Have you heard that there is a plant-based medicine that can be as effective as pharmaceuticals? When you think of herbal medicine, berberine may not be the first name that springs to mind, but this plant-derived extract has been proven to be a potent medicinal compound. It has been tested in human models too, not just in the laboratory setting which can sometimes be the case.
There are over 5000 studies published in the United States National Library of Medicine that mention Berberine, and the vast majority of these are from the past few years. Berberine has a remarkable range of effects in various medical fields including as a chemotherapeutic and antimicrobial agent, in cardiovascular and diabetes support, and as a potential weight management tool.
Berberine could be helpful on your journey to improved health. Let’s take a closer look at this wonderful natural supplement.
What is Berberine?
Rather than being a name for a specific plant, berberine is an alkaloid compound that can be isolated from a variety of herbs that have long been used in Chinese traditional medicine.
It can be found in the roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark of several different plants, shrubs, and trees. These include Berberis aquifolium (Oregon Grape), Berberis vulgaris (European barberry), Berberis aristate (Indian Barberry), Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal), Phellodendron amurense (Amur Cork Tree), Coptis chinensis (Chinese Goldthread), and Tinospora cordifolia (Heart-Leaved Moonseed).
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The berberine extracted from these plants is a deep yellow color, and for this reason, it has a long history of use for dying wool, leather and, wood. It is still used in India for this purpose to this day (1).
The first recorded use of berberine was in ancient China at around 3000 BCE, and it was described in the ‘The Divine Farmers Materia Medica’ which is one of the founding books used in Chinese medicine.
Modern medical bodies are now discovering for themselves exactly how potent berberine is, and the great potential it has for treating a variety of conditions. Berberine shows a broad spectrum of anti-microbial activity against bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. Its action against various forms of Candida is potentially stronger than the prescription antifungals that are frequently used.
Health Benefits of Berberine
Berberine extract, and the plants from which it is isolated, has a long history in traditional medicine. It has been used for digestive disorders including diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, and disorders of the blood including high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
In clinical studies, berberine has shown potential in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
Candida yeasts are normally found on the human body, but they are disease-causing agents that can cause devastating infections under certain circumstances. It is one of the most common fungal causes of hospital acquired infections (2). There is a great deal of interest in finding countermeasures to this fungus, especially if it is possible to avoid chemical measures that can cause secondary problems.
There has been research that shows that berberine extract has substantial antimicrobial activity against a range of pathogens that include bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, and yeasts (3). Berberine is highly effective against Candida in various studies.
Fluconazole is a standard treatment for Candida infections. When Fluconazole is used together with berberine against Candida albicans that has been grown on a plate, the two have a synergistic effect, which means that they are more powerful when used together than the sum of either of them used individually (4).
Further work was undertaken in 2013 which showed that berberine damages the DNA of Candida albicans and fluconazole increases the amount of berberine that can enter the yeast cells (5).
Berberine has been proven to be selective in its effects. This means that it can target Candida, and yet does not harm the beneficial microbes including Lactobacilli and Bifidobacter species, that we wish to encourage as part of a healthy microbiome.
The use of traditional herbs as antifungal agents is currently gaining a great deal of interest by medical professionals. Another example of this is tetrandrine, a Chinese plant-derived alkalide which is showing great promise not only as an anti-candida agent but as a chemotherapeutic agent (6, 7).
Reduces blood sugar levels
Did you know that diabetes is a leading cause of limb amputation, blindness, kidney failure, and heart attacks? It is a condition that caused over 1.6 million deaths in 2016 with a further 2.2 million deaths being attributed to high blood sugar (8). Clearly, as a society, the need to find safe ways of lowering blood sugar and preventing type 2 diabetes is paramount.
There have been extensive studies on the use of berberine as an agent for lowering blood sugar. When a large number of these scientific publications were analyzed, it was clear that berberine was both safe and efficient as a treatment for type 2 diabetes mellitus when combined with lifestyle changes (9).
There have been studies that compare berberine to standard medications used in type 2 diabetes such as metformin, glipizide, and rosiglitazone. Researchers found that there was no difference between berberine and the standard medications, except that berberine use resulted in fewer side-effects (10, 11).
Berberine boosts the number of insulin receptors and makes them more active. This has the effect of increasing insulin sensitivity. The insulin is better at doing the job of moving glucose out of the bloodstream which in turn lowers blood sugar (12).
There are other positive changes that berberine exerts on the body to lower blood sugar:
- It decreases the amount of sugar that the liver produces
- It raises glycolysis, another name for cellular respiration, breaking down the sugar in the cells
- Carbohydrates in the digestive system are broken down at a slower rate which prevents blood sugar spikes
- It changes the gut microbiome, encouraging beneficial bacteria to flourish and helping to remove unwanted pathogens
In diabetic patients, taking just 1 gram of berberine every day caused fasting blood sugar to decrease by 20%. This change meant the patients’ blood was within normal rather than diabetic parameters and in addition improved the blood lipids cholesterol and triglycerides (13).
Berberine holds great pharmaceutical potential as the future of treatment or combination of treatments for type 2 diabetes.
It is easy to see inflammation when it occurs at the site of an injury. The swelling and redness are signs that blood and immune cells are flooding to the area to begin the healing process. This defense mechanism is normal and is called acute inflammation.
But what about the inflammation that you cannot see? When inflammation is out of control and inappropriate, it is associated with countless chronic diseases including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease
- Type 2 diabetes – inflammation can cause insulin resistance
- Lupus – an autoimmune disease
- Colitis – inflammation of the digestive tract
- Atherosclerosis – narrowing of the arteries
- Some cancers – chronic inflammation causes DNA damage which can lead to cancer
Numerous natural supplements are known for their anti-inflammatory effect, but berberine is one of the most powerful. There has been a considerable amount of research undertaken on the anti-inflammatory mechanisms of berberine.
Laboratory studies in rats have confirmed the anti-inflammatory effect of berberine (14).
In mice, berberine can reduce inflammation in the airways that was caused by either smoke inhalation or by dust mite allergens (15, 16)
Metabolic syndrome can lead to heart disease due to high blood pressure, an increased risk of clotting factor and abnormal cholesterol. When rats with metabolic syndrome are used as models of the blood vessels (17).
Obesity-associated non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is in simple terms an accumulation of fat in the liver that occurs in people who do not drink a great deal of alcohol but who are overweight or obese. It can lead to serious liver damage and cirrhosis. For diabetics, this is especially problematic as it can also lead to heart issues.
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In a mouse model with obesity-associated non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, berberine can reduce the inflammation in the liver (18).
Berberine has long been used as an anti-diarrheal medicine in traditional medicine. This could be due to the mechanism of inhibition of the toxic secretions of the pathogens Escherichia coli and Vibrio cholerae that have been demonstrated in animal models (19).
In the condition ‘leaky gut’, the intestine becomes more permeable which can result in bacteria and toxins leaking from the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. This can trigger endotoxemia, widespread inflammation and under certain circumstances, it can trigger an autoimmune response from the body. In a study using mice as a model, berberine was shown to reduce the damage that occurs with leaky gut (20).
Berberine improves the profile of desirable bacteria in the digestive system. In rats, it increases the level of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acid. Berberine also normalizes the balance of the gut microbiome, preventing dysbiosis (21,22).
Obesity medications often have serious side-effects. The search for a natural alternative with a low adverse event profile continues, and berberine is attracting interest as a candidate. In both laboratory rat models and human models, berberine when used three times daily for three months, resulted in weight loss and an improvement in cholesterol and triglycerides level in the blood (23).
Amongst patients with metabolic syndrome, berberine supplementation over a three month period reduced both their body mass index (a measure of body fat) and leptin (a hormone involved in hunger) which led to weight loss (24).
Berberine also inhibits the production of fat cells (25).
Side Effects of Berberine
Berberine has an impressive safety profile and is generally well tolerated when taken at the recommended dosage. The majority of side effects that have been noted are mild and occur in the digestive system including cramping, nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, stomach pain, and distension (26).
It is best to consult with your doctor before taking berberine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as not enough is known about its effects during pregnancy.
In the human body, there is an enzyme named CYP3A which is responsible for metabolizing a wide range of medications. Berberine inhibits how these enzymes function which means that your medication may not be metabolized as quickly and spend more time in your body, thereby increasing its effect.
If you are taking tetracyclines, related antibiotics, or oral hypoglycemic drugs, it is especially important to consult with your medical practitioner.
How Do You Take Berberine?
Berberine is usually taken in capsule form. It’s best to start with a low dose to give your digestive system time to adjust, otherwise you might experience temporary digestive symptoms like cramping or nausea.
When fighting an intestinal Candida overgrowth, it’s best to take a range of natural antifungals. This prevents yeasts like Candida from adapting to a single antifungal treatment. When I formulated our Candida Cleanse formula, I included 8 different natural antifungals. Berberine is one of these, but it also includes oregano oil, caprylic acid, garlic extract, and more. It’s the #1 antifungal supplement that I recommend for Candida, and you can find it on Amazon or in the Balance ONE online store.
The Bottom Line
Researchers are finding out novel benefits that this traditional medicine ingredient has on your digestive system, bloodstream and a whole host of other bodily systems. If you have been suffering from a yeast imbalance like Candida overgrowth, then you may find that berberine can help to rebalance your gut flora.
Berberine is a potent anti-inflammatory, works against disease-causing pathogens, helps to lower blood sugar, can help you to stabilize your weight, and seems to have additional benefits coming to light with each new study.
This plant-based compound has a very low adverse event profile, so you can try it with minimal risk of side-effects occurring. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking certain prescription medications, be sure to consult your doctor.
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