Goldthread

Health Benefits of Goldthread

Goldthread, also known as coptis or canker root, is a genus of perennial herbs that have been part of Asian and North American traditional medicine for hundreds of years. The roots of the plant look like a tangled mass of gold thread, hence its name. Herbal goldthread is actually the powdered rhizome, or underground stem, of the goldthread plant.

goldthread-roots-1Traditional Uses for Goldthread

Goldthread is an important herb in both Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine. Starting in the Tang dynasty, goldthread was used to make a medicine called Huang-Lian-Jie-Du Decoction (HLJDD), which is still used today. Herbalist relies on HLJDD to address a variety of ailments, including soothing irritation, promoting normal blood sugar, and supporting gastrointestinal health.

Native Americans used the herb as a digestive aid and to remedy infections and mouth sores. It’s from this that goldthread got the nickname “canker root.” The practical value of goldthread wasn’t limited to therapeutic applications; because of its bright gold color, Indigenous Americans also used goldthread to produce a yellow dye and to flavor beer.

Health Benefits of Goldthread

The healing properties of goldthread aren’t simply folkloric in nature. Modern medicine has started to examine the potential health benefits of this herb. Animal testing confirms that goldthread can soothe redness, swelling, and irritation. Studies have found that goldthread can promote normal blood sugar and even support brain health.

Goldthread owes its healing abilities to high concentrations of several potent alkaloid compounds. Of these, berberine is most commonly associated with goldthread’s benefits. Berberine has dozens of therapeutic applications. It can protect against some types of harmful organisms and soothe irritated tissue. It promotes normal lipid profiles and is even known to boost the immune system. Multiple studies suggest that berberine may be of benefit for those suffering from obesity. Berberine promotes heart health, bone and joint health, brain health, digestive health, liver health, and is beneficial for the respiratory system. Perhaps most intriguing of all, berberine has been evaluated for activity against cancer but further research is necessary to fully understand its potential or draw conclusions.

Berberine isn’t goldthread’s only beneficial compound, though. Other alkaloids present in goldthread include palmatine, epi berberine, jatrorrhizine, columbamine, and coptisine. Coptisine, in particular, has received attention from researchers recently. It’s currently being examined for its ability to promote brain health. Among its other positive attributes, coptisine may help a fever, relieve discomfort, support heart health, and it’s a strong antioxidant. Additionally, it encourages normal cellular respiration.

Where to Find Goldthread

Many varieties of goldthread are native to Asia and North America and some are actually critically endangered. There are two reasons for this—one is genetic and one is man-made. The genetic cause is a random mutation that results in low pollen and seed production in certain species of goldthread. This mutation affects up to 80% of Coptis teeta, a type of goldthread from the eastern Himalayas. The second cause is overexploitation by humans. Goldthread is a victim of its own success. It’s desirable properties as a therapeutic herb has led to widespread overharvesting.

Finding a substitute for goldthread may be tricky. Goldenseal is a herb that also contains berberine. But, like goldthread, goldenseal has been severely over-harvested. You can find goldenseal in most drug stores, but the quality is dubious. Oregon grape root may be a better alternative than goldenseal. Although it has a lower berberine concentration, Oregon grape root is more sustainable and readily available. In fact, the plant is so common that it’s often considered an invasive species outside its native habitat.

While several varieties of goldthread are endangered and in need of protection, other species remain plentiful. Populations of some formerly threatened species, like the North American coptis trifolia, are recovering. If you’re careful about your source, goldthread itself is still a good option. You can find goldthread in supplements, both by itself and blended with other herbs.

Scientists discover how chinese medicinal plant makes anti-cancer compound

New research led by Professor Cathie Martin of the John Innes Centre has revealed how a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine produces compounds which may help to treat cancer and liver diseases.

The Chinese skullcap, Scutellaria baicalensis – otherwise known in Chinese medicine as Huang-Qin – is traditionally used as a treatment for fever, liver and lung complaints.

Scutellaria flower

Previous research on cells cultured in the lab has shown that certain compounds called flavones, found in the roots of this plant, not only have beneficial anti-viral and antioxidant effects, but they can also kill human cancers while leaving healthy cells untouched. In live animal models, these flavones have also halted tumour growth, offering hope that they may one day lead to effective cancer treatments or even cures.

As a group of compounds, the flavones are relatively well understood. But the beneficial flavones found in Huang-Qin roots, such as wogonin and baicalin, are different: a missing – OH (hydroxyl) group in their chemical structure left scientists scratching their heads as to how they were made in the plant.

Professor Cathie Martin, the lead author of the paper published in Science Advances, explains: “Many flavones are synthesised using a compound called naringenin as a building block. But naringenin has this -OH group attached to it, and there is no known enzyme that will remove it to produce the flavones we find in Huang-Qin roots.”

Scutellaria root

Working in collaboration with Chinese scientists, Professor Martin and her team explored the possibility that Huang-Qin’s root-specific flavones (RSFs) were made via a different biochemical pathway. Step-by-step, the scientists unravelled the mechanism involving new enzymes that make RSFs using a different building block called chrysin.

“We believe that this biosynthetic pathway has evolved relatively recently in Scutellaria roots, diverging from the classical pathway that produces flavones in leaves and flowers, specifically to produce chrysin and its derived flavones,” said Professor Martin.

“Understanding the pathway should help us to produce these special flavones in large quantities, which will enable further research into their potential medicinal uses. It is wonderful to have collaborated with Chinese scientists on these traditional medicinal plants. Interest in traditional remedies has increased dramatically in China since Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 for her work on artemisinin. It’s exciting to consider that the plants which have been used as traditional Chinese remedies for thousands of years may lead to effective modern medicines.”

This publication is the first high-profile output from the Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Sciences (CEPAMS), established between the John Innes Centre and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 2014. The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and CEPAMS and supported by the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC).

PROFESSOR MARTIN’S PAPER “A SPECIALISED FLAVONE BIOSYNTHETIC PATHWAY HAS EVOLVED IN THE MEDICINAL PLANT SCUTELLARIA BIACALENSIS” IS PUBLISHED ONLINE IN SCIENCE ADVANCES: VIEW HERE – A SPECIALIZED FLAVONE BIOSYNTHETIC PATHWAY HAS EVOLVED IN THE MEDICINAL PLANT, SCUTELLARIA BAICALENSIS