Side Effects of Echinacea & Goldenseal

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea is an herbal supplement used to strengthen the immune system. (Image: czekma13/iStock/Getty Images)

Many people turn to herbs for medicinal use as an alternative to commercially produced medications. Goldenseal and echinacea are two of the most commonly purchased herbs in the United States, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The two are often taken together as a treatment for the common cold and to bolster the immune system to prevent infections. Neither herb has been conclusively proven effective in the treatment of colds or upper respiratory infection or as an immune booster, although some studies show benefits.

Uses of Echinacea

Echinacea is a perennial herb related to the daisy. Common names for echinacea include purple coneflower, Sampson root and Missouri snakeroot. Echinacea is used not only to stave off colds and the flu by stimulating the immune system but also as an antioxidant and antiviral medication. Proponents of echinacea also use it to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. While some studies have shown that echinacea might reduce the severity and duration of colds somewhat, not all studies are well designed and they use varying amounts of echinacea, UMMC cautions. In Germany, where the government regulates the use of herbs, the above-ground part of echinacea is approved for treating upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and wounds.

Echinacea Side Effects

The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 1 to 2 grams of dried root or herb, as tea or 300 mg of standardized, powdered extract for no more than seven to 10 days. When taken by mouth, it can cause nausea, sore throat and numbness and tingling in the mouth. If you're allergic to other plants in the daisy family, you may not be able to take echinacea. If you have multiple sclerosis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS or liver disease, take iechinacea only under your doctor's supervision. If you take immunosuppressive medication, do not take echinacea. Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take echinacea unless their doctor approves its use.

Uses of Goldenseal

Goldenseal is related to the buttercup; its other names are yellow root, jaundice root, eye root and poor man's ginseng. Goldenseal contains the active compound berberine, which proponents of the herb claims acts as an antibacterial agent, although studies haven't proven this, the UMMC states. Berberine may stimulate production of white blood cells, which are needed to fight infection. Goldenseal is also used as a digestive tonic, mouthwash, eye wash and disinfectant for minor scrapes and cuts. contrary to common opinion, taking goldenseal won't block drug tests from detcting illegal substances, accordng to the UMMC.

Goldenseal Side Effects

Goldenseal is considered safe when used for short periods of time, but few studies have been done to evaluate its long term use, and goldenseal's antibacterial action could destroy good as well as harmful bacteria if used for an extended time. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends adults take 500 to 1,000 mg of goldenseal in capsule form or 30 to 120 mg of standardized extract three times daily. It is not recommended for use in children. Side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, skin irritation and sensitivity to sunlight, are rare. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease or are taking anticoagulant medication or tetracycline, do not take goldenseal. It can also cause jaundice in newborns, so do not take this herb if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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