system
    Laboratory studies and some clinical trials suggest that astragalus stimulates the immune system.
  • To reduce the severity of chemotherapy side effects, including immune suppression
    Studies in animals show that astragalus reverses the immune suppression caused by cyclophosphamide and stimulates certain cells of the immune system. Astragalus may reduce the side effects of chemotherapy in colorectal cancer patients.
  • To fight bacterial infections
    There is no evidence to support this claim.
  • To prevent and treat heart disease
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat HIV and AIDS
    Scientific evidence to support this use is lacking.
  • To treat common cold
    Although laboratory studies and one clinical trial suggest that astragalus stimulates certain cells of the immune system, there is no evidence from clinical trials that astragalus can treat common cold.
  • To treat diabetes
    This claim is not backed by scientific data.

Do Not Take If

  • You are taking immunosuppressants such as tacrolimus and cyclosporine (astragalus may lessen their effects).
  • You are taking Cyclophosphamide: Astragalus may decrease cyclophosphamide-induced immunosuppression.
  • You are taking Aldesleukin (a drug used to treat skin and kidney cancers): When taken with astragalus there was a ten-fold increase in tumoricidal activity of aldeskeukin, with decreased side effects.

Side Effects

None known.

Back to top

For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name

Astragalus membranaceus

Clinical Summary

Astragalus root has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine to increase metabolism, stamina, strength and vitality. Studies done in China suggest that astragalus, when used with Angelica sinensis, has reno protective effects (6). It also decreases the proteinuria associated with idiopathic membranous nephropathy (7) and exhibits natriuretic property (8). When used as injection, Astragalus benefits patients with IgA nephropathy (26). In other studies Astragalus was shown to suppress airway hyper reactivity associated with allergic asthma in vivo (9) and increase M-cholinergic receptor density in senile rats (11), which suggests that it may have a role in combating senility. Astragalus extract acts as a nerve-growth promoting factor in vitro and in vivo (17), and alleviates obstructive uropathy in mice in combination with A. sinensis and standard care (18).

A formula containing astragalus as a major ingredient has been shown to reduce fatigue in athletes (10).

Astragalus has been studied for its anticancer potential but evidence is limited. Astragalus extracts were shown to inhibit tumor growth (5), delay chemical-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in rats (4), and demonstrate antiangiogenic property (19). In vitro, animal, and anecdotal human data show that it reduces immune suppression, a side effect of chemotherapy (1) (2), and may also enhance the effects of platinum-based chemotherapy (3). However, Astragalus also has antioxidant activity (25). This may interfere with the actions of certain chemotherapy drugs.

Conclusions from a meta-analysis suggest benefits of astragalus-based treatments for hepatocellular cancers, but data need to be evaluated in larger, well designed trials (16).
Use of an injectable form of astragalus with vinorelbine and cisplatin in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (20) resulted in improvement in quality of life. However, it is not known whether orally administered astragalus will exert the same effects. In another study, an astragalus extract was found effective in managing cancer-related fatigue (22).

Astragalus demonstrated estrogenic effects in vitro (23). Studies are needed to determine if it affects hormone-sensitive cancers.

Purported Uses

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Common cold
  • Diabetes
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Immunostimulation
  • Microbial infection
  • Strength and stamina

Mechanism of Action

Astragalus works by stimulating several factors of the immune system. Its polysaccharide components potentiate immune-mediated antitumor activity of interleukin-2 in vitro (13), improve the responses of lymphocytes from normal subjects and cancer patients, enhance natural killer (NK) cell activity of normal subjects, potentiate activity of monocytes (14), and increasing phagocytosis perhaps by regulating tumor necrosis factor (TNF) production (5).

The saponins present in astragalus potentiate NK cell activity and restore steroid-inhibited NK cell activity in vitro. They also increase phagocytosis and demonstrate hepatoprotective effects on chemically-induced liver injury in vitro (6) and in vivo (4).

Studies conducted in China suggest that astragalus, when used with Angelica sinsensis, exerts reno protective effects by mediating gene expression. Astragaloside IV, a saponin, increases tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) synthesis and downregulates the expression of plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) (21). In IgA nephropathy patients, Astragalus injection decreases Cosmc gene expression and increases IgA1 O-glycosylation level (26). Astragalus also increases M-cholinergic receptor density in senile rats, suggesting that astragalus may have a role in combating brain senility (11).

In another study, a formula containing astragalus reduced fatigue in athletes by increasing the uptake and utility of oxygen (10). When combined with Paeonia lactiflora, astragalus demonstrated synergistic antioxidant activity (25).

Adverse Reactions

Adverse effects have not been reported.

Herb-Drug Interactions

  • Immunosuppressants: Theoretically, astragalus may antagonize the effects of immunosuppressants such as tacrolimus and cyclosporine.
  • Aldesleukin: Concomitant treatment with astragalus resulted in 10-fold potentiation of tumoricidal activity with decreased side effects (14).
  • Cyclophosphamide: Astragalus may reduce cyclophosphamide-induced immunosuppression (1).

Dosage (OneMSK Only)


  1. Taixiang W, Munro AJ, Guanjian L. Chinese medical herbs for chemotherapy side effects in colorectal cancer patients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jan 25;(1):CD004540.

  2. Cui R, He J, Wang B, et al. Suppressive effect of Astragalus membranaceus Bunge on chemical hepatocarcinogenesis in rats. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2003 Jan;51(1):75-80.

  3. Cho WC, Leung KN. In vitro and in vivo anti-tumor effects of Astragalus membranaceus.Cancer Lett. Jul 8 2007;252(1):43-54.

  4. Ahmed MS, Hou SH, Battaglia MC, et al. Treatment of idiopathic membranous nephropathy with the herb Astragalus membranaceus. Am J Kidney Dis. Dec 2007;50(6):1028-1032.

  5. Shen HH, Wang K, Li W, et al. Astragalus Membranaceus prevents airway hyperreactivity in mice related to Th2 response inhibition.J Ethnopharmacol. Mar 5 2008;116(2):363-369.

  6. Chen KT, Su CH, Hsin LH, et al. Reducing fatigue of athletes following oral administration of huangqi jianzhong tang. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2002 Aug;23(8):757-61.

  7. Tang W, et al. Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 1992.

  8. Qun L, Luo Q, Zhang ZY, et al. Effects of astragalus on IL-2/IL-2R system in patients with maintained hemodialysis. Clin Nephrol. 1999 Nov;52(5):333-4.

  9. Upton R. Astragalus root: analytical, quality control and therapeutic monograph. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. 1999;1:1-25.

  10. Wu P, Dugoua JJ, Eyawo O, Mills EJ. Traditional Chinese medicines in the treatment of hepatocellular cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Aug 12;28(1):112.

  11. Wojcikowski K, Wohlmuth H, Johnson DW, Gobe G. Effect of Astragalus membranaceus and Angelica sinensis combined with Enalapril in rats with obstructive uropathy. Phytother Res. 2010 Jun;24(6):875-84.

  12. Auyeung KK, Woo PK, Law PC, Ko JK. Astragalus saponins modulate cell invasiveness and angiogenesis in human gastric adenocarcinoma cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Aug 12.

  13. Zhang CZ, Wang SX, Zhang Y, Chen JP, Liang XM. In vitro estrogenic activities of Chinese medicinal plants traditionally used for the management of menopausal symptoms. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Apr 26;98(3):295-300.

  14. Xu X, Li F, Zhang X, et al. In vitro synergistic antioxidant activity and identification of antioxidant components from Astragalus membranaceus and Paeonia lactiflora. PLoS One. 2014 May 9;9(5):e96780. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096780. eCollection 2014.

  15. Ji L, Chen X, Zhong X, et al. Astragalus membranaceus up-regulate Cosmc expression and reverse IgA dys-glycosylation in IgA nephropathy. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Jun 18;14:195. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-195.

Back to top
Back to top
Email your questions and comments to

Last Updated