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Coming from the leguminosae family, the root of astragalus (astragalus membranaceous, A. membranaceous), or huang-qi (in Chinese) is the part of this plant used for medicine. Traditionally sliced thinly and dried, this root can also be found powdered or ground as it is often distributed through western practitioners.
Astragalus primarily acts as an immune enhancer/modulater/stimulant (depending on what the body needs it to be), has antiviral, antibacterial, tonic, diuretic functions in the lungs, spleen, and GI tract. It is also a heart protector.1
Effect of Astragalus on Lyme Disease
Astragalus acts to enhance the immune function during early-stage Lyme disease. It works by enhancing the Th1 immune response, producing higher levels of Th1 which lessens the chance that an infections will occur, or results in more mild symptoms as a result of that infection.1
However, late-stage Lyme disease is Th1 dominant, so the use of astragalus in the later stages of this disease has the potential to exacerbate this Th1 response and worsen the symptoms of the disease.1
Naturally, this treatment (along with all treatments) should only be used in the appropriate Lyme disease treatment situations. Personal and contextualized treatment plans are necessary for the effective treatment of this, and most all, complex conditions.
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Research Evidence on Astragalus
Much research has been done on astragalus in general, so much so that medline (health information from the National Library of Medicine as part of the National Institute of Health) lists nearly 800 citations for studies that include astragalus, not including the studies that have been done in China.
Stephen Harrod Buhner (expert in the field and author of Healing Lyme) surmises that to prove the boosting of immune function, most studies and trials have been focused on the use of astragalus in the treatment of cancer, or as a supplement to chemotherapy. Other studies have focused on astragalus as a treatment for heart disease, for its anti-inflammatory activity, neurological action(s), in treating fatigue, and hepatitis.
Astragalus appears to be relatively nontoxic. High one-time doses, as well as long-term administration, have not caused significant harmful effects. 1 Side effects are rare and generally limited to the usual mild gastrointestinal distress or allergic reactions. However, some Chinese herb manuals suggest that astragalus at 15 g or lower per day can raise blood pressure, while doses above 30 g may lower blood pressure.
Traditional Chinese medicine warns against using astragalus in cases of acute infections. Other traditional contraindications include "deficient yin patterns with heat signs" and "exterior excess heat patterns." Because understanding what these mean would require an extensive education in traditional Chinese herbal medicine , we recommend using astragalus only under the supervision of a qualified Chinese herbalist.
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Astragalus when used with interferon and acyclovir may increase the effects. Using the herb with cyclophosphamide may decrease the effectiveness of the drug.
When being used as a treatment for Lyme Disease, astragalus can be extremely useful in the early-stages of the disease, when the recent tick bite (and subsequent infection) reduces interferon-gamma an dinterleukin-2 levels in the body (which astragalus is known to increase.) However in the late-stages of Lyme disease, increasing Th1 levels (which are already overstimulated in late-stage Lyme Disease) will actually exacerbate Lyme symptoms, thus making this astragalus a good treatment for early, but not late, stage Lyme disease.
- Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuk TJ. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press; 1986:457-459.
- Buhner, S.H. Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme /borreliosis and Its Coinfections. Silver City, NM Raven Press. 2005
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