Associated Content ‘Pimp’ Astragalus

October 26, 2007 at 2:07 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Remedies, Supplements) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Is Astragalus a Miracle Cure?


No. It isn’t. But these articles seem to say different: and


Note: See the link at the bottom of the post for more on ‘headlines in the form of questions’ from Dr T of ‘Thinking Is Dangerous’.

The first link contains claims that Astragalus “is a very good remedy for many diseases, included (sic) cold, fever, and asthma” and that it is “diuretic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial”. It also has this gem: “Also it is found that Astragalus has antiviral properties which prevents colds. This is a really cool data (sic) because many people have children suffering from cold many times per year.”

God, this is so good I’m going to end up reproducing the whole damn thing! “Also this plant has been used to extend the life expectancy and to improve the immune system. As we can see, there are many benefits derived from the use of alternative medicine and we must use more of these kind of alternative solutions for our diseases.”

Extend life expectancy? I’d like to see the substantiation for that claim. This Astragalus sounds like some kind of elixir of youth. Oh, hang on… the second link (article number 426555) actually includes the phrase “Astragalus has gotten many people wondering if this drug could be the next fountain of youth.” So that’s what it is then – an elixir of youth, a magical potion to extend your lifespan, a miracle herb. Do they really expect us to swallow this?

The second sentence in that quote claims that ‘there are many benefits derived from the use of alternative medicine’ and that we ‘must use more of these kind of alternative solutions’.

Alternative medicine is only ‘alternative’ because it is either unproven or ineffective. If the treatment was shown to work by the same standards as those used in mainstream medicine, it would be adopted by mainstream medicine and would therefore no longer be alternative. I’m not sure how the claim that we ‘must use more’ alt med solutions can be justified. The author seems to be suggesting that instead of using tried-and-tested mainstream medicine we should use less tried-and-tested solutions and more alternative (i.e. unproven, probably ineffective) treatments.

I think there is still room for another couple of gems: I like “Astragalus is safely (sic) because it has no side effects, and this is one of the best things about this plant”, but I prefer: “As we said in the above paragraphs, the use of Astragalus root in the modern alternative medicine is going to be more effective every day, because more and more people will use Astragalus when they realize the benefits of this plant.”

That’s right, folks – the more people that use a remedy, the more effective the remedy becomes. So… if one person uses Astragalus it has no effect on them but if, say, a billion people use Astragalus it becomes far more potent and will cure their cold, clear up their asthma and extend their lifespan. This is better than homeopathy – the potency of a cure depends on the number of people who have tried / are trying the remedy in question. Stunning.

A Pubmed search for Astragalus turns up 3430 references, so I thought I’d refine my search. Astragalus +life +expectancy turns up one result. This result was for an abstract of a paper in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that referred to a study with one participant, who was given a Chinese remedy containing extracts of 12 plants, one of which was Astragalus. So even if there seemed to be a positive result in this one patient, there is no way of knowing whether Astragalus had anything to do with the improvement – apart from the possibilities that the patient may have improved anyway or that the Chinese remedy may have had a placebo effect in the patient, in order to claim that Astragalus extended life expectancy you would also have to assume that the other eleven constituents had nothing to do with the extended life expectancy and that it was purely due to the Astragalus. Oh yes, I nearly forgot – the patient in question had cancer, so the findings of this study actually relate to a single cancer patient. So can this study really be extrapolated to the general population? Astragalus +cold brings up one solitary result – a review in the Alternative Medicine Review. This review is of various remedies and has a 174-word section on Astragalus that reports a small, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which Astragalus demonstrated the strongest activation and proliferation of immune cells. So there is not a single paper on Pubmed that studies the effects of Astragalus on the common cold. Where do the authors get their information from? They claim that Astragalus “is a very good remedy for many diseases, included (sic) cold, fever, and asthma” and that “this plant has been used to extend the life expectancy” – but where do they get their info from? Anecdotes?

Pubmed Refs:

Colds and influenza: a review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48; Roxas M, Jurenka J.

The effect of a traditional Chinese prescription for a case of lung carcinoma. J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Dec;6(6):557-9; Kamei T, Kumano H, Iwata K, Nariai Y, Matsumoto T.


Who are Associated Content? “Associated Content provides consumers, brands and publishers with a wide range of quality content.” Find out more here if you’re interested: and

An idle thought: Why were two such similar articles published within hours of each other through the same site and with the same title? I was going to contact the authors and ask that question. Unfortunately, you have to be a member of AC in order to contact them and I’m not really sure I want to be a member.

“For over 20,000 years, herbalist in China have recommended using it” hahaha, an appeal to tradition ( and a reference to ‘Eastern’ Medicine in the same sentence – because, obviously, ‘Eastern’ medicine is better than ‘Western’ medicine.

The AC headline is in the form of a question. Click here: to find out more about headlines in the form of questions.



  1. s frahm said,

    Hey!, Where do you think that most pharmaceuticals come from anyway? Herbs. That’s right herbs. Not everybody on this earth can afford western medicine. How about somebody who makes like $1-2 a day? Are they going to be able to afford Albuterol for their child’s asthma? No, they are going to give that child Astragalus and what do you know? They might just live longer. Appeal to tradition? Ethnopharmacology, that’s what the pharmaceutical companies use themselves as a basis to find new drugs that they can patent and then mark up 1,000 to 10,000%. Do your research before you rant and disparage.

  2. jdc325 said,

    Yes, I’m well aware that pharmaceutical drugs come from herbs. Not sure why you consider conventional medicine to be Western though, what do you think hospitals use in the East? If there is an issue with the price of medicines in poorer parts of the world then perhaps we should work to change that – I don’t think we should recommend ineffective or inconsistently effective remedies that have insufficient evidence to support their use.
    One problem with traditional herbal medicine is lack of standardisation. Another is lack of data on safety and efficacy. Are you seriously telling me that Astragalus is better than the best currently available pharmaceutical treatment for asthma? If so, you should be able to link to the research that backs up your argument. There’s a good piece on the trouble with herbals here. Digoxin from foxglove is used as an example.
    The appeal to tradition fallacy does not cease to be a fallacy simply because you state that pharmaceutical companies use ethnopharmacology. Big Pharma test their products in controlled trials. Traditional healers tend not to. For humans to spend 20,000 years using an untested substance that doesn’t actually work would not be a huge surprise to me. It is, apparently, unthinkable to you. Some old wives’ tales may be true – but that doesn’t mean they all are.

  3. Scarfizi said,

    Are you kidding me sir ? Do your homework before you make false accusations. First off , The Chinese have been using astragalus for 2000 years(not 20,000). Second, Geron corp (google: Geron astragalus) has extracted astragalus as a possible AIDS / CANCER cure. And yes , their clinical trials have shown positive results.

  4. jdc325 said,

    @Scarfizi. Firstly, the “20,000 years” was a quote from the webpage that I was criticising, so if it is a mistake it’s theirs, not mine. [Hint: I tend to use quotation marks when, um, quoting other people.]
    Secondly, Geron have extracted a molecule from the astragalus plant – they are not using astragalus itself. [See also my earlier comment re standardisation, efficacy, and safety.] While they claim to have interesting results re the impact of TA-65 on the immune system, it’s difficult for me to comment on their clinical trials as (as far as I can tell) they aren’t published so we don’t actually know anything about their methods or results. I’ve contacted them to ask for further detail.

    Meanwhile: can I gently suggest that you should perhaps read blog posts a little more carefully before you accuse someone of making “false acusations”.

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