Also known as milk vetch, huang qi (or huangqi)

Astragalus Can Help Fend off Tuberculosis

Research suggests astragalus may help tuberculosis drugs work better.

Research shows the beneficial immune-boosting effects of astragalus could improve treatment of tuberculosis. Improving how well the immune system works may be especially important in the elderly with TB, since typically immune systems slow down as we age.(70126)

Age and suboptimal immune system functioning make it more difficult to fight off the bacteria in lung, and even infections which have been latent and symptom-free for years can become active again. Decreased immune response also makes the elderly more prone to new infection. In either case, the antibiotic treatment for active TB is difficult for many elderly to handle, and improved immune responses may be helpful.(126)

How Does It Work?

In animal studies, improving immune function by raising T-cell levels was shown to be an effective way to control TB infection. Separate clinical human trials show that astragalus stimulates T-cell production. Another way that astragalus may help boost the immune system, especially in the elderly, is by its zinc content.(126-127)

Studies suggest that zinc levels decline as we age. Even marginally low levels can negatively affect the immune system—including the ability to fight off TB infection. Oral supplementation with zinc, on the other hand, improves immune functioning.(128)

Parts of the astragalus plant contain zinc, which is essential for proper immune system functioning. Astragalus roots, typically used for medicinal purposes, are particularly abundant in this important trace mineral.(129)

Evidence of Benefit

Lab studies indicate that compounds in astragalus stimulate the immune response and control of TB bacteria.(130)

Clinical studies are limited, but results are promising:

Patient & Trial Details Outcomes

2 month controlled clinical trial(70)

76 elderly patients with tuberculosis:(70)

  • 39 randomly assigned to the treatment group given astragalus (20 ml/day by IV once a day) along with standard drugs for TB
  • 37 randomly assigned to group treated with only anti-TB drugs
  • 30 healthy subjects in a control group

Astragalus group had significantly:(70)

  • Improved markers for immune system functioning.
  • Enhanced the effectiveness of drug treatment (including reduced bacterial levels in sputum).

Randomized clinical trial

98 patients with TB:(131)

  • 49 assigned to the treatment group given astragalus by injection along with standard drugs for TB
  • 49 assigned to group treated with only anti-TB drugs (as a control)

Astragalus significantly reduced the bacterial loads in patients, compared to the group treated with standard drug therapy only.(131)

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In particular, Astragalus membranaceus.(129)