Coptis root, also known as Huang lian or goldthread, comes from the Coptis plant family native to North America and Asia. It is well-known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and believed to have several health benefits.
Coptis root usually refers to the dried root and rhizome of Coptis trifolia, a relative of goldenseal, although it may be the root of any Coptis species. It has a yellow-gold to reddish color and bitter taste that is believed to originate from its content of berberine, a water-soluble plant alkaloid.
Coptis root is harvested in the autumn, then cleaned and dried. The root is often used as a substitute for goldenseal.
According to Natural Wellbeing, Coptis root is used to treat diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems, hypertension and bacterial infections. It was the Native American Indians who introduced the root to early settlers, teaching them to use it to treat canker sores, infections and indigestion.
Modern day herbalists use the root for its antibacterial and antifungal properties and still use it to treat stomach and liver disorders, pain and infections. It's believed that berberine is responsible for much of the root's health benefits. An article written by Dr. Julian Whitaker, founder and director of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, states that berberine helps the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Immune challenges
- Intestinal infections
- Joint problems
- Low bone density
- Helps control weight
Dr. Whitaker states that "berberine targets a very basic and ancient regulator of metabolism present in all animals and plants called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)." According to the article, AMPK activation improves insulin sensitivity and blood flow, and helps slow the release of fatty acids which leads to lower lipid levels.
Berberine's strong antibacterial properties make it a popular herbal remedy for sore throat, mouth sores, eye infections, and throat infections. It is also sometimes used by herbalists to treat certain parasitic infections.
Coptis root has also been used as a natural dye thanks to its strong yellow color.
Side Effects and Precautions
Although Coptis root has been used safely in TCM for centuries, WebMD states on its website that there is not enough information to determine if it is safe to use in medicinal amounts. They also say that the herb should never be used in children or newborns because of berberine's potential effect on the liver due to the stimulation of bile. People with gall bladder problems and pregnant or breast feeding women should also avoid using the herb.
Coptis root should be used with caution if you take Cyclosporine or other medications broken down by the liver including, but not limited to, lovastatin, clarithromycin, indinavir, or sildenafil (Viagra).
The root's bitter taste may cause nausea or vomiting, especially if used regularly.
Forms and Dosage
You can purchase Coptis root in capsule, tincture, powder, or ointment forms, often as part of other herbal formulas. In TCM, Coptis root is usually used in with other herbs to help balance yin and yang.
Dosage in TCM varies based on the severity of illness and an individual's age, weight and overall health, but is usually within the range of 2 - 10 grams in decoction form.
According to WebMD, there is not sufficient scientific evidence to recommend dosages of goldthread for use in modern medicine.
A Powerful Herb
Throughout the centuries, Coptis root has earned its reputation as a powerful healer in natural medicine. As with many other natural remedies, Western modern medicine is taking note and studies are ongoing to determine the herb's efficacy in treating a variety of conditions. In the meantime, if you believe Coptis root can help you, consult your doctor or a certified herbalist to weigh the pros and cons and determine proper dosage.