Goldenseal Benefits, Side Effects, & Contraindications

Published on August 04, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Goldenseal is one of the most popular herbs in the world.

This bitter, astringent, eastern North American perennial is found in various supplements, skin care products, topical creams, ear drops, and feminine cleansing products.

It also has a long history of use among Native Americans and traditional herbalists for supporting many aspects of wellness.*

In this article, you’ll learn all about Goldenseal, including its historical uses, the research behind its benefits, and how to use it to potentially support immune function, heart health, skin health, digestion, metabolic function, and more.

What is Goldenseal?

Goldenseal, also known as Goldenseal Root, Goldenseal Root Extract, or Hydrastis canadensis L./H. Canadensis is a perennial plant native to eastern North America.REF#2521

Goldenseal was traditionally used in Native American herbalism for wellness and as a natural dye. 

Some documented traditional uses of Goldenseal include: REF#2521 REF#2522

The main active plant compounds in Goldenseal root are isoquinoline alkaloids such as:

  • Hydrastine (1.5–4%)
  • Berberine (2.5%)
  • Canadine (0.5%)
  • And other alkaloids

These plant compounds have been shown to be responsible for much of Goldenseal’s potential health benefits.

What’s The Difference Between Goldenseal and Berberine Supplements?

There is often confusion over the difference between Goldenseal and Berberine supplements—which often list Goldenseal on the label. 

Let’s clear that up now.

As you’ve just learned, Berberine is one of the main active components in Goldenseal Root.

Berberine is also found in the barks, leaves, twigs, rhizomes, roots, and/or stems of approximately 450–500 species within the Berberidaceae family.REF#2523 REF#2524

Examples of other Berberine-containing plants include:

  • Barberry
  • California Poppy
  • Oregon Grape
  • Tree turmeric

Berberine-containing plants, including Goldenseal, have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (the traditional wellness practice of India) for centuries used to support various aspects of well-being, including:REF#2523

  • Eye health
  • Gut health
  • Immune function
  • Healthy Inflammatory response
  • Skin health
  • Respiratory function

Therefore, Goldenseal is often used as a source of Berberine in Berberine supplements, and some Goldenseal supplements may be standardized to contain a certain concentration of Berberine.

So, if you’re looking for a Goldenseal supplement specifically versus a blend of different Berberine-containing plants, look for “Goldenseal” in the name and as a primary ingredient.

6 Benefits Of Goldenseal

Although Berberine is one of the more extensively researched plant compounds, there are fewer studies supporting the traditional uses of Goldenseal specifically.

However, there is still evidence surrounding its potential benefits.

In this section, we’ll explore the science behind the traditional uses and actions of some of Goldenseal’s uses and purported health benefits.

#1: Goldenseal May Support Immune Function

Examine the immune support aisle at your local natural foods store, and you’ll find several supplements, lozenges, throat sprays, and more containing Goldenseal.

Berberine-containing herbs, like Goldenseal, have also long been used to support various aspects of immune function*.

Emerging research suggests Goldenseal may benefit immune function by supporting normal inflammatory response, bacterial balance, and production of immunoglobulins G and M—when combined with Echinacea. REF#2525

Research has also shown the Berberines contained in Goldenseal and other plants may support: 

  • Normal immune system regulation REF#2526 REF#2527
  • Normal respiratory function REF#2528
  • Normal inflammatory response REF#2529 REF#2530
  • Gut microbiome process by supporting regulation of intestinal flora REF#2531

More research is needed to determine the extent to which Goldenseal and Berberine may support immune function.

#2: Goldenseal & Berberine May Support Heart & Cholesterol Function

Berberine isolates from Chinese herbs have been identified as supporters of normal cholesterol in previous studies.REF#2532

However, animal research suggests that canadine (CND) and two other constituents of Goldenseal may also work to promote normal cholesterol levels and support liver function.REF#2533

Research has also shown that Berberine-containing herbs may help support other aspects of normal heart and cardiovascular function, including:REF#2534

  • Normal blood pressure
  • Normal endothelial inflammatory response
  • Normal vascular function
  • Normal cholesterol levels

In-vitro, animals, and human studies suggest Berberine’s antioxidant and metabolic supportive properties may be responsible for its heart-supportive benefits.REF#2534

More research is needed to recommend Goldenseal or other Berberine-containing herbs for heart health.

#3: Goldenseal May Support Gastrointestinal Function

Native American folklore and traditional herbalism both make use of bitter plants, such as Goldenseal, Dandelion, Chicory, Black Walnut, Oregon Grape, and others, to support digestion and overall gastrointestinal health*.

Preliminary research has shown that the plant compounds Berberine and beta-hydrastine in Goldenseal may support gastrointestinal function by helping maintain normal bacterial balance.REF#2535 REF#2536

Research also suggests Berberine may have a positive effect on gut microbiota and that gut microbiota may play a vital role in how Berberine may affect the body.REF#2537

More research is needed on how Goldenseal and Berberines may support gastrointestinal function and the gut microbiome.

#4: Goldenseal May Support Metabolic Function

The metabolic system includes various organs and systems, including your cardiovascular system, digestion, hypothalamus, liver, thyroid, and pancreas.

Therefore, metabolic function has been linked to multiple aspects of health, including how fast we burn calories, thyroid health, blood sugar balance, heart health, and much more.

The link between metabolic function, overall wellness, and lifestyle has made metabolic health a hot topic in the integrative health field.

As you may have seen on TikTok or other social media platforms, Goldenseal and Berberine are often part of this conversation.

Emerging research has shown a potential connection between Berberines in Goldenseal root and metabolic function via its supportive effects on normal inflammatory responses within the liver, adipose tissue, kidneys, and pancreas.REF#2538

Other research suggests that Berberines may help support normal blood sugar and cholesterol, but more research is needed to make a recommendation.REF#2539

Always talk to your doctor before taking anything that may affect your blood sugar or you are looking to add something to your health routine.

More research is needed to confirm how it may affect people with different metabolic concerns. Talk to your healthcare practitioner for individual recommendations.

#5: Goldenseal May Support Oral Health

Goldenseal has become a common ingredient in many natural oral care products, such as mouthwashes and toothpastes.

This can be explained by emerging research suggesting Goldenseal may provide protective benefits for the oral microbiome.REF#2540

More research is needed.

For more information on natural oral care, check out: Your Guide To Natural Toothpaste & 5 Ways To Whiten Teeth That Really Work.

#6: Goldenseal May Promote Urinary Health

Some research has shown the active components in Goldenseal may promote urinary tract health by supporting normal bacterial balance and the integrity of the bladder lining.REF#2541

More research is needed to make a recommendation.

Goldenseal Side Effects & Possible Contraindications

Goldenseal has been used as a supplement, extract, and in topical applications for centuries.

However, there have been some side effects and potential contraindications reported.

It is worth noting that most safety concerns about Goldenseal are due to its alkaloid compounds, such as Berberine.

Therefore, whole root powders that aren’t standardized to contain concentrated amounts of Berberine are generally safer.

Side effects observed from taking Goldenseal are rare and usually result from taking too much for too long.REF#2542 REF#2543

Side effects may include gastric upset such as nausea, stomach ache, diarrhea, and/or constipation, and reduced liver function. REF#2544

Animal research suggests the Berberines in Goldenseal may cause preterm labor, so it is not recommended during pregnancy.

Since Goldenseal and other Berberine-containing herbs may affect blood sugar, blood pressure, and the liver, it may be contraindicated with certain medications for these concerns or medications that impact the liver. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Per the National Institutes of Health, Berberine-containing herbs should not be taken with Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune) because Berberine might decrease how quickly the body breaks down cyclosporine.

There is insufficient evidence to support its safe use during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or long-term use.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Goldenseal and Berberine-containing plants are likely unsafe to give newborns as they can worsen jaundice symptoms.

Goldenseal is generally safe to use topically to support skin and oral health.

Always talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner before taking any herbal supplement, including Goldenseal.

How To Find Sustainably-Grown Goldenseal Supplements

Due to the growing popularity of Goldenseal and its lengthy growth cycle, Goldenseal has been over-harvested and is endangered in its native habitat.

This has led some unreputable growers and suppliers to try and pass off other herbs as Goldenseal or use unethical or illegal harvesting practices.

Coptis chinensis, for example, has been sold in place of “Chinese goldenseal” and has been found as an adulterant of goldenseal.REF#2545

Other Berberine-containing species have also been used to adulterate Goldenseal.


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