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

Herbal Help for Diabetic Retinopathy

Research suggests that astragalus may help prevent damage to eyes caused by high blood sugar from diabetes.

Promising research suggests astragalus and its compounds could help people with diabetes, including complications from the disease. Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication in diabetes, particularly with poorly controlled blood glucose levels.(4677)

How Does Diabetes Increase Risk of Blindness?

Chronic high blood sugar causes damage to cells throughout the body. In the eyes it:(4677203-204)

  • Creates AGEs, molecules that damage cells in the eye.
  • Damages existing blood vessels.
  • Degeneration of the optic nerve.
  • Causes the development of abnormal, fragile blood vessels in the eye.

All of these effects can lead to impaired vision or blindness.(4677203)

How Can Astragalus Help?

According to the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, improved blood sugar control can delay the onset or progression of retinopathy. In a 3-month clinical study, 77% of participants who ingested a formula containing 50% astragalus three times a day had improved blood glucose maintenance without other medication, and 82% of participants experienced improved blood flow in the eye.(77)

In addition, astragalus and its compounds show the following effects:

Astragalus Compound or Form Effect

Crude astragalus extract(203)

Inhibits advanced glycation end products (AGEs); animal studies show AGE inhibitors significantly block the development of both neuropathy and retinopathy.(203)

Astragaloside IV(204)

  • Protects cells in the retina and the optic nerve by down-regulating inflammatory factors and enzymes.(204)
  • Protects retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) from free radical oxidative damage.(205)
  • Protects capillaries by increasing natural antioxidant activity and suppressing free radicals.(206)

Clinical Evidence of Benefit

Astragalus injections combined with salvia were shown to significantly improve vision in one small clinical trial. Patients involved had stage I-III diabetic retinopathy with blood sugar levels controlled by diet and insulin.(207)

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Specifically, aldose reductase enzymes which are linked to retinopathy development and progression.(204)