Berberine provides a range of health benefits and may positively influence insulin resistance, obesity, and symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. (7)(9)(10)(11)(19) Berberine also demonstrates antifungal activity and may influence certain hormones. (4)(13)(17) It truly is a remarkable herbal medicine.
What is berberine?
Berberine is a natural compound found in several plants, including goldenseal, Oregon grape, tree turmeric, and barberry. It has been a staple of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years and grows in moderate and semi-tropical regions of Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America. (14)
What does berberine do?
In the human body, berberine’s key mechanism of action is the activation of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK). (15) This is an important enzyme, sometimes referred to as “the metabolic master switch” because it helps regulate certain biological activities including lipid, glucose, and energy metabolism. Because berberine is an aldose reductase inhibitor, berberine may also have a positive effect on blood sugar control and diabetes. Aldose is an enzyme that has been shown to negatively affect blood sugar issues in individuals with diabetes. (8)
What is berberine good for?
The list of berberine benefits is long and diverse. Berberine has been the focus of numerous studies and in some cases, it was compared to or used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals.
1. Blood sugar
One of the most well-known conditions associated with elevated blood sugar levels is diabetes. Research has demonstrated that berberine may lower fasting blood sugar and the blood sugar marker hemoglobin A1C. (20) According to a 2012 meta-analysis of 14 different studies featuring more than 1,000 people, berberine was able to help with glycemic control as much as the standard diabetes medications metformin, glipizide, and rosiglitazone. Furthermore, it had an additional improvement on cholesterols. And when berberine was examined in co-interventions alongside these medications, an additive effect was noted. Finally, unlike these medications, berberine was noted to have no serious adverse effects reported. (5)
2. Blood pressure
There is some research demonstrating that berberine may lower blood pressure via vasodilation and relaxing smooth muscle cells within blood vessel walls. Berberine may work similar to calcium channel blocker medications by reducing vascular hardening and in the arteries and high blood pressure. (1)
High cholesterol is considered an independent risk factor for heart disease. Berberine may help lower cholesterol by clearing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the liver as it upregulates LDL-receptor expression. (16) A 2013 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials demonstrated that berberine was safe and effective at lowering LDL, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL). (6)
Berberine may have antifungal properties, specifically against the yeast Candida. A 2016 in vitro study demonstrated that berberine was effective at killing fluconazole-resistant strains of candida. (3) Research shows that berberine kills yeast by attacking the cell membrane. (21)
When cysts develop on the ovaries, a hormonal condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can develop. This condition is characterized by a hormone imbalance that may cause women to skip menstrual periods and have difficulty getting pregnant. Women and individuals with ovaries who have this condition can often have glycemic control issues. A 2015 study involving Chinese women with PCOS demonstrated that berberine alone was effective at improving the menstrual pattern and ovulation rate of the women, perhaps partially by improving insulin resistance. (12)
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is becoming more common in clinical practice and in some cases, oral antibiotics are used to treat this condition. According to a 2014 study featuring 104 patients diagnosed with SIBO, berberine was just as effective as the antibiotic Rifaximin at providing a negative SIBO test result using the lactulose breath testing diagnosis tool. (2)
7. Weight loss
Given berberine’s positive effect on metabolic syndrome, it’s not surprising that it may also support weight loss. A 2012 study that featured patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome showed that three months of treatment with berberine resulted in a decreased body mass index (BMI) and leptin levels (hormone that helps regulate satiety), demonstrating that it may improve insulin sensitivity and inhibit fat storage. (18)
The bottom line
Given the many therapeutic applications of this substance, berberine intake may be appropriate for most individuals. Researchers continue to examine the potential benefits of berberine to human health. These benefits include having positive effects on conditions such as SIBO, PCOS, and diabetes, having antifungal properties, and positively affecting weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. Negative side effects of berberine may include symptoms such as bloating or upset stomach. Speak with your healthcare practitioner first before taking a berberine supplement.
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- Chedid, V., Dhalla, S., Clarke, J. O., Roland, B. C., Dunbar, K. B., Koh, J., Justino, E., Rn, E. T., & Mullin, G. E. (2014). Herbal therapy is equivalent to rifaximin for the treatment of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 3(3), 16–24.
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