The Benefits of the Herb Coptis Chinensis

Angelica and coptis chinensis
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Coptis chinensis is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. Sometimes referred to as huang lian or goldthread, extracts of the herb's roots are available in dietary supplement form. Often used to treat gastrointestinal problems, Coptis chinensis is also said to protect against some forms of cancer.

Coptis chinensis contains several compounds thought to enhance health, including berberine (a chemical found to possess antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties).


In alternative medicine, Coptis chinensis is said to aid in the treatment of the following health conditions:

In addition, Coptis chinensis is purported to prevent cancer and protect against liver disease.


In preliminary research on animals and human cells, scientists have found that Coptis chinensis may offer a variety of health benefits. Although there's currently a lack of clinical trials testing Coptis chinensis and its health effects, studies suggest that the herb shows promise in certain areas:

  • Diabetes: A number of animal-based studies indicate that Coptis chinensis may have anti-diabetic effects. In a 2011 study from the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, for instance, tests on rats demonstrated that Coptis chinensis may help protect against diabetes, in part by improving insulin resistance.
  • Heart Disease: Coptis chinensis may be effective against heart disease, according to a study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2006. In an experiment on rats, the study's authors determined that Coptis chinensis may help prevent or manage heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Cancer: There's some evidence that Coptis chinensis may possess anti-cancer properties. In a 2005 study published in Carcinogenesis, for example, tests on human cells revealed that Coptis chinensis may help combat breast cancer by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).
    • Additionally, a cell-based study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine in 2009 found that the pro-apoptotic effects of Coptis chinensis may boost the body's defense against liver cancer.


    Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of Coptis chinensis. However, there's some concern that intake of berberine may increase levels of a compound known as bilirubin in newborn children. Since elevated levels of bilirubin are linked to neurological dysfunction in newborns, it's crucial to avoid the use of Coptis chinensis in newborn infants.

    Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should also avoid the use of Coptis chinensis.

    In addition, there's some concern that berberine may be harmful to people with heart disease.

    Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.


    For help in fending off diabetes and heart disease, there are many natural remedies that may offer some benefits. These remedies include such herbs as cinnamon and fenugreek, as well as anthocyanins (a class of antioxidant compounds found naturally in acai, bilberry, chokeberry, elderberry, tart cherries, and other fruits and vegetables).

    Where to Find It

    Sold in many natural-foods stores and drugstores, dietary supplements containing Coptis chinensis can also be purchased online.

    Using Coptis Chinensis for Health

    Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend Coptis chinensis as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using Coptis chinensis for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstance or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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    Article Sources

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    • Kang JX, Liu J, Wang J, He C, Li FP. "The extract of huanglian, a medicinal herb, induces cell growth arrest and apoptosis by upregulation of interferon-beta and TNF-alpha in human breast cancer cells." Carcinogenesis. 2005 Nov;26(11):1934-9.
    • Xia X, Yan J, Shen Y, Tang K, Yin J, Zhang Y, Yang D, Liang H, Ye J, Weng J. "Berberine improves glucose metabolism in diabetic rats by inhibition of hepatic gluconeogenesis." PLoS One. 2011 Feb 3;6(2):e16556.
    • Yuan L, Tu D, Ye X, Wu J. "Hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic effects of Coptis chinensis franch inflorescence." Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2006 Sep;61(3):139-44.
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