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Capsules | SUPPLEMENTS

Astragalus is used for immunity boost

September 29, 2003

Astragalus membranaceus, a small, bushy plant native to northern China, has been used for centuries in Asia to enhance the immune system.

The first half of its Chinese name, huang qi (yellow leader), comes from the color at the core of its medicinal roots. The latter half stems from the plant's reputed ability to improve energy levels and treat a range of conditions, including cancer, diabetes and respiratory infections.

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Uses: In the United States, astragalus is sometimes used by people infected with HIV for its purported immune-boosting and antiviral properties. Others take it in attempts to ward off colds and flu.

Dose: One to 30 grams of astragalus powder in pill or capsule form, or two to four cups of tea per day.

Precautions: Not much is known about the safety or potential side effects of the plant because it has not been well-studied in rigorous clinical trials.

Research: Most of the evidence on the medicinal properties of astragalus comes from lab and animal testing conducted in China. The plant has received little scientific attention in this country; however, results from a few clinical trials suggest that it may improve immune functioning in patients with cancer and other chronic diseases.

Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your health-care provider for advice on selecting a brand.

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-- Elena Conis

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