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Herbal Therapies Used by People Living With HIV: Goldenseal

Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV

2004

Goldenseal
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is made from the roots of a plant native to North America. The yellow root of this plant has been used by Aboriginal Peoples for centuries, both as a clothing dye and as a medicinal plant to treat infections of the eyes, ears and upper respiratory tract. Goldenseal contains substances called alkaloids. Berberine is the most important of the alkaloids and is primarily responsible for the plant's medicinal effects. Goldenseal is endangered, and the product is very expensive. It is often used in combination with echinacea.

Several cheaper herbal sources of berberine are available. Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is a European shrub that now grows in North America. Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) was also used medicinally by Aboriginal people, and goldenthread (Coptis trifolia) is used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. The berberine in these plants may be used to treat throat infections, such as strep throat and thrush. It may be used as well to treat diarrhea caused by parasites and fungal infections. In cases of serious diarrhea, which can quickly cause weakness and weight loss in HIV-positive people, berberine herbs should be used in conjunction with other treatments. The Healing Power of Herbs contains reports from several Indian studies involving berberine and people with diarrhea due to the parasite giardia. In one study of HIV-negative children, berberine relieved the symptoms of diarrhea more effectively than the antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl) but was less effective in clearing up the infection. In another study on adults, berberine and antibiotics together cleared the infection more quickly than antibiotics alone. Goldenseal may also be useful in cases of liver disorder and cirrhosis.

Herbs containing berberine are most often available in capsules, although teas and tinctures can be made from the dried roots. They should not be used by pregnant women. Others should carefully follow dosage instructions, and the herbs should not be used continuously for more than seven days. Since high doses of these plants may suppress the immune system, it is best to consult an experienced practitioner for advice on dosage and use. High doses can also cause nausea, vomiting, and tingling in the hands and feet (known as neuropathy). Plants containing berberine may also interfere with the metabolism of B vitamins. Long term use of berberine may adversely affect the bowels.

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This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

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