By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
Berberine is a compound in several plants, including golden-seal, barberry, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric. Technically, it belongs to a class of compounds called alkaloids. It has a yellow color, and has often been used as a dye. It has very impressive health benefits, and affects your body at the molecular level. Berberine has been shown to lower blood sugar, cause weight loss and improve heart health, to name a few. It is one of the few supplements shown to be as effective as a pharmaceutical drug.
Berberine, which is a compound in tree turmeric, is an effective antimicrobial agent.
Berberine could be an effective antimicrobial agent. A laboratory study found that berberine helped inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus can cause many health problems, including sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, and a range of skin conditions. Another study found that berberine has the ability to damage the DNA and protein of certain bacteria.
Inflammation is a key factor in several health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Some research suggests that berberine has anti-inflammatory properties, which means that it could help treat diabetes and other inflammation-related health conditions.
Research has shown that berberine may work as a diabetes treatment. Studies have found that it can have positive effects on blood sugar, triglycerides, and insulin.
One meta-analysis indicated that berberine was better than a placebo at lowering blood sugar. The same analysis found that a combination of berberine and blood sugar lowering drugs is more effective than the drugs alone.
According to other research, berberine shows promise as a potential diabetes treatment, especially for those who cannot take existing antidiabetic drugs, due to heart disease, liver failure, or kidney problems.
Another meta-analysis found that berberine combined with lifestyle changes worked better to lower blood glucose than lifestyle changes alone. Berberine appears to activate AMP-activated protein kinase, which can help regulate how the body uses blood sugar. Researchers believe that this activation can help treat diabetes and related health issues, such as obesity and high cholesterol.
High levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Some evidence suggests that berberine could help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. According to one review, studies in both animals and humans indicate that berberine has cholesterol lowering effects. It may help reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and increase high density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol.
A meta-analysis found that berberine combined with lifestyle changes works better than lifestyle changes alone in treating high cholesterol. Furthermore, a study in hamsters observed that berberine helps move excess cholesterol to the liver, where the body can process and remove it. This, in turn, helps lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Researchers believe that the effects of berberine might be similar to those of drugs that reduce high cholesterol, while berberine does not cause the same side effects.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease.
A meta-analysis found that berberine combined with a blood pressure lowering drug was more effective than the drug alone. Also, results of a study in rats indicate that berberine could delay the onset of high blood pressure and, when it did develop, help reduce its severity.
Obesity is a common condition that can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
One review reported that people who took 750 milligrams (mg) of barberry twice a day for 3 months had a significant decrease in weight. Barberry is a plant that contains high amounts of berberine. Also, a double-blind study found that individuals with metabolic syndrome who took 200 mg of barberry three times a day experienced decreases in their body mass index readings.
The team behind another study observed that berberine may activate brown adipose tissue. This tissue helps the body turn food into body heat, and increased activation may help treat obesity and metabolic syndrome. Some research suggests that berberine works similarly to the drug metformin, which doctors often prescribe to treat type 2 diabetes. In fact, berberine may have the ability to change the bacteria in the gut, which could help treat both obesity and diabetes.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) occurs when a female has high levels of certain male hormones. The syndrome is a hormonal and metabolic imbalance that can lead to infertility and other health issues. PCOS is linked with many issues that berberine may help address. For example, a person with PCOS may also have:
- High Levels of Insulin, Diabetes, or both
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Increased Body Weight
Doctors sometimes prescribe metformin, a diabetes drug, to treat PCOS. As berberine appears to have similar effects to metformin, it may also be a good treatment option for PCOS. A meta-analysis and systematic review found that berberine has promise as a treatment for PCOS with insulin resistance. However, the authors state that confirming these effects will require further studies.
Berberine can create changes within the molecules of cells, and this could have another potential benefit: fighting cancer.
One review concludes that berberine has “clear inhibitory effects” on the following cancers:
- Colorectal cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Cervical Cancer
Another study states that berberine helps treat cancer by interfering with its progression and its typical life cycle. It may also play a role in killing cancer cells. Based on this evidence, the authors state, berberine is “highly expected to be effective, safe, and affordable” as a cancer fighting agent. However, it is important to remember that researchers have only studied berberine’s effects on cancer cells in a laboratory, not in people.
- Chang, W., et al. (2014). Berberine as a therapy for type 2 diabetes and its complications: From mechanism of action to clinical studies [Abstract].
- Chu, M., et al. (2016). Role of berberine in the treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections.
- Guo, Z., et al. (2015). Anti-hypertensive and renoprotective effects of berberine in spontaneously hypertensive rats [Abstract].
- Hu, X., et al. (2018). Berberine is a potential therapeutic agent for metabolic syndrome via brown adipose tissue activation and metabolism regulation.
- Lan, J., et al. (2015). Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension [Abstract].
- Lee, Y. S., et al. (2006). Berberine, a natural plant product, activates AMP-activated protein kinase with beneficial metabolic effects in diabetic and insulin-resistant states.
- Liang, Y., et al. (2019). Effects of berberine on blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic literature review and a meta-analysis.
- Li, M.-F., et al. (2018). The effect of berberine on polycystic ovary syndrome patients with insulin resistance (PCOS-IR): A meta-analysis and systematic review.
- Li, X.-Y., et al. (2015). Effect of berberine on promoting the excretion of cholesterol in high-fat diet-induced hyperlipidemic hamsters.
- Li, Z., et al. (2014). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine in the treatment of diabetes mellitus.
- Liu, D., et al. (2019). A natural isoquinoline alkaloid with antitumor activity: Studies of the biological activities of berberine.
- Peng, L., et al. (2015). Antibacterial activity and mechanism of berberine against Streptococcus agalactiae.
- Rad, S. Z. K., et al. (2017). Toxicology effects of Berberis vulgaris (barberry) and its active constituent, berberine: A review.
- Tabeshpour, J., et al. (2017). A review of the effects of Berberis vulgaris and its major component, berberine, in metabolic syndrome.
- Wang, H., et al. (2018). Metformin and berberine, two versatile drugs in treatment of common metabolic diseases.
- Wang, N., et al. (2015). Berberine and Coptidis Rhizoma as potential anticancer agents: Recent updates and future perspectives [Abstract].
- Yao, J., et al. (2015). Learning from berberine: Treating chronic diseases through multiple targets [Abstract].
- Zhang, X., et al. (2015). Modulation of gut microbiota by berberine and metformin during the treatment of high-fat diet-induced obesity in rats.
- Zilaee, M., et al. (2015). Effect of barberry treatment on blood pressure in patients with metabolic syndrome.