WHAT IS BERBERINE?
Berberine is an alkaloid found in the barks, leaves, twigs, rhizomes, roots, and/or stems of various plants, such as the European barberry, Oregon grape, tree turmeric, philodendron, goldenseal, and goldthread. These plants have historically been used as an antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, and antidiarrheal agent in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Huang Lian or Coptidis Rhizome). Research in humans has examined berberine’s effects on markers of glycemic control, blood lipids, liver function, and metabolic disorders.
The first traces of berberine being used medicinally are found more than 3,000 years ago, when the barberry plant and its relatives were being cultivated in China and South Asia. Evidence also shows that berberine-containing plants were used in South America, the Middle East, and Europe. Today, berberine is being investigated as a treatment for diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, CV health, weight loss, metabolic syndrome and even polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
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POTENTIAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Evidence from clinical trials conducted in people with type 2 diabetes suggests that berberine is able to reduce blood sugar to a similar extent as some anti-diabetic drugs. It has also been shown to be similar to metformin (do not change your metformin prescription without working with your endocrinologist). In people with metabolic disorders, limited research suggests that berberine may improve blood lipids and liver enzymes, and reduce body weight and fat mass. There is a great paper about berberine and TCM and metabolic syndrome. In Chinese medicine berberine comes mostly in the form of Huang Lian (Coptidis Rhizome) and is used in a vast number of classic formulas.
Benefits of berberine stem from how it affects enzymes in the body. Berberine binds to enzymes and parts of cells and changes how they work. It seems to do this to many individual enzymes, and even DNA and RNA. And also it stimulates AMPK production to affect metabolism (in a good way!)
Taking berberine supplements regularly appears to lower total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides in individuals with hyperlipidemia. It works differently from statins but it may help treat people who are resistant to other cholesterol-lowering drugs. Consult with your physician always!
People with heart disease often have fatigue and arrhythmias. Studies show that taking a berberine supplement combined with standard treatments reduces these symptoms. Berberine reduced the risk of death from heart disease without apparent side effects.
Berberine has also been shown to lower glucose levels in people with diabetes. It has even been hailed as a natural metformin substitute. Studies show that it helps the body respond better to insulin and prevents the liver from creating more glucose (from glycogen or other sources). As a result, people with diabetes may find berberine helps lower their blood sugar levels and could play a role in insulin resistance patterns.
High blood pressure is associated with heart disease and strokes. Taking berberine may help lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure (the bottom and top numbers of blood pressure readings). Of course we recommend it as part of a more comprehensive treatment plan including medication, exercise, meditation, sleep hygiene etc.
PCOS + Fertility
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS, can cause problems such as high cholesterol, insulin resistance, difficulty losing weight and most of all, infertility. In some studies, berberine helped women with PCOS control their cholesterol, lower their waist-to-hip ratio, and increase their response to insulin. PCOS is a complex pattern and we recommend you work with your PCP and other accredited professionals to treat this condition.
While berberine is not a magic weight-loss pill, it may help people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 lose weight (see our previous newsletter about weight loss and belly fat). Two studies have shown that taking a berberine supplement over the course of three months can result in significant weight loss. This may be due to how berberine helps control insulin and other hormones that regulate fat cells. It can also be due to the fact that those people are finally getting motivated to lose fat.
There is some evidence that applying a gel containing berberine to canker sores can alleviate oozing, pain, discomfort and lessen symptoms.
There is some evidence that in particular in China, berberine-containing formulas are used to treat bacterial diarrhea in patients with diabetes. Huang Lian is known to have anti-bacterial properties (it’s actually an ingredient in many diarrhea-treating TCM formulas). Kind of ironic since too much Berberine will have you get diarrhea also!
POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS
Like any supplements, you should always work with a health care practitioner. Berberine can have side effects like any drug or supplement:
One study done with berberine found that it can lead to digestion issues (constipation, diarrhea, and flatulence). However, these symptoms typically clear up within four weeks of stopping supplementation.
Berberine’s blood pressure lowering effects are helpful if you have hypertension. For some people, this effect could cause blood pressure to drop too low, which can be dangerous (for instance if you suffer from orthostatic hypotension).
Interactions with Other Meds
Berberine is known to interact with enzymes of drug metabolism (liver). It may interact with antibiotics such as azithromycin and clarithromycin at hERG channels on the heart, leading to serious cardiotoxicity. Anyone taking anti coagulants should talk with their HCP before supplementing. I’m not saying this just to protect my bottom but mostly to protect the readers! Finally there is evidence that transplant patients taking cyclosporine shouldn’t take berberine. You get the point about meds interactions! Be supervised! Eventually no supplement should be taken to replace an evidence-based standard of care treatment.
The standard dose of berberine is 900-2,000mg a day, divided into three to four doses. It should be taken with a meal, or shortly after, to take advantage of the blood glucose and lipid spike associated with eating. Too much berberine at once can result in stomach upset, cramping, and diarrhea.
This is a quick overview of what berberine does. If you would like to learn more become a member, sign up for our longevity program or schedule a personal consultation. Be safe and be well!