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What is berberine?

What is berberine?

Stefano Mirabello NowPatientGreen tick
Medically reviewed by Stefano Mirabello, BPharm and written by Rajive Patel, BPharm - Updated on 4 Sep 2023
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Table of contents
OverviewHow Berberine worksBerberine and weight lossBerberine and type 2 diabetesBerberine and high blood pressureBerberine and high cholesterol levelsBerberine and brain functionBerberine and skin conditionsBerberine and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)What are the side effects of berberine?Sources

A dietary supplement called berberine has recently been gaining attention for its numerous health benefits, particularly its weight loss effects. Berberine (medically known as Berberis Aristata) is a natural plant extract that’s been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.

Berberine is a yellow-coloured substance classed as an isoquinoline alkaloid that is found in the roots, rhizomes, and stems of various plants such as Oregon grape, goldenseal, and barberry. Known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-diabetic properties, berberine is considered an excellent natural remedy for a variety of health concerns. In this blog post, we’ll explore what berberine is, how it works, the effects of berberine and how it can impact your health.

How Berberine works

The way berberine works is complex and not entirely understood, but it’s thought to involve multiple mechanisms. One of the ways berberine works is by activating an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This enzyme is responsible for regulating energy levels in cells, and when activated, it can help improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, which can be beneficial for people with diabetes. AMPK activation can also lead to an increase in the production of mitochondria in cells, which can help improve energy production and metabolism.

Berberine and weight loss

Though not yet widely used, berberine has been gaining attention as a potentially safe and effective natural supplement that could help with weight management for those looking for a more holistic approach.

One study found that people who took 750mg of barberry twice a day for 3 months lost weight.

Another study showed that people with metabolic syndrome who took 200mg of barberry three times a day had lower body weight and body mass index readings.

A third study found that berberine activates brown adipose tissue, helping the body turn food into heat, which could help treat obesity and metabolic syndrome. Berberine also works like the diabetes drug metformin and can change gut bacteria, which may help treat obesity and diabetes.

Studies have also suggested that berberine can reduce inflammation, which would encourage a more useful metabolism. By lowering inflammation in the body, berberine can switch off overactive hunger signals and encourage satiety, making you feel fuller for a longer period.

Berberine and type 2 diabetes

Berberine has demonstrated its effectiveness in managing type 2 diabetes. It works by reducing insulin resistance and increasing insulin sensitivity, allowing glucose to enter the cells and produce energy. Berberine also helps to reduce high blood glucose levels by inhibiting sugar production in the liver and enhancing insulin secretion.

One clinical trial found that berberine is more effective at lowering blood sugar levels than placebo. Another study found that the combination of berberine and diabetes medication is more effective than drugs alone. Research from 2014 suggests that berberine may be an effective diabetes treatment, particularly for those who can’t take existing anti-diabetic drugs because of heart issues, liver failure or kidney disease. A meta-analysis study found that combining berberine with lifestyle changes was more effective at lowering blood glucose levels than just making lifestyle changes.

Some researchers have even compared berberine’s potency to that of metformin, a common diabetes drug for people with type 2 diabetes.

Berberine and high blood pressure

When used with a blood-pressure-lowering drug, evidence from a literature review suggests that berberine had greater efficacy than the drug alone. In addition, a study conducted on rats suggests that berberine could stall the onset of high blood pressure (hypertension) and ultimately alleviate its severity.

Berberine and high cholesterol levels

High cholesterol levels are a significant risk factor for heart disease. Berberine may help to reduce total cholesterol levels by inhibiting an enzyme called PCSK9 that leads to decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the bloodstream.

Berberine can also help reduce other risk factors for heart disease, such as inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies have suggested that berberine can lower blood triglyceride levels, increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol levels, and reduce blood pressure levels.

Berberine may have effects similar to cholesterol-reducing medications such as statins but without the same potential side effects, according to researchers.

Berberine and brain function

Berberine is known for its neuroprotective properties and can help prevent cognitive decline. Pre-clinical studies have reported that berberine supplements may improve memory retention and recall, while also protecting the brain against damage and inflammation.

Berberine and skin conditions

Berberine’s anti-inflammatory properties can significantly improve chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. The compound’s ability to enhance the immune system and balance the imbalances that contribute to these illnesses helps reduce inflammation and itchiness in the affected areas.

Berberine also has antimicrobial effects, making it an effective acne treatment. When applied topically or taken orally, it can reduce the appearance of blemishes by fighting bacteria that cause acne.

Berberine and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

It’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe metformin, a diabetes drug, to treat PCOS. Some experts believe that berberine, which seems to have similar effects to metformin, could also be a good treatment option for PCOS. A systematic review found that berberine could help with PCOS which causes insulin resistance. However, more studies are needed to confirm these effects.

What are the side effects of berberine?

While berberine may offer several potential health benefits, it’s essential to understand that there are also some risks and side effects associated with its use. Berberine has been shown to have drug interactions with a variety of medications, including those used to lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Additionally, high doses of berberine can cause digestive upset, including diarrhoea, constipation, and stomach pain.

It’s also worth noting that the quality of berberine supplements on the market can vary widely. Some studies have found that certain products may not contain the amount of berberine indicated on the label, or may be contaminated with other substances. Patients need to do their research and choose a reputable supplement brand.

Berberine is a potent natural remedy that has taken the health industry by storm due to its multiple therapeutic properties. It may help manage an array of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, reduce high cholesterol levels, promote heart health, aid weight loss, improve cognitive function, and treat skin conditions.

It is always best to speak to a healthcare professional before adding new supplements to your routine. It’s also important to note that berberine can interact with certain medications, so if you are taking any prescriptions, check with your healthcare provider before adding this supplement to your routine. As with any new supplement or medication, it’s important to monitor adverse effects and to seek medical advice if you have any concerns. Berberine is not recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Sources

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