Goldenseal: A Natural Antibiotic & Cancer Fighter

Goldenseal benefits - Dr. Axe

Goldenseal is one of the five top-selling herbal products in the U.S. Native Americans historically used goldenseal for various health concerns including skin diseases, ulcer symptoms and gonorrhea. Today’s traditional uses of goldenseal have broadened to include the natural treatment and prevention of colds, respiratory tract infections, allergies, eye infections, digestive issues, canker sores, vaginitis, urinary tract infections and even cancer.

Goldenseal contains berberine, which has been been proven to be antimicrobial, anti-tumoranti-inflammatory and blood glucose–lowering. Goldenseal has also gained popularity after a rumor spread that taking the herb can help block a positive test for illegal drugs. However, there is no scientific evidence that has proven this rumor to be correct. Yet fortunately there is research to support the medicinal use of goldenseal.


What Is Goldenseal?

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), also known as orange root, yellow root or yellow puccoon, is a perennial herb belonging to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. It is a low, sprawling plant native to the rich, shady soil of the deciduous forests of North America growing from southern Quebec to northern Georgia and west to Missouri.

Due to overharvesting, goldenseal is now mostly commercially grown on farms in the U.S. Goldenseal plants have hairy stems with jagged five to seven lobed leaves and small white flowers that turn into raspberry-like red berries. The bitter tasting roots of the goldenseal plant are bright yellow or brown, twisted and wrinkled.

The dried underground stems (rhizomes) and roots of the goldenseal plant are used to make teas, liquid extracts, tablets, and capsules as well as natural skin care products. Goldenseal’s potent properties are primarily due to the alkaloids berberine, canadine and hydrastine.  These phytochemical alkaloids produce a powerful astringent effect on mucous membranes, reduce disease-causing inflammation and have antiseptic effects. 


5 Health Benefits of Goldenseal

1.  Improves Digestive Issues

Goldenseal is an excellent digestive aid since it is very bitter, which stimulates the appetite, aids digestion and encourages bile secretion. Goldenseal contains berberine, which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat dysentery and infectious diarrhea. This is not surprising since the berberine in goldenseal has shown antimicrobial activity against certain pathogens that cause bacterial diarrhea, including E. coli and V. cholera.

Goldenseal can also be helpful to people experiencing small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) symptoms.  Current conventional treatment of SIBO is limited to oral antibiotics with inconsistent success. The objective of a study published by Global Advances in Health and Medicine was to determine the remission rate of SIBO using an antibiotic versus an herbal remedy. It found that the herbal treatment, which included berberine, worked just as well as antibiotic treatment and was equally safe.

Some people also use goldenseal for stomach swelling (gastritis), peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids and intestinal gas. Another impressive study found that among several herbs tested in vitro, goldenseal extract was the most active in inhibiting the growth of H. pylori, a type of bacteria which can lead to gastritis, ulcers and even stomach cancer. Goldenseal truly treats a wide range of problems when it comes to the gastrointestinal system.

2. Natural Antibiotic & Immune System Booster

Goldenseal is often found in herbal remedies for allergies, colds, and the flu because of its natural antibiotic and immune-boosting capabilities. One study found that goldenseal might help boost white blood cells, which is a measure of the infection-fighting ability of the immune system. Scientific research also suggests that medicinal plants like goldenseal and echinacea may enhance immune function by increasing antigen-specific antibody production. A product containing goldenseal and echinacea is an awesome natural bronchitis remedy.  Additionally, research at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School has shown goldenseal’s medicinal effectiveness as an immune stimulant may be due to its ability to reduce the pro-inflammatory response, which indirectly leads to the  limiting of clinical symptoms during infection. Goldenseal is also recommended to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are caused by bacterial overgrowth in the bladder’s interior walls. The berberine in goldenseal actually prevents the E. coli from binding to urinary tract walls.

Guide to goldenseal - Dr. Axe

3. Fights Cancer

According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the berberine in goldenseal has been found to induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells in multiple studies . One in vitro study found that berberine inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells to a greater extent than doxorubicin (a chemotherapy drug). In another study, berberine alkaloids produced an average of 91% tumor inhibition against 6 malignant brain tumor cell lines both in vivo in mice and in vitro against human brain tumors.

Berberine alkaloids were also shown to have potent cancer cell killing activity against tumor cells. Research has also been performed on a series of human malignant brain tumor cells and rat brain tumor cells in which berberine was used alone at a dose of 150 mcg/ml and had an average cancer cell kill rate of 91%.  In contrast, the chemotherapy drug carmustine had a cell kill rate of  only 43%. The rats treated with berberine at 10 mg/kg had an 81% kill rate. Research will continue, but so far goldenseal is being shown to hold some serious anti-cancer abilities.

4. Aids Eye & Mouth Problems

Goldenseal is also commonly used as a mouthwash for sore throats, gum complaints, and canker sores (small ulcers in the mouth). For any of these concerns, goldenseal mouth rinse can help by reducing inflammation and getting rid of any nasty bacteria.  You can purchase a mouthwash that already contains goldenseal or you can easily make some goldenseal mouthwash at home.  Simply make a cup of goldenseal tea and let it cool down before using it to rinse your mouth. Or you can add five drops of liquid goldenseal extract to eight ounces of warm water with a teaspoon of salt and mix well.

Goldenseal has been utilized as an eyewash for eye inflammation and eye infections like conjunctivitis or “pink eye.” Since the use of goldenseal in the eyes is somewhat controversial, consult a health practitioner before using goldenseal in this way.

5. Boosts Heart Health

The cardiovascular effects of the berberine found in goldenseal suggest its possible clinical usefulness in the treatment of arrhythmias and/or heart failure. For this reason, goldenseal is believed to possibly be helpful for chronic congestive heart failure (CHF) and heart function in general. A 2006 study demonstrated that the root extract of goldenseal is highly effective in regulation of the liver’s LDL (“bad cholesterol) receptors and in reducing plasma cholesterol.

Overall, the findings identified goldenseal as a natural LDL-lowering agent. In combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, goldenseal can help to lower cholesterol naturally.  Berberine also helps heart health by helping to keep blood sugar levels under control and obesity in check, both of which can raise the risk of coronary heart disease. Berberine also stimulates the release of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that relaxes the arteries, increases blood flow, reduces blood pressure and protects against arteriosclerosis.


Goldenseal History & Interesting Facts

Goldenseal gets its name from the golden-yellow scars that form on the base of the stem when it is broken. The scars resemble a gold wax letter seal hence the name goldenseal. It has been said that the powers of goldenseal were first introduced to European settlers by Native Americans, who harvested its rhizomes and roots to treat a variety of health complaints including eye, skin and digestive issues. Native Americans also mixed goldenseal with bear grease for use as an insect repellent and they used the color-rich roots to dye clothing.

Goldenseal has become one of the top selling herbs of North America. In Canada, there are currently around 40 over-the-counter drugs containing goldenseal or its active ingredients in the form of elixirs, tablets, capsules, or suppositories. Health products combining goldenseal and echinacea are very common and are created with immune system enhancement in mind.

Despite rumors, goldenseal will not cause a false-negative result for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, or any other illegal drugs. The idea of using goldenseal to alter drug test results came from the novel Stringtown on the Pike, by the pharmacist John Uri Lloyd. However, in this book, goldenseal caused a false-positive for strychnine (a poison), not illegal drugs, in a murder case.


Possible Side Effects of Goldenseal

Goldenseal is considered safe for short-term use in adults at recommended dosages. Rare side effects may include nausea and/or vomiting. Discontinue use of goldenseal if any negative reactions like these occur. Goldenseal is not meant for long-term use.

If you are currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications or have any health issues, check with your doctor before taking goldenseal. People with high blood pressure, liver disease, or heart disease should consult their healthcare provider before taking goldenseal. Goldenseal is not suggested for use in children or infants. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid using goldenseal.


Recommended Use of Goldenseal

Goldenseal can easily be found in tea or supplement form at your local health store or online.  Depending on which goldenseal product you purchase, make sure to read the label for each brand’s recommended dosage. For powdered goldenseal root and rhizome, 4–6 grams per day in tablet or capsule form is sometimes recommended. For liquid herbal extracts, a typical recommended dosage is 2 milliliters (40 drops) in 2 ounces of water or juice 3-5  times per day. Continuous use of goldenseal should not exceed three weeks, with a break of at least two weeks between each use. You can also talk to your health practitioner about what amount of goldenseal would be best for you and your particular health concern(s). Goldenseal is best taken internally between meals.

For external use of goldenseal, there is no standard recommended dosage, but read the label of the topical goldenseal product for instructions. Most likely, it will recommend that you use the product on the area of concern at least once a day.

Read Next:  9 Echinacea Benefits from Colds to Cancer


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