Huang Lian - Coptis chinensis

Professional Data
 Pin Yin
Huang Lian
Rhizoma Coptidis
 Introduction Back to Top
Rhizoma Coptidis is the dried rhizome of Coptis chinensis Franch. , Coptis deltoidea C. Y. Cheng et Hsiao or Coptis teeta Wall. (Fam. Ranunculaceae), commonly known as Wei-lian Yalian" or "Yun-lian", respectively. The drug is collected in autumn, removed from rootlet and soil, and dried.

 Western medical Back to Top
huang lian can be indicated in the treatment of vomiting, dysentery, jaundice, high fever, insomnia, hemorrhage, toothache, diabetes, carbuncles, boils, eczema and otitis media, etc..

 Eastern medical Back to Top
  • Pattern: Clears Heat, dries Dampness, discharges Fire and removes Toxin.
  • Properties: Bitter, cold.
  • Channels entered: Liver, Stomach and Large Intestine.
 Chemical constituents Back to Top
huang lian contains various alkaloids including berberine, coptisine, palmatine, jatrorrhizine, epiberberine, worenine, columbamine and magnoflorine, etc..

 Pharmacological actions Back to Top
Anti-pathogenic microorganism effect

huang lian decoction and berberine hydrochloride had inhibitory effect on had inhibitory effect on shigella dysenteriae, bacillus coli, typhoid bacillus, bacillus paratyphosus A, bacillus pestis, bacilius diphtheriae, bacillus pertussis, bacillus proteus, bacillus pyocyaneus, tubercle bacillus, anthrax bacillus, bacillus subilis, streptococcus A and B, staphylococcus aureus, pneumococcus, comma bacillus and leptospira, etc.. They could also inhibit HBsAg.. huang bo had strong inhibitory effect on fungi. It also had inhibitory effect on ameba and leishmania, etc..

huang lian infusion had inhibitory effect on more than 10 kinds of dermatomyces.

50% huang lian decoction had inhibitory effect on various influenza virus, and it could also lower the positive rate of HBsAg.

Berberine sulfate had inhibitory effect on amoeba, leishmania and trichomonas vaginalis, etc..

Anti-toxin effect

huang lian had obvious antagonizing effect on various bacterial toxins.

Anti-inflammatory effect

Berberine had obvious anti-inflammatory effect. It had inhibitory effect on both acute and chronic inflammation.

Effects on the cardiovascular system

Berberine at low concentrations could excite isolated heart of cats and dilate the coronary artery, at higher dosages, it showed inhibitory effect. Intravenous injection of berberine to sober rats or anaesthetized dogs could excite the heart, increase myocardial contractive. Berberine could obviously lower the myocardial oxygen consumption of failed heart and protect ischemic cardiac muscles.

Berberine had obvious anti-arrhythmia effect. It's effective on ventricular and atrial arrhythmia.

Berberine could lower the blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

Blood sugar lowering effect

huang lian and berberine could lower the blood glucose.

Anti-cancer effect

Berberine and its derivants had anti-cancer activities. in vitro huang lian could inhibit the synthesis of DNA, RNA and protein in S180 cells. Berberine and g-berbroliolin had certain inhibitory effect on ehrlich carcinoma and lymphoma NK/LY.

1. Effects of berberine on arylamine N-acetyltransferase activity and 2-aminofluorene-DNA adduct formation in human leukemia cells.

Berberine is an alkaloid occurring in the plant genera Berberis and Coptis. Although berberine had been demonstrated to have antineoplastic function by inhibiting DNA-synthesis in activated lymphocytes, there is no available information to address berberine affects on human leukemia cell N-acetyltransferase (NAT) activity and 2-aminofluorene (AF)-DNA adduct formation. Thus, berberine was tested for inhibition of arylamine NAT activity and AF-DNA adduct formation in human leukemia cells. The NAT activity was measured by a high performance liquid chromatography assaying for the amounts of N-acetyl-2-aminofluorene (AAF) and N-acetyl-p-aminobenzoic acid (N-Ac-PABA) and the remaining AF and p-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). The NAT activity and AF-DNA adduct formation in human leukemia cells were inhibited by berberine in a dose-dependent manner, i.e. the higher the concentration of berberine, the higher the inhibition of NAT activity and AF-DNA adduct. The data also indicate that berberine decreased the apparent values of Km and Vmax from human leukemia cells in both cytosol and intact cells.

--Chung JG, Chen GW, Hung CF, Lee JH, Ho CC, Ho HC, Chang HL, Lin WC, Lin JG. Am J Chin Med. 2000;28(2):227-38.

2. Inhibition by berberine of cyclooxygenase-2 transcriptional activity in human colon cancer cells.

The enzyme cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) is abundantly expressed in colon cancer cells and plays a key role in colon tumorigenesis. Compounds inhibiting COX-2 transcriptional activity have therefore potentially a chemopreventive property against colon tumor formation. An assay method for estimating COX-2 transcriptional activity in human colon cancer cells was established using a beta-galactosidase reporter gene system, and examination was made of various medicinal herbs and their ingredients for an inhibitory effect on COX-2 transcriptional activity. We found that berberine, an isoquinoline alkaloid present in plants of the genera Berberis and Coptis, effectively inhibits COX-2 transcriptional activity in colon cancer cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner at concentrations higher than 0.3 microM. The present findings may further explain the mechanism of anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor promoting effects of berberine.

--Fukuda K, Hibiya Y, Mutoh M, Koshiji M, Akao S, Fujiwara H. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999 Aug;66(2):227-33.

3. Screening new photosensitizers from Chinese medicinal herbs and searching for herbal photodynamic killing effects on human stomach cancer cells

OBJECTIVE: To find new photosensitizers from Chinese medicinal herbs for cancer photodynamic therapy. METHODS: The extracts of thirteen herbs were examined: (1) Their fluorescence excitation wave lengths and emission wave lengths; (2) Their fluorescence intensity in living cells and (3) Their distribution and localization in the living cells and the fixed cells both stained in each extract, and responses of cell fluorescence intensity to pH value change. Furthermore, the herb's anticancer photosensitive efficiencies were studied by using BCG-823 human stomach cancer cells. RESULTS: Cortex phellodendri and Rhizoma Coptidis, were found with optimal fluorescence properties as photosensitizers in this test. The latter could remarkably reduce the cell metabolic viability, proliferative ability and increased the cell mortality when the cells exposed to both drugs and luminance but not only to drug. CONCLUSIONS: The potential of Chinese medicine as new kind of photosensitizer and its possibility for use in anticancer photodynamic therapy are existed.

--Liao J, Li PP, Wu CJ. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1997 Dec;17(12):726-9.

Effects on the platelet

huang lian preparations or berberine had significant in vitro inhibitory effect on platelet aggregation and ADP release caused by various inducer

Effects on the smooth muscle

Berberine showed excitatory effect on smooth muscles of the uterus, bladder, bronchia and gastrointestinal tract.


Berberine could promote bile secretions, lower cholesterol and antagonize stress ulcer.

 Clinical Studies Back to Top
Bacillary dysentery

The therapeutic effect of huang lian on bacillary dysentery was quite certain. Usually it could be cured within 5~7 days. The oral dosage: small dosage was 2~3g, large dosage was 8~12g, averagely 6g daily.

Chronic atrophic gastritis

Supplemented Huang Lian Tang (huang lian 9g, zhi gan cao 6g, gan jiang 9g, gui zhi 9g, dang shen 10g, ban xia 12g, da zao 12 pieces, chai hu 18g, san leng 15g), 1 dose daily. The formula was used to treat 98 cases of chronic atrophic gastritis, and 16 were clinically cured, the total effective rate was 98.97%.

Peptic ulcer

Berberine 0.4g, qid, 4~6 weeks as a course of treatment. The method was used to treat peptic ulcer and the curative rate was 70%. During the treatment, only mild constipation and bitter taste were reported in very few patients.


Berberine 0.3~0.5g, 3~4 times daily, 2 weeks as a course of treatment. The method was used to treat 58 cases of premature beat, and 33 were markedly effective, 14 effective.

Epidemic cerebrospinal meningitis

Berberien at large dosages were used to treat 40 cases of epidemic cerebrospinal meningitis, and 24 were cured. The average course of treatment was 7.4 days.

Trichomonal vaginitis

Cotton pessary soaked with 20% huang lian infusion was used to treat 49 cases of trichomonal vaginitis, and the curative rate was over 95%.

 References Back to Top

Except those noted, all references come from Weng Weiliang, et al., Clinical Chinese materia medica, Henan Science & Technology Press, 1998