In 2009, Nobel in Medicine and Physiology was awarded to three scientists for their research on telomeres and telomerase. All normal human somatic cells have limited life that they can divide and will senescent when this limit is reached. Because the telomere, associated with aging, shortens during cell division and replication. Researchers from UCLA found that Cycloastragenol, extracts from Astragalus boosted production of telomerase(an enzyme that allows for the replacement of short bits of DNA).

Astragalus is a traditional Chinese herbal medicine taken from a plant named Astragalus membranaceus, which is a type of bean (legume). The root is routinely used in herbal remedies in China.

Some animal studies and preliminary human clinical studies show that Astragalus may enhance immune system and boost the effect of conventional immune therapy for some cancers. But there are no available scientific evidences to support that Astragalus can prevent cancer, cure cancer, extend survival, reduce side effects of conventional cancer treatment or cure any disease. There is maybe some suggestion that Astragalus can enhance the effects of certain chemotherapy drugs, but more thoroughly tests are still needed to prove it.

Its history behind

Cycloastragenol is the most commonly used herb in traditional Chinese medicine. Chinese herbalists have used Astragalus used with other herbs to help the human body build up energy and resist diseases like cancer, heart disease, liver, infections and kidney problems for centuries. Nowadays researchers of conventional medical became interested in the possibility that Astragalus might boost immune response and lessen the side effects of chemotherapy.


What is the evidence?

The scientific evidence comes mostly from lab and animal studies suggests that Astragalus is able to enhance the immune system and fight diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Researchers at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that Astragalus extract boosted the cell destroying ability, or cytotoxicity, of the conventional immune system drug interleukin-2 by helping cells of the immune system. (This study was done using cells in the lab, not in humans.)

Astragalus could partly restor the immune function of cells in test tubes. Some studies have suggested that Astragalus may stimulate the body to produce interferons, a group of substances for the body to defend against viral infections, which may reduce the length of colds.

Most studies are animal studies and laboratory studies show promise, and more study is needed to figure out that if the results apply to human beings. There is actually some human studies of Astragalus from Chinese researchers. And some suggest that Astragalus might enhance immune system cells in those that have cancer. But most experts who have reviewed these studies said that the most of this research was designed, conducted, or analyzed deficiently in the way and it is difficult to say if their results are valid.

A 2006 review of the most reliable studies of Astragalus and lung cancer found some evidence that this herb might enhance the effects of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin. The reviewers recommended that more rigorously designed studies be conducted. But a non-randomized clinical trial of patients with lung cancer found no evidence that Astragalus increased the effectiveness of a different type of chemotherapy drug, docetaxel.

The available scientific evidence does not support that Astragalus may be able to prevent or cure cancer or any disease in humans. Large-scale human trials are needed to learn about its benefits in people with cancer.

Are there any possible problems or complications?

Astragalus is generally thought to be safe. But there are still some reported side effects like belly loose stools, low blood pressure, bloating, and dehydration. Therefore, people with autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus) or people taking drugs that suppress the immune system (such as corticosteroids or cyclosporin) should not using it before consulting their doctors.

Besides, there is some concern that Astragalus might interfere with blood clotting. For this reason, some doctors suggest that it should not be taken before surgery or in people taking aspirin-like drugs or blood-thinning medicines. It may also affect blood pressure in some, so those taking blood pressure medicines may need to be watched more closely if they use this herb. There have also been reports of lowered blood sugar, which could be dangerous for those with diabetes or hypoglycemia.

Other potential interactions between herbs and medicines are possible, some of which may be dangerous. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about the herbs you are taking.

Allergic reactions are rare. People who are allergic to other legumes (peas and beans) may be more likely to be allergic to Astragalus. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.