The buzz is starting to get out about Berberine. There are not many supplements that have the ability to act as a ‘pharmaceutical drug’, but Berberine can, and has been shown to be just as effective as drugs like Metformin. But unlike pharmaceutical drugs that normally can only work to improve one aspect of our health, Berberine can act in multiple ways to produce multiple health benefits. It’s also safe with few side effects, and it’s cheap!
So let’s take a closer look at what Berberine is and what it can do for you.
What is Berberine?
Berberine is an alkaloid compound that’s found in a number of different plants including Goldenseal, European barberry, Goldthread, Oregon grape, Tree Turmeric and Phellodendron. It comes originally from China and India where is has been used in Chinese and Ayurverdic medicine for centuries. It’s early uses were primarily for fighting infection and against diarrhea.
However, as our health problems have developed to reflect modern lifestyles of high stress, poor diets and little exercise, Berberine’s amazing properties have been shown to have a significant impact on a number of ‘modern diseases’, with none of the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. It anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, balances blood sugar and other hormones, helps with weight loss and boosts the immune system and that’s just for starters.
So get ready for 14 amazing research backed benefits of Berberine!
1. Berberine For Weight Loss
With the world’s population growing ever fatter, there have long been efforts to create ‘anti-obesity’ drugs. However, with little success in recent years, the search is now focused on natural alternatives to chemically created drugs.
The key to Berberine’s effect on weight is it’s ability to activate AMPK (Adenosine MonoPhosphate-Activated Protein Kinase). AMPK is like a metabolic master switch inside the body, and boosts fat burning by the mitochondria (the energy centres of cells in the body). When it’s activated we naturally burn more energy.
Berberine also seems to be able to inhibit fat storage, and increase the efficiency of the hormones insulin, leptin and adiponectin, which both play a significant part in weight gain and loss (1). Berberine may also be key in enhancing the activity of brown fat. Brown Fat is a type of fat that burns energy instead of storing it. It’s colored brown because it’s loaded with energy burning mitochondira (2).
2. Berberine For PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Insulin sensitivity is key for women suffering from PCOS. When cells in the body becomes insensitive to insulin, we have to produce more to get our cells to accept nutrients. This increased insulin level acts on the ovaries to make them produce an excess of testosterone. This can have big implications on fertility, and can produce a range of Androgenic symptoms such as excessive hair growth, acne and Acanthosis Nigricans, which is the medical term for darkened and thickened patches of skin that usually develop in the armpit, and around the groin and neck.
How Does Berberine Help PCOS?
Berberine lowers insulin and blood glucose levels in a similar way to Metformin, which is ofter prescribed for PCOS. Bebreine up-regulates the expression of insulin receptor genes in cells, allowing them to absorb glucose at lower insulin levels, so we don’t have to produce as much. It also prevents digestion of carbohydrates in the diet, reduces the production of glucose in the liver, and reduces the levels of bad bacteria in the gut, which reduces inflammation.
Berberine also directly inhibits inflammatory pathways including TNF alpha, interleukin-6 and COX2. Inflammation has a key role in PCOS, and most women suffering from it have some level of chronic inflammation. Berberine also reduces testosterone production in the theca cells of the ovaries (4), and helps reduce fat accumulation in the liver. Again many women suffering from PCOS also suffer from fatty liver disease. Berberine can also help women suffering from acne as a side effect of PCOS (5).
Compared to Metformin, Berberine also has far fewer side effects.
Research on Berberine vs Metformin For PCOS
A 2011 study compared Berberine to Metformin for women with PCOS. The study used 500mg of Berberine 3 times a day. They found that both Berberine and Metformin improved insulin function, reduced body weight and reduced testosterone production.
However, they found Beberine was superior to Metformin in reducing waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, blood triglycerides, as well as total and LDL cholesterol (the bad one), and increasing HDL cholesterol (the good one) (6).
A more recent study in 2014 looked at the effects of Berberine and Metformin on 150 infertile women with PCOS in the 3 months prior to them starting IVF treatment. Both the Berberine and Metformin groups saw reduction in insulin, blood glucose and testosterone production as well as a reduction in their free androgen indexes . However the Berberine group had a greater reduction in BMI, and most importantly had more live births and less GI side effects (7).
3. Berberine For Diabetes
Berberine’s effect on diabetes is comparable to Metformin, and as we’ve seen in the PCOS section it can reduce insulin levels, decrease blood glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, as well as reducing glucose production in the liver. It can also decrease the amount of carbohydrate that is digested by the body, and the amount broken down by the bodies enzymes. It can also help to help to reduce bad bacteria in the gut and reduce the chronic inflammation that is characteristic of diabetes.
Berberine also has significantly less side effects than Metformin. For more information on the studies of Berberine vs Metformin for diabetes, and to see specific dosage instructions, please see our more in depth article on Berberine for diabetes here.
4. Berberine For Reducing Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk
Berberine has been shown to decrease blood cholesterols levels.
A recent review of 18 previous studies on Berberine and Cholesterol showed that is can (8):
- Lower total cholesterol levels by 0.61 mmol/L (24 mg/dL).
- Lower LDL-C (the bad cholesterol) levels by 0.65 mmol/L (25 mg/dL).
- Lower blood triglycerides levels by 0.50 mmol/L (44 mg/dL).Heart Disease Risk and High Blood Pressure
- Raise HDL-C (the good cholesterol) by 0.05 mmol/L (2 mg/dL).
It’s also able to reduce apolipoprotein B by 13%-15% (9 -10). Apolipoprotein B levels are a key heart disease risk factor and are associated with the number of LDL particles in the blood. Whereas LDL-C (the frequently used measure of LDL in the blood) measures the volume of LDL, apolipoprotein B is associated the the number of LDL particles or LDL-P. LDL-P levels may actually be a more accurate indicator of heart disease risk than LDL-C.
Beberine also reduces insulin resistance and decreases blood sugar levels, which along with diabetes are significant heart disease risks. So whereas Statin drugs may actually increase the risk of diabetes, Berberine has the opposite effect, and significantly less other potential side effects.
Berberine Also stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO). This is a signalling molecule that relaxes arteries, increasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure, which also protects against atherosclerosis (11).
5. Berberine For Candida
Candida is a yeast found in our gut and mouth. Small amounts of it are necessary to help us digest our food, but when there is an overgrowth it can cause problems and is it tricky to treat. An overgrowth of Candida can cause a breakdown of our intestinal wall leading to the release of toxic byproducts into the body, known as leaky gut.
It’s symptoms can range from fungal nail and skin infections, to eczema, ADD, depression an anxiety. It may even make you crave carbohydrates. Tackling Candida should never just be left to one thing, it takes a multi pronged ‘attack’ to reverse Candida overgrowth.
However, Berberine is an excellent part of of a Candida cleansing program. Berberine has fantastic anti-microbial activity and can:
- Increase the activity of more powerful anti-fungals like caprylic and undecylenic acid
- Kill other bad bacteria and parasites that may be contributing to Candida overgrowth
- Support the mucous membranes of the throat, digestive system and vagina and support the immune system which will counteract the opposite effect of strong anti-fungals
- Help support liver function and bile secretion
- Help the gut replenish good bacteria after a period of taking antibiotics.
Berberine can also act specifically against Candida Albicans. A 2011 study showed that Berberine could directly inhibit the growth of various Candida species, and it’s action also increased the effectiveness of anti-mycotics (12).
6. Berberine For SIBO – Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth
SIBO is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine and can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea. It may also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies and weight loss
Current medical treatments focus mainly on anti-biotic treatment, although these have negative side effects as both good and bad bacteria are killed off, which is why many people are turning to traditional herbal remedies for a cure. Because Berberine has such strong anti-bacterial abilities it’s a good alternative treatment for those who don’t want to take, or who have not had success with oral antibiotics.
Berberine has been shown to be affective against gram positive bacterial strains which are predominant in the small intestine (13). Also herbal remedies have been shown to be at least as effective, and sometimes more effective than antibiotic treatments against SIBO such as Rifaximin. For example, a 2014 study showed 46% of the patients who took herbal ‘antibiotics’ had a negative breath test for SIBO after treatment, compared to just 34% of the Rifaximin users.
7. Berberine For UTI and Other Infections
Berberine’s activity against bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses, as well as it’s ability to boost the immune system, make it an excellent alternative treatments for infections including UTI’s.
Berberine can significantly reduce the levels of ‘bad’ strains of bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Salmonella, Klebsiella, Clostridium and Shingella (and many others) (15). Berberine has also been shown to be effective against MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is causing many deaths in our hospitals today. Berberine also shown to have an enhanced effect against MRSA when combined with antibiotics and may be able to “restore the effectiveness of beta-lactam antibiotics against MRSA” (16).
Berberine has also shown it’s ability to fight against the flu virus (influenza) (17).
8. Berberine For Acne
Berberine has an antilipogenic effect on the sebaceous glands, so can help people suffering from acne. Research has shown that in cases of moderate to severe acne a dose of 600mg per day was able to improve symptoms by as much as 45% after only 4 weeks, (acne symptoms were measure by counting non-inflamed, inflamed, and total acne lesions, as well as using the Michaelson’s acne severity score) (5).
Also use of berberine can speed the healing of acne scars and can prevent future outbreaks of acne.
10. Berberine For Alzheimers
Berberine may also be able to slow the progression of, or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A 2105 study found that Berberine could enhance neuroprotective pathways and counteract neurodegeneration (18). A 2011 study also concluded that “berberine helps prevent oxidation damage to biomolecules in the brain, inhibits enzymes which breakdown important memory molecules, reduces peptides that interfere with proper memory function, and lowers lipids that interfere with cerebral blood flow” (19).
We eagerly await more research in this area, but as so far pharmaceutical drugs at best can only slow early stage Alzheimer’s and dementia, so Berberine is certainly worth a try.
10. Berberine For Depression
Berberine may be able to help with depression. So far the research has only been conducted on mice and rats, but the studies have showed that Berberine is able to increase the levels of Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine in the brain (20 -21).
Also, inflammation has also been linked to the development of depressive symptoms, and because Berberine can reduce inflammation in the body, this may also be another mechanism through which it can act against the symptoms of depression.
11. Berberine For Lung Health
Berberine is such a strong anti-inflammatory that is can also help acute lung inflammation caused by cigarette smoke. A 2013 study gave mice 50mg/kg of Berberine, then induced acute lung injury with cigarette smoke. They found that pre-treating the mice with Berberine reduced lung inflammation (22).
12. Berberine For Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty Liver Disease is a risk factor for people suffering from type 2 diabetes, PCOS, and also people who are overweight, have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Current medications such as Metformin and Pioglitazone have limited success in the treating the condition.
Studies on Berberine however have shown it can improve liver function, increase fatty acid burning in the liver, decrease glucose production in the liver, and reduce fat build up in the liver (23 -24).
A more recent study in 2015 showed that Berberine improves fatty liver disease, and that Berberine could act on liver genes to change how they expressed themselves to improve fat storage and fat burning in the liver (25).
13. Berberine For Arthritis and Joint Health
Berberine’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties could well benefit people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and joint problems. So far the research is still in the early stages, but it is promising. A recent study published in the journal Inflammation conducted on an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis (known as CIA) found that berberine reduced arthritic scores and the immune response in rats (arthritis is an auto-immune condition,where the immune system attacks the body) (26). We eagerly await more studies!
14. Berberine to Boost the Immune System
As we’ve seen, Berberine fights parasites, viruses and fungi. It also helps rebalance the gut and reduce the amount of bad bacteria (15). It can even fight against infection with super bugs like MRSA (16). All in all it is an excellent supplement for boosting the immune system!
(1) Jing Yang, Jinhua Yin, Hongfei Gao, Linxin Xu, Yan Wang, Lu Xu and Ming Li 2 , Published online 2012 Mar 8.Berberine Improves Insulin Sensitivity by Inhibiting Fat Store and Adjusting Adipokines Profile in Human Preadipocytes and Metabolic Syndrome Patients, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 363845.
(2) Zhang Z1, Zhang H1, Li B1, Meng X2, Wang J1, Zhang Y1, Yao S1, Ma Q1, Jin L1, Yang J1, Wang W1, Ning G1, Berberine activates thermogenesis in white and brown adipose tissue, Nat Commun. 2014 Nov 25;5:5493.
(3) Yueshan Hua, b, , , Erik A. Ehlia, b, Julie Kittelsrudc, Patrick J. Ronanb, c, Karen Mungerc, Terry Downeyc, Krista Bohlenc, d, Leah Callahanc, Vicki Munsonc, Mike Jahnkec, Lindsey L. Marshalle, Kelly Nelsona, Patricia Huizengaa, Ryan Hansena, c, Timothy J. Soundyb, Gareth E. Daviesa, b, Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats, Phytomedicine
Volume 19, Issue 10, 15 July 2012, Pages 861–867
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(22) Lin K1, Liu S, Shen Y, Li Q, Berberine attenuates cigarette smoke-induced acute lung inflammation, Inflammation. 2013 Oct;36(5):1079-86.
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