Berberine has anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic powers. It may also reduce high cholesterol and protect against heart disease.
Berberine is a natural alkaloid, yellow in colour, found in a number of healing plants such as Oregan Grape, Tree Turmeric, Goldenseal, Barberry, Cork-Tree and Chinese Goldthread.
It has been used in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is well known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, often being used for gastrointestinal infections.
Over recent years, there have been increasing studies looking into the health benefits of berberine, and it appears to have a few superpowers up its sleeve.
Berberine has a variety of actions within cells, and its main impact seems to be triggering AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This ‘metabolic master switch’ is an enzyme that plays an active role in metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. It works at a cellular and physiological level, regulating energy production and expenditure.
Found in numerous organs including the brain, heart and liver, AMPK is involved in a wide range of biological functions including lipid, glucose and energy balance. It’s these pathways that become dysregulated in those suffering from metabolic syndrome, leading to raised blood glucose, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, diabetes and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Currently, various drugs are needed to treat all these different conditions, but AMPK activators like berberine have the potential to prevent and treat all these symptoms collectively. So, due to its ability to manage a whole host of chronic diseases through multiple targets, researchers are looking at berberine as a potential form of treatment.
Compelling research has shown berberine to be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for treating Type 2 diabetes. How? Well, for one, by reducing glucose production in the liver; in one small but remarkable study, it had the same blood sugar lowering effect as metformin, a drug commonly used to treat the disease.
The participants took 500mg of berberine three times daily for three months. During the trial, a few patients did experience mild but transient gastrointestinal disturbances, but berberine seemed otherwise well tolerated. It was also shown to improve lipid metabolism.
In another study, 116 diabetic patients were split into two groups for three months; one half were given 1g of berberine per day, and the other took a placebo. Those taking the berberine showed a significant reduction in blood glucose, as well as a decrease in cholesterol and lipid concentrations. Only five people experienced mild to moderate constipation, proving it to be a safe and effective treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Although more research is needed, early studies have shown berberine to prevent fat accumulation both in vivo and in vitro. So far, a small number of trials have supported its potential to reduce weight in those with PCOS, metabolic disorder and obesity.
In one three-month study, obese participants were given three oral daily doses of 500mg berberine. On average, they each lost 5lbs during that period. It was also noted that during this time, their blood lipid levels were significantly decreased with an average of a 23% decrease in triglyceride and a 12.2% decrease in cholesterol.
Another three-month study involving 37 patients with recently diagnosed metabolic syndrome gave them three daily doses of 0.3g berberine. The experiment demonstrated berberine’s potential to reduce visceral fat and control fat around the middle.
As well as inhibiting fat cell enlargement and improving insulin sensitivity in abdominal fat, it showed an ability to reduce inflammatory responses. All the participants reduced their waist circumference and lowered their BMI to varying degrees.
Berberine may also help to combat weight gain associated with taking antidepressants, but more research is needed.
A small number of clinical studies have looked into berberine’s ability to lower cholesterol with some success.
A genetic protein called PCSK9 reduces the number of LDL receptors in the liver, lowering its ability to sweep away excess LDL (bad) cholesterol from the blood and balance cholesterol levels. So a new line of pharmaceutical drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors has been created to suppress the PCSK9 protein.
Very early research in mice suggests that berberine also has a PCSK9 inhibiting capacity which can lower LDL cholesterol.
In another study involving 80 statin-intolerant participants with high cholesterol, half the group were given a nutraceutical pill containing 500mg berberine along with policosanol, red yeast rice, folic acid, coenzyme Q10 and astaxanthin. Results were promising, showing a significant reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and insulin resistance. The natural treatment was well tolerated without the raft of statin side effects.
PCOS is a hormone imbalance affecting ovarian function. Symptoms can include painful and irregular periods, infertility, thinning hair, hirsutism, weight gain and oily skin. Women who suffer from PCOS can also be vulnerable to a metabolic condition called ‘Syndrome X’ which can lead to diabetes.
Metformin is a drug prescribed to women with PCOS as diabetes prevention, and one study pitched berberine and metformin against each other to see which performed best in women with PCOS and insulin resistance.
As it transpired, berberine performed much better than metformin when it came to reducing insulin levels; it was also better able to reduce lipid concentrations including total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. As an added benefit, it even increased HDL (good) cholesterol. The participants taking berberine had a reduction in waist size and waist-to-hip ratio, too.
Insulin sensitivity in women suffering from PCOS can negatively affect the outcome of IVF treatment. A 2014 trial involving 150 women with PCOS who were also undergoing IVF split them into three groups. For three months before commencing IVF treatment, one group took berberine, another took metformin, and the third took a placebo.
Both the berberine and metformin groups had an increased pregnancy success rate due to their blood sugar reducing, hormone balancing capabilities. However, when compared to the metformin group, those taking berberine also had decreased BMI, lowered lipid parameters with reduced cardiovascular disease risk, and lowered follicle stimulating hormone. They also had an increased live birth rate. The berberine had fewer side effects than metformin.
In research, berberine has been shown to have multi-targeted effects on cancer and inflammation, and there is a small but growing body of reports noting berberine’s anti-cancer potential as it appears to be able to block and kill cancer cells.
In a preliminary study, berberine caused apoptosis (death) of tongue cancer cells.
Other cell studies have indicated berberine’s potential to inhibit brain, breast, cervical, colon, thyroid and liver cancer cells as well as lymphoma.
Planet Source Berberine is made in the USA and comes in a high 1200mg dose. It is made from the Berberis aristata root, also known as Indian barberry.
Non-GMO, vegan-friendly and free from corn, sugar, salt, wheat, soy, gluten and artificial ingredients, it comes in 60 capsules, providing a one or two-month supply depending on whether you take one or two capsules a day.
** If you are on prescription medication, please check with your GP before taking berberine as it may interact with some drugs, and some interactions may be severe.
This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Compelling research has shown berberine to be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for treating Type 2 diabetes. In one study, it had the same blood sugar lowering effect as metformin.