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

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


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