We chose astragalus, an herb widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, for this month because of its popularity as an immunostimulant.

AstragalusA perennial flowering plant prevalent in northern China, Mongolia and Korea, astragalus is valued for its medicinal effects. The root is often combined with other herbs to boost the immune system, to improve endurance, for preventing upper respiratory infections and colds, to lower blood pressure, to treat heart disease and diabetes, and as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. 

Limited data suggest that astragalus can augment the effects of platinum-based chemotherapy; help relieve cancer-associated fatigue, nausea and vomiting. An injectable form, combined with chemotherapeutic agents, improved quality of life in patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings. Because of its immunomodulatory effects, astragalus is contraindicated in patients taking immune suppressive medications.

The last two decades have seen a significant increase in dietary supplement use by cancer patients. Despite the proliferation of Web sites that contain information about dietary supplements, finding a reliable source can be overwhelming. The Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center developed and maintains a free Web site “About Herbs that provides objective and unbiased information about herbs, vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements, and unproven anticancer treatments. Each of the 278 and growing number of entries has healthcare professional and patient versions that are regularly updated with the latest research findings. The free About Herbs App, compatible with iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch devices, can be downloaded here