Locoweeds (generic name)

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Tradition

WARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

Dosing

Adults (over 18 years old)

In Chinese medicine, astragalus is used in soups, teas, extracts, and pills. In practice and in most scientific studies, astragalus is one component of multi-herb mixtures. Therefore, precise dosing of astragalus alone is not clear. Safety and effectiveness are not clearly established for any particular dose. Various doses of astragalus have been used or studied, including 250 to 500 milligrams of extract taken four times daily; 1 to 30 grams of dried root taken daily (doses as high as 60 grams have been reported); or 500 to 1,000 milligrams of root capsules taken three times daily. Dosing of tinctures or fluid extracts depends on the strength of the preparations. A tincture dose (1:5) of 3-6 milliliters three times daily by mouth, or 15 to 30 drops twice daily by mouth has been used. Note that tinctures may have high alcohol content.

For herpes simplex keratitis, 0.5 milliliters astragalus (1:1 extract) for three weeks has been used on the skin. For wound healing, a 10% astragalus ointment has been applied to wound surfaces. The maximum level used is 1.3% when used topically in lotions, denture creams, toothpaste,s and cosmetics, according to secondary sources

For non-small cell lung cancer, 60 milliliters has been given intraveneously per day. Injections should only be given under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

Note: In theory, consumption of the tragacanth (gummy sap derived from astragalus) may reduce the absorption of drugs taken by mouth, and they should be taken at separate times.

Children (younger than 18 years)

There is not enough scientific data to recommend astragalus for children.

Safety

DISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

Allergies

In theory, patients with allergies to members of the Leguminosae (pea) family may react to astragalus. Cross-reactivity with quillaja bark (soapbark) has been reported for astragalus gum tragacanth.

Side Effects and Warnings

Some species of astragalus have caused poisoning in livestock, although these types are usually not used in human preparations (which primarily include Astragalus membranaceus). Livestock toxicity, referred to as "locoweed" poisoning, has occurred with species that contain swainsonine (Astragalus lentiginosus, Astragalus mollissimus, Astragalus nothrosys, Astragalus pubentissimus, Astragalus thuseri, Astragalus wootoni), or in species that accumulate selenium (Astragalus bisulcatus, Astragalus flavus, Astragalus praelongus, Astragalus saurinus, Astragalus tenellus). Ingestion of certain toxic astragalus plants may cause neurological syndromes, some of which are irreversible.

Overall, it is difficult to determine the side effects or toxicity of astragalus because astragalus is most commonly used in combination with other herbs. There are numerous reports of side effects ranging from mild to deadly in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) computer database, although most of these are with multi-ingredient products and they cannot be attributed to astragalus specifically. Side effects reported in people using combination products that contain astragalus include heart palpitations, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and aspiration pneumonia.

Astragalus used alone and in recommended doses is traditionally considered to be safe, although safety is not well studied. The most common side effects appear to be mild stomach upset and allergic reactions. In the United States, tragacanth (astragalus gummy sap) has been classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for food use, but astragalus does not have GRAS status.

Based on preliminary animal studies and limited human research, astragalus may decrease blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare professional, and medication adjustments may be necessary.

Based on anecdotal reports and preliminary laboratory research, astragalus may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.

Preliminary reports of human use in China have noted decreased blood pressure at lower doses and increased blood pressure at higher doses. Animal research suggests possible blood pressure-lowering effects. Due to a lack of well-designed studies, no firm conclusions can be drawn. Nonetheless, people with abnormal blood pressure or taking blood pressure medications should use caution and be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional. Palpitations have been noted in human reports in China.

Based on animal study, astragalus may act as a diuretic and increase urination. In theory, this may lead to dehydration or metabolic abnormalities. There is one report of pneumonia in an infant after breathing in an herbal medicine powder including Astragalus sarcocolla.

Because astragalus may stimulate the immune system, individuals with autoimmune diseases or organ transplants should consult a healthcare professional before starting therapy. Astragalus is not recommended for people with acute inflammation or acute illness with fever.

Astragalus may increase growth hormone levels.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Astragalus cannot be recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding due to harmful effects seen in animals.

Many tinctures contain high levels of alcohol and should be avoided during pregnancy.

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