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Can Astragalus Help With Coronavirus?

Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Mathew Eng, PharmD | Last updated:

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Can-Astragalus-Help-With-Coronavirus

The root of the astragalus plant is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine for many conditions, such as fighting infections. For this reason, astragalus has gained some interest recently due to the ongoing COVID-19 virus outbreak. Find out what science has to say about this herbal medicine.

This article is for informational purposes only. The current coronavirus outbreak is an ongoing event and certain details may change as new information comes to light. Overall, the best preventive measures you can take against COVID-19 are basic standard precautions, including social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding touching your face.

Does Astragalus Have a Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Astragalus root is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as Huang Qi.

Supplementation with astragalus is purported to help with a number of health conditions, although high-quality research to support these claims is limited [1].

Astragalus has received more attention recently due to its potential to boost the immune system, help fight certain infections, and improve lung function according to some studies [2].

In fact, it’s been one of the most commonly recommended herbs for COVID-19 in Traditional Chinese Medicine [3].

To be clear, there is currently no evidence that astragalus has any effect on the new coronavirus.

However, astragalus has been studied in other types of respiratory infections, which may help guide future research efforts into the COVID-19 pandemic [4, 5].

This article will explore the effect of astragalus on the immune system and infections. Check out this article for a more comprehensive look at astragalus.

Astragalus may support the immune system and potentially help fight against certain infections, but there is no evidence that it can treat or prevent coronavirus.

How Does Astragalus Help the Immune System?

Astragalus contains several active compounds that are likely responsible for its health benefits.

Polysaccharides are the most important compounds in astragalus and are responsible for the antiviral and anti-inflammatory capabilities of this herb [6, 7, 8].

These polysaccharides have many effects, such as reducing inflammatory cytokines like TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8 [9].

Other active compounds found in astragalus include saponins, which may lower cholesterol and boost the immune system, as well as flavonoids, which have antioxidative properties [10, 11].

Astragalus as a Natural Antiviral

Respiratory Infections

Several studies suggest that the components inside astragalus may have antiviral effects against respiratory infections, which affect the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs [5].

For instance, a scientific review of two studies concluded that astragalus may decrease the incidence of respiratory tract infections in children with nephrotic syndrome, a type of kidney disorder that can increase susceptibility to infections [5].

However, another scientific review that searched through all available research could not identify any strong clinical trials that support the use of astragalus for respiratory infections [4].

According to animal and cell studies, astragalus may have antiviral activity against some additional types of infection in animals, such as:

  • Avian Infectious Bronchitis Virus [12]
  • Avian Influenza Virus (H9N2) [13]
  • Influenza Virus (H1N1) [14]
  • Porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) [6]

It’s important to note that all of the above-mentioned viruses are different from the current outbreak of coronavirus.

Astragalus demonstrated mixed results against respiratory infections in humans, but its effect on the new coronavirus has not been tested yet.

Improving Vaccine Effectiveness

Interestingly enough, astragalus may help boost the effectiveness of certain vaccines, which can potentially improve protection against infections [15].

According to various animal studies, astragalus may enhance the activity of vaccines for the following diseases:

  • Avian Infectious Bronchitis [15]
  • Newcastle Disease [16, 17]
  • Infectious Bursal Disease Virus [18]
  • Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus [19]

No studies have explored the effect of astragalus on human vaccinations, but it remains a potential area of interest for future research.

Astragalus appears to improve the effectiveness of vaccines in animals, although this effect has yet to be studied in humans.

Astragalus & Lung Health

Astragalus may help improve lung function, primarily by reducing airway inflammation and protecting against tissue damage caused by lung disorders [20, 21].

One scientific review looked at the effects of Yupingfeng formula, which contains astragalus along with 2 other herbal medicines [21].

After analyzing 9 studies including a total of 660 COPD patients, the researchers of the review concluded that Yupingfeng can improve lung function, although the quality of most studies was low [21].

In contrast, a randomized trial of 85 children with asthma found that a combination product including astragalus was not more effective than placebo for asthma symptoms [20].

While human studies have demonstrated mixed results, astragalus has been fairly effective in mouse studies.

Astragalus has protected against lung injury and decreased airway inflammation in mice with COPD, asthma, and allergic reactions [9, 22, 23, 24].

Mouse studies suggest that astragalus may improve lung function in those with COPD or asthma, but research in humans is limited.

Dosage

Talk to your doctor before taking astragalus. There may be serious interactions with your current medications or health conditions. Because astragalus is not approved by the FDA for any condition, there is no official dose. However, there are unofficial doses suggested by supplement manufacturers.

One clinical trial used a dose of 2.25 grams of astragalus granules, which are equivalent to 15 grams of crude astragalus, for up to 6 months without any serious reported safety concerns [5].

Astragalus is available in many different forms and can be prepared in several ways. Check out our astragalus article for more information on supplementation.

Precautions

Astragalus is generally considered safe for most adults. The most commonly reported side effects are diarrhea and other mild stomach-related side effects [1].

Astragalus has been shown to interact with drugs that suppress the immune system. Those taking these types of medications should not take astragalus [1].

It may also affect blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and thus potentially interact with drugs for these conditions [1].

Takeaway

Astragalus is the name for a large group of plant species that are frequently utilized in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is used for various ailments.

One proposed benefit of astragalus is its potential ability to help fight infections and improve lung health.

While animal studies have shown promising evidence, the limited research done in humans has produced mixed results.

For now, the best preventive measures you can take against COVID-19 are standard precautions, including social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding touching your face.

Learn More

About the Author

Mathew Eng

Mathew Eng

PharmD
Mathew received his PharmD from the University of Hawaii and an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Washington.
Mathew is a licensed pharmacist with clinical experience in oncology, infectious disease, and diabetes management. He has a passion for personalized patient care and believes that education is essential to living a healthy life. His goal is to motivate individuals to find ways to manage their chronic conditions.

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