Health Benefits of Goldenseal

Goldenseal is a North American herb. Traditionally, Native Americans used goldenseal to treat a variety of health problems, including sore or itchy eyes, mouth ulcers, and even tuberculosis. Today, people use it for a variety of ailments. However, more study is needed to verify goldenseal's usefulness for these applications. 

The scientific name for goldenseal is Hydrastis Canadensis L. Another name for goldenseal is yellow root.

Goldenseal gets its name from its yellow and brown roots. The rest of the plant consists of small flowers, jagged 5-lobed leaves, and a small berry. 

The plant grows in the northern areas of North America and is at risk of over-picking. Most goldenseal found in commercial supplements is farmed. In the United States, many goldenseal farming operations are in Oregon and Washington state.

Health Benefits

Goldenseal can provide health benefits like:

Antibacterial Eye Support

Goldenseal is a common ingredient in herbal eyewashes to help with itchiness from seasonal allergies or discomfort from eye infections. However, this claim is not yet proven in medical studies.

One study showed that using high amounts of berberine, one of the antimicrobial — or bacteria-killing — components of goldenseal, may damage the cells on the surface of the eye lens. Most preparations of goldenseal for the eyes use safer amounts, but users should still be careful, especially when in direct sunlight. Studies show that taking goldenseal orally does not have this effect on the eyes. 

May Help Herpes Outbreaks

Traditionally, herbal medicine practitioners use goldenseal paired with other herbs like echinacea, myrrh, and St. John's Wort to help symptoms of herpes outbreaks. They believe that goldenseal helps herpes heal faster. However, any evidence of this is not yet proven by medical or scientific studies.

Digestive Support for Ailments like Bacterial Diarrhea and Gastritis

As goldenseal has generally antimicrobial properties, studies show that it’s useful in treating microbial, or bacterial, diarrhea and gastritis.

A review of several studies on over 3,900 people showed better outcomes when researchers gave participants berberine with antibiotics for infectious diarrhea, versus just antibiotics alone. Additionally, when only berberine was given, hospitalizations for diarrhea were shorter. This study also showed no serious negative effects from using berberine in this manner. However, more research is needed to prove its effectiveness and safety.

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May Help Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

The compound berberine may prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urethra and bladder, preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs.) However, as with several other claims about goldenseal, more thorough study is needed to be sure. 

General Immune Support

Two of the alkaloids in goldenseal, berberine and hydrastine, seem to support immune function. They are antimicrobial in that they kill bacteria, and they may even slow the growth of tumors. These compounds may also reduce inflammation, which further explains how they may help with digestive discomfort and symptoms of the common cold, like sore throat. However, more study is needed to find out how it works and the proper method and dosage for most effective immune support.

Health Risks

Most of the health benefit claims about goldenseal are anecdotal or based on traditional medicinal practices, and have not been sufficiently evaluated in a medical setting. Goldenseal may be safe to take on a short-term basis. However, more research is needed to know if it is safe to take for a longer time. 

Goldenseal Supplement Quality

When the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health evaluated goldenseal supplements, they found that some of the supplements did not contain the advertised levels of the herb. Some did not contain any goldenseal at all, but instead contained other ingredients instead of what was posted on the label. 

Pregnant & Nursing Parents

Goldenseal is potentially harmful to infants and pregnant women. It can cause jaundice in newborns. If a newborn is already jaundiced, goldenseal can make the condition worse. This can lead to a rare condition called kernicterus, which severe jaundice can cause.

Kernicterus causes symptoms like:

  • lethargy
  • muscle spasms
  • low appetite
  • respiratory distress

Children who grow up with this disease often have lifelong symptoms, including difficulty speaking, learning disabilities, hearing loss, and more. 

Medication Metabolization

Taking goldenseal may change the way your body processes medication. If you are on any type of medication, talk to a doctor before you start taking this supplement to make sure there will be no drug interaction.

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Amounts and Dosage

There is no recommended dosage for goldenseal. It is available in:

  • Tinctures
  • Capsules
  • Powders
  • Extracts
  • Tea

Follow the dosing guidelines on the packaging of the goldenseal product you are using.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 08, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Kaiser Permanente: "Goldenseal."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Goldenseal."

Mount Sinai: "Goldenseal."

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Goldenseal."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Kernicterus."

Peace Health: "Goldenseal."

Photochemistry and Photobiology: "Photochemistry and Photocytotoxicity of Alkaloids from Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) 3. Effect on Human Lens and Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells."

Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology: "Berberine for diarrhea in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Goldenseal."

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