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Astragalus is used in cancer patients to enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduce associated side-effects. It is additionally used to enhance immune function.

A Cochrane systematic review of Chinese herbs for chemotherapy side-effects in Astragalus 50

colorectal cancer patients analysed the results of four trials that used a decoction

containing astragalus (huang-qi) as the intervention with chemotherapy (Taixiang et al 2005). Adjunctive treatment with astragalus was compared with chemotherapy alone in three trials and two other Chinese herbal treatments in the fourth trial. When astragalus was used, there was a significant reduction in nausea and vomiting and a decrease in the rate of leucopenia (WBC <3-109/L). Increases in the proportions of T-lymphocyte subsets (CD3, CD4 and CD8) were also reported, with no significant effects on immunoglobulins G, A or M. Taixiang et al concluded that despite the low quality of the trials, decoctions of astragalus may stimulate immunocompetent cells and decrease side-effects in patients treated with chemotherapy. Additionally, no evidence of harm was identified with use.

In a recent placebo-controlled, randomised clinical trial in 60 patients receiving chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer, astragalus was shown to significantly increase quality of life (Zou & Liu 2003). The treatment group (n = 30) received 60 mL of astragalus per day intravenously and improved survival rates and quality of life scores were observed.

Reducing adverse effects of treatment (in combination) Zee-Cheng screened and evaluated 116 Kampo formulas and identified 1 5 that potentiated therapeutic effects, reduced adverse toxicity of various anticancer drugs, and exhibited immune-modulating effects in cancer patients. Among these, shi-quan-da-bu-tang (SQT) was selected as the most effective and studied further. SQT is a popular TCM herbal combination consisting of 10 medicinal herbs, including Astragalus membranaceus. Using both animal models and clinical studies, the herbal combination produced several promising results (Zee-Cheng 1992).

Prostate cancer (in combination) Although no human studies could be located, encouraging results were obtained from an in vitro study investigating the effects of a proprietary product known as Equiguardâ„¢ on prostate cancer cells. It is prepared according to TCM principles and contains standardised extracts of nine herbs: herba epimedium brevicornum maxim (stem and leaves), radix morindae officinalis (root), fructus rosae laevigatae michx (fruit), rubus chingii hu (fruit), Schlsandra chlnensls (Turz.) Baill (fruit), Llgustrum lucldum Ait (fruit), Cuscuta chlnensls Lam (seed), Psoralea coryllfolla L. (fruit), and Astragalus membranaceus (root). It is used in TCM to restore Qi in the urogenital region. The product was shown to significantly reduce cancer cell growth, induce apoptosis, suppress expression of the androgen receptor and lower intracellular and secreted prostate-specific antigen (Hsieh et al 2002).

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