Updated: Jul 31
Herbs for cancer treatment? Can herbs be used alongside conventional cancer treatment?
These are the most common questions asked by cancer patients. Many people have concerns about the potential interactions and contraindications between the concurrent use of botanicals and chemotherapy. Among these botanical herbs, astragalus is one of the most used and discussed in oncology.
Astragalus membranaceous (AM), also called Huangqi in Chinese, is an herbal plant of the Leguminosae family with a history of over 2000 years of being used as medicine. Several constituents (such as glycosides, polysaccharides, flavone, amino acids, triterpenoid saponins, and flavonoids) extracted from astragalus have the potential to enhance cytotoxic effects and reduce the side effects of the chemotherapeutic agent. AM has been a popular adaptogen commonly applied as an alternative and complementary therapy for cancer patients because of its immune-modulating, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hyperglycemic, anti-cancer, and anti-viral activities. (Li et al., 2020; Lin et al., 2019)
AM is a commonly applied clinical tool in treating various cancers, such as gastric, colon, lung, breast, and cervical cancer. It has been demonstrated that AM combined with chemotherapies can diminish the side effects and complications induced by chemotherapies and may even enhance the treatment's efficacy for certain types of cancer. Studies utilizing various cancer models and cell lines have shown that AM and its constituents can potentiate immune-mediated anti-tumor activity, enhance natural killer cell activity, and directly block cancer cells' growth with its anti-proliferation and pro-apoptosis features. (Li et al., 2020)
A systemic review article provided evidence of the benefits of astragalus-containing Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) in treating cervical cancer, concluding that astragalus-containing CHM can be a potential therapy to enhance curative efficacy and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. (Shen et al., 2021) A meta-analysis article also has shown that astragalus-based CHM combined with chemotherapy can significantly improve the tumor response rate in patients with colorectal cancer. (Lin et al., 2019)
A clinical in vitro study identified a novel mechanism of APS, suggesting that APS significantly decreased the migration and invasion of breast cancer cells, including the estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cell line, and may serve as a potential therapeutic agent for breast cancer. (Yang et al., 2020)
Astragalus is generally considered safe to use during chemotherapies. However, due to its antioxidant and estrogenic activities, I’d like to research in more depth on its safety for hormone-sensitive cancers and its potential interactions with chemotherapy drugs.
Jenny Noland, MS, CNS, CNGS, CKNS, LDN, MBA
Functional Nutritionist in Eugene, Oregon
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Personalized Nutrition Therapy for Metabolic Dysfunction and Cancer Care
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Li, S., Sun, Y., Huang, J., Wang, B., Gong, Y., Fang, Y., Liu, Y., Wang, S., Guo, Y., Wang, H., Xu, Z., & Guo, Y. (2020). Anti-tumor effects and mechanisms of Astragalus membranaceus (AM) and its specific immunopotentiation: Status and prospect. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 258, 112797. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JEP.2020.112797
Lin, S., An, X., Guo, Y., Gu, J., Xie, T., Wu, Q., & Sui, X. (2019). Meta-analysis of astragalus-containing traditional chinese medicine combined with chemotherapy for colorectal cancer: Efficacy and safety to tumor response. Frontiers in Oncology, 9(AUG). https://doi.org/10.3389/FONC.2019.00749/FULL
Shen, L., Gwak, S. R., Cui, Z. Y., Joo, J. C., & Park, S. J. (2021). Astragalus-Containing Chinese Herbal Medicine Combined With Chemotherapy for Cervical Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 12, 1795. https://doi.org/10.3389/FPHAR.2021.587021/BIBTEX
Yang, S., Sun, S., Xu, W., Yu, B., Wang, G., & Wang, H. (2020). Astragalus polysaccharide inhibits breast cancer cell migration and invasion by regulating epithelial-mesenchymal transition via the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway. Molecular Medicine Reports, 21(4), 1819–1832. https://doi.org/10.3892/MMR.2020.10983/HTML