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Astragalus, or milk vetch, has been a part of Chinese medicine since ancient times for its numerous health benefits. It is known as huang-qi in the Chinese language.

Astragalus is the largest genus in the family Fabaceae or Leguminosae. These are perennial shrubs found in temperate regions, and more commonly in China and Korea. Astragalus propinquus (or Astragalus membranaceus) is non-toxic and has a bitter-sweet taste. Its root is said to be effective in treating bacterial and viral infections. It also helps in improving the immune system, and treating constipation.

Side Effects
It is a general misconception that all natural products are safe for consumption or for external purposes. Several herbal medicines can cause negative effects or allergic reactions in people. Similar is the case with astragalus. Although it is said to be relatively safe for many people, certain side effects have been observed.
  • Allergy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Swelling on face
  • Tightness in the chest
It is also believed that astragalus makes the human immune system more active. This might worsen the symptoms in case a person is already suffering from autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Not all symptoms mentioned here are observed in all cases. This is not an exhaustive list, and possibly, other symptoms may also be observed. This herb is not recommended for children.

Astragalus and Pregnancy
You may come across ambiguous information about the effects of astragalus extract during pregnancy. It is usually taken by pregnant women to treat constipation. However, a word of caution, although there are no known benefits or ill-effects related to its intake in pregnancy or while breastfeeding, it is advisable to keep away from it. As there is no evidence to prove either of the hypotheses, it is advisable not to take any unnecessary risk. Women planning for a baby should also remember not to take astragalus or other herbal products without consulting their gynecologist. Only a gynecologist will be able to tell whether a certain product is good or harmful for your and the baby's health.

Interaction with Other Medication
Astragalus interacts with other drugs and leads to severe side effects. Specifically, it interacts with immunosuppressants and corticosteroids. It is believed to drastically increase, or at times, even decrease the effect of other medications. It interferes with blood clotting. It reduces blood sugar and blood pressure drastically. Therefore, the effect of the related medication is stronger.

If astragalus is taken along with prescription medications, symptoms like heart palpitation and frequent urination are observed. It may also interact with over-the-counter medications and result in toxicity. On the other hand, higher doses of astragalus can make the immune system less active. This can make a person susceptible to infectious diseases. In case you are on any kind of medication, and are using astragulas root or extract, it is essential to bring it to the doctor's notice immediately.

Astragalus is available and used in several forms, for e.g., in the form of extract, root, tea or even tinctures. It is used as an ingredient in several other medication. Ointments containing astragalus are used to soothe and treat wounds. This herb is usually used independently.

It is always advisable to take any dietary supplement and medication only on consulting your doctor. Side effects of astragalus root are, however, lesser in number as compared to its health benefits. Therefore, you can talk to your doctor and only then go for it.

Disclaimer: This article is intended only to provide information. It is recommended to consult the doctor for any advice and treatment.