Written by Klara Rombauts and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated April 29, 2016

Milk vetch (Astragalus mongholicus)

Does it work?

Most available publications investigate milk vetch (Astragalus) based combination products (n>65), which do not allow conclusions about the efficacy of milk vetch itself. The four systematic reviews available all include studies with combination products16-19 and only two of the included trials evaluate milk vetch on its own.20,21 They are discussed below together with two subsequently published studies. Most trials suffer from methodological weaknesses so their conclusions need to be considered with caution.

Controlled clinical trials

In a randomized controlled trial (n=120) milk vetch was injected (40g per day) in addition to chemotherapy in patients with solid tumours for four cycles of 21 days. They found a significant increase in CD4/CD8 ratio, IgG and IgM and Karnofsky Performance status in the treatment group compared to the control group that only received chemotherapy.20

In a randomized controlled study 136 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer were enrolled to receive either astragalus polysaccharide (APS) injection integrated with vinorelbine and cisplatin (treatment) or vinorelbine and cisplatin (control). Tumour response and survival were not significantly improved by adding APS injection, but improvement of quality of life was seen in physical capacity and several indices like treatment-related symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, and loss of appetite.22

A prospective quasi-experimental study included 60 patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer. The dosis of 120 g of milk vetch was administered intravenously daily, starting 3 days prior to chemotherapy until completion of chemotherapy treatment. There was a significant increase in remission time, median survival time, and 1-year survival time. There was a significant difference in 2- and 3-year survival time between the treatment group and control group that received conventional gelform embolisation.21

PG2, a partially purified extract of milk vetch, was evaluated in 84 advanced cancer patients for the alleviation of cancer-related fatigue in a phase II double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study. Significant improvements for PG2 in relieving fatigue in advanced cancer patients were observed.23

Pre-clinical trials

A trial on 30 cervical cancer patients published in a Chinese journal (information retrieved from abstract only) reported Astragalus injections to regulate the imbalanced Th1/Th2 cell function of cervical cancer patients; data were compared to those of 10 healthy volunteers.24

An extract from milk vetch induced a restored immune reaction in 9 out of 10 patients with a significant increase in local graft versus host (GVH) reaction (P<0.01). This suggested that milk vetch contains potent immune stimulants. This was evaluated in 19 cancer patients and 15 normal healthy controls. Circulating mononuclear cells were isolated from heparinized peripheral venous blood, half of which were treated with milk vetch extract; the treated and untreated cells were then injected in partially immunosuppressed rats. Local GVH reaction was used as an outcome of a boosted immune reaction.4


Klara Rombauts, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Milk vetch (Astragalus mongholicus) [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Milk-vetch-Astragalus-mongholicus. April 29, 2016.

Document history

Assessed as up to date in April 2016 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in September 2013 by Barbara Wider.
Most recent update and revision in September 2012 by Klara Rombauts.
Summary first published in April 2011, authored by Klara Rombauts.


  1. Sinclair S. Chinese herbs: A clinical review of Astragalus, Ligusticum, and Schizandrae. Altern Med Rev. 1998;3:338-344.
  2. Cho W, Leung K. In vitro and in vivo anti-tumor effects of Astragalus membranaceus. Cancer Letters. 2007;252(1):43-54.
  3. Block K, Mead M. Immune system effects of Echinacea, Ginseng and Astragalus: A review. Integr Cancer Ther. 2003:2(3):247-267.
  4. Sun Y, Hersh E, Talpaz M, Lee SL, Wong W, Loo T et al. Immune restoration and/or augmentation of local graft versus host reaction by traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. Cancer. 1983;52(1):70-3.
  5. Ragupathi G, Hood C, Yeung S, Vickers A, Cassileth B, Livingston P. Evaluation of widely consumed botanicals as immunological adjuvants. Vaccine. 2009;26:4860-4865.
  6. Naturalstandard. Astragalus. [Online database.] Available from www.naturalstandard.com, accessed 13 September 2012.
  7. Auyeung K, Law, P, Ko J. Astragalus saponins induce apoptosis via an ERK-independent NF-κB signaling pathway in the human hepatocellular HepG2 cell line. Int J Mol Med. 2009;23(2):189-196.
  8. Auyeung K, Ko J. Novel herbal flavonoids promote apoptosis but differentially induce cell cycle arrest in human colon cancer cell. Invest New Drugs. 2010;28(1):1-13.
  9. Auyeung K, Cho C, Ko J. A novel anticancer effect of Astragalus saponins: Transcriptional activation of NSAID-activated gene. Int J Cancer. 2009;125(5):1082-91.
  10. Cheng XD, Hou CH, Zhang XJ, Xie HY, Zhou WY, Yang L et al. Effects of Huangqi (Hex) on inducing cell differentiation and cell death in K562 and HEL cells. Acta Biochim Biophys Sin. 2004;36(3):211-7.
  11. Tin M, Cho CH, Chan K, James A, Ko J. Astragalus saponins induce growth inhibition and apoptosis in human colon cancer cells and tumor xenograft. Carcinogenesis. 2007;28(6):1347-55.
  12. Cho W, Leung K. In vitro and in vivo immunomodulating and immunorestorative effects of Astragalus membranaceus. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;113(1):132-41.
  13. Clement-Kruzel S, Hwang SA, Kruzel M, Dasgupta A, Actor J. Immune modulation of macrophage pro-inflammatory response by Goldenseal and Astragalus species. J Med Food. 2008;11(3):493-8.
  14. Rittenhouse J, Lui P, Lau B. Chinese medicinal herbs reverse macrophage suppression induced by urological tumors. J Urol. 1991;146(2):486-90.
  15. Wagner H. Immunomodulatory agents from plants. Basel (Switzerland): Birkhäuser Verlag; 1999. p. 332-333.
  16. Wu P, Dugoua JJ, Eyawo O, Mills E. Traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment of hepatocellular cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2009;28:112.
  17. McCulloch M, See C, Shu XJ, Broffman M, Kramer A, Fan W et al. Astragalus-based Chinese herbs and Platinum-based chemotherapy for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer: Meta-analysis of randomized trials. J Clin Oncol 2006;24(3):419-30.
  18. Dugoua et al. Astragalus-containing Chinese herbal combinations for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer: a meta-analysis of 65 clinical trials enrolling 4751 patients. Lung cancer: Targets and Therapy 2010;1:85-100.
  19. Molassiotis A, Potrata B, Cheng KKF. A systematic review of the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in symptom management and improvement of quality of life in adult cancer patients. Complement Ther Med. 2009;17(2):92-120.
  20. Duan P, Wang Z. Clinical study on effect of Astragalus in efficacy enhancing and toxicity reducing of chemotherapy in patients of malignant tumor. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 2002;22(7):515—7.
  21. Zou YH, Liu XM. Effect of Astragalus injection combined with chemotherapy on quality of life in patients with advanced nonsmall cell lung cancer. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 2003;23:733—5.
  22. Guo L, Bai SP, Zhao L, Wang XH. Astragalus polysaccharide injection integrated with vinorelbine and cisplatin for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer: effects on quality of life and survival. Med Oncol 2012 Sep;29(3):1656-62
  23. Chen HW, Lin IH, Chen YJ, Chang KH, et al. A novel infusible botanically-derived drug, PG2, for cancer-related fatigue: A phase II double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study. Clin Invest Med 2012;35(1):E1-E11.
  24. Hu YJ, Li L, Gong SX: [Regulatory effect of astragalus injection on Th1/Th2 cell function in patients with cervical cancer]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi 2010; 30(11):1157-1159.
  25. Stegelmeier B, James L, Panter K, Ralphs M, Gardner D et al. The pathogenesis and toxicokinetics of locoweed (Astragalus and Oxytropis spp.) poisoning in livestock. J Nat Toxins 1999;8(1):35-45.
  26. Sun JY, Yang H, Miao S, Li JP, Wang SW, Zhu MZ et al. Suppressive effects of swainsonine on C6 glioma cell in vitro and in vivo. Phytomedicine. 2009;16(11):1070-4.
  27. Livestrong – Astragalus monograph [website]. Available at http://www.livestrong.com/article/363480-is-astragalus-safe/, accessed 13 September 2012.
  28. Sors T, Ellis D, Lahner B, Lee S, Leustek T et al. Analysis of sulfur and selenium assimilation in Astragalus plants with varying capacities to accumulate selenium. Plant J 2005;42(6):785-797.