Berberine

By: thedrswolfson
February 18, 2016
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Have you heard about berberine, the nutritional supplement that seems to do it all?

Summary of berberine:

  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Lowers inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Improves HDL function
  • Kills cancer cells

Berberine, a plant extract, has received a lot of attention the last few years for its amazing health benefits. Studies have shown improvement in lipid control, blood sugar, weight loss, and even memory. Berberine also halts cancer cells and may slow down the aging process! The good news is, thousands of studies prove the berberine benefit. The Chinese have been studying its effects for a hundred years.

 Lower Heart Risk

Doctors often talk about the ‘metabolic syndrome’ because it’s becoming a common diagnosis that eventually leads to diabetes and cardiovascular problems. This syndrome includes cholesterol abnormalities along with hypertension, fatty liver, and elevated blood sugar due to insulin resistance.

Berberine is the perfect choice when it comes to supplements to get control of the metabolic syndrome.

The molecule is found in a handful of plants widely used in botanical medical practice including Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), and Chinese Goldthread (Coptis chinensis). (1)

Prior to the discovery of berberine’s ability to modify metabolic syndrome, the plant extract was used for its antimicrobial action against gut pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It may also have a role as a liver/gall bladder cleanser.

Berberine can help improve your energy levels by activating a specific enzyme in your body.

Boost Energy by Boosting AMPK

An enzyme is a protein that turns product A into product B. There is a very important enzyme called AMPK, the master switch for cellular energy. When this enzyme is activated, good things happen to your energy.

AMPK regulates an array of biological activities that normalize lipid, glucose, and energy imbalances. Activation of AMPK may be the fountain of youth and key to anti-aging.

Berberine (and resveratrol) activates the AMPK enzyme. (2)

AMPK activation was cited early on as an explanation of berberine’s ability to improve glucose control in diabetic animals. When berberine is consumed, glucose is taken up by muscle cells and production of the storage form of glucose in the liver is inhibited. (3,4) That’s a lot of science talk that translates into less fat storage and better muscle performance.

AMPK activation is a reason why berberine has an anti-atherosclerotic effect in mice. The same mechanism is reported to underlie its anti-obesity effects and favorable influence on weight loss.(5)

Through AMPK activation, berberine may have anti-cancer effects as shown with decreased metastasis of melanoma cells (the cancer didn’t spread). Literally, hundreds of studies show berberine kills cancer cells. It lowers inflammation and improves vascular endothelial function, leading to blood vessel expansion, and better blood flow.

Better Blood Sugar

The pharmaceutical, metformin, (often used to treat metabolic syndrome or the early stages of type II diabetes) activates AMPK. Studies show that berberine has similar effects when it comes to blood sugar control. (6,7)

In 2008, Yin reported the results of 2 human trials in the journal Metabolism. In the first study on people with newly diagnosed diabetes, the blood sugar lowering effect of berberine was similar to metformin with a 2% decrease in A1c and fasting blood glucose. In the second study, patients with poorly controlled type-2 diabetes took this plant-based supplement for 3 months. Hemoglobin A1c decreased from 8.1% to 7.3%. (8)

A recent meta-analysis combined data from 14 randomized trials involving 1,068 participants. Treatment with both berberine and lifestyle modification showed significant blood sugar and lipid benefits. Effects were similar to those obtained by the standard diabetes drugs metformin, glipizide, and rosiglitazone.(9)

When you consider the rate of diabetes in this country and the life-threatening complications that often result, it’s wonderful when natural options for controlling and reversing this disease process are proven.

LIPID PROFILE

Berberine reduced serum cholesterol by 29%, triglycerides by 35%, and LDL-cholesterol by 25%, according to a 2004 study.(10)

A 2009 study reported that in rats, berberine prevented the development of fatty liver. This was followed in 2011 by a randomized, controlled trial of 60 humans with fatty liver disease. Berberine demonstrated a 70% improvement in liver ultrasound results. Total cholesterol and triglycerides also decreased significantly in this trial. These patients took 0.5 g of berberine twice per day.(11)

Fatty liver often becomes a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms and progressing liver failure. A 70% improvement brings huge symptom relief and better quality of life to the people dealing with fatty liver.

A 2010 human clinical trial was done with berberine in 60 patients with type-2 diabetes. The Berbe group had significantly lower levels of free fatty acids, chemicals that are toxic to the pancreas and linked with insulin resistance. Free fatty acids are easily measured on standard blood tests. (12)

Although I am not a proponent of statins, berberine combined with statins improved the lipid profile more than either product alone. (13,14)

While improving lipids may improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, berberine has other beneficial actions that lower CVD risk. It improves arterial endothelial function and suppresses pro-inflammatory cytokines, actions that should improve heart health. (15)

Berberine Prevents Oxidative DAMAGE

Oxidation of LDL is damage that occurs to LDL causing it to become a toxic molecule that easily enters the blood vessel wall. In other words, it leads to hardening of the arteries. This is prevented by berberine. (16)

A study also found that berberine increases PON-1 levels in hepatic cells. PON-1 is an enzyme that circulates with HDL, preventing oxidative damage to LDL particles. This is HUGE!!!! Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Jan 15;650(2-3):519-25.

Doctor holding heartBerberine Improves Heart Function

A July 2003 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology examined the use of berberine in congestive heart failure (CHF). The authors randomly divided 156 patients with CHF into 2 groups. All patients were treated with conventional therapy but 1 group of 79 patients was also given berberine at a dose of 1.2 to 2.0 grams per day.

After 8 weeks of berberine treatment, there was a significantly greater increase in ejection fraction, exercise capacity, and a decrease of frequency and complexity of VPCs [ventricular premature complexes] compared with the control group. There was a significant decrease in mortality in supplement patients during long-term follow-up (7 patients receiving treatment died vs 13 on placebo). Pro-arrhythmia was not observed, and there were no apparent side effects.(17)

So, the people taking berberine showed improvement and less signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure.

CONCLUSION

The strength of evidence, along with my clinical experience, has made me a big proponent of berberine. There are no significant side effects to this natural product, and new studies continue proving and touting the benefits.

If you have abnormal lipids, elevated blood sugar, weight loss issues, fatty liver disease, inflammation, memory challenges, or a combination of the above, berberine is one of the best supplements you can take.

It appears that berberine is useful for just about everyone. Beware of cheap brands that use inferior product or the dosage in the cap cannot meet label claims.

Check out our Berbe, made by one of the best companies in the U.S. I take mine 2x per day with food… And so should you.

REFERENCES

1.Birdsall T, Kelly G. Berberine: therapeutic potential of an alkaloid in several medicinal plants. Alt Med Rev. 1997;2(2):94-103.

2. Srivastava RA,AMP-activated protein kinase: an emerging drug target to regulate imbalances in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism to treat cardio-metabolic diseases. J Lipid Res. 2012;53(12):2490-2514.

3. Hwang JT, Kwon DY, Yoon SH. AMP-activated protein kinase: a potential target for the diseases prevention by natural occurring polyphenols. N Biotechnol. 2009;26(1-2):17-22.

4. Lee YS, Kim WS, Kim KH, et al. Berberine, a natural plant product, activates AMP-activated protein kinase with beneficial metabolic effects in diabetic and insulin-resistant states. Diabetes. 2006;55(8):2256-2264.

5. Xia X. Berberine improves glucose metabolism in diabetic rats by inhibition of hepatic gluconeogenesis. PLoS One. 2011;6(2):e16556.

6. Jeong HW, Hsu KC, Lee JW, et al. Berberine suppresses proinflammatory responses through AMPK activation in macrophages. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2009;296(4):E955-964.

7. Zhang H. Berberine lowers blood glucose in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients through increasing insulin receptor expression. Metabolism. 2010;59(2):285-292.

8. Yin. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712-7.

9.  Dong H, Wang N, Zhao L, Lu F. Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:591654.

10. Kong W, Wei J, Abidi P, et al. Berberine is a novel cholesterol-lowering drug working through a unique mechanism distinct from statins. Nat Med. 2004;10(12):1344-1351.

11.. Xie X. [Research on therapeutic effect and hemorrheology change of berberine in new diagnosed patients with type 2 diabetes combining nonalcoholic fatty liver disease]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2011;36(21):3032-3035.

12. Zhang H, Wei J, Xue R, et al. Berberine lowers blood glucose in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients through increasing insulin receptor expression. Metabolism. 2010;59(2):285-292.

13. Kong WJ, Wei J, Zuo ZY, et al. Combination of simvastatin with berberine improves the lipid-lowering efficacy.Metabolism. 2008;57(8):1029-1037.

14. Wang Y. Berberine and plant stanols synergistically inhibit cholesterol absorption. Atherosclerosis. 2010;209(1):111-117.

15. Ko WH, Yao XQ, Lau CW, et al. Vasorelaxant and antiproliferative effects of berberine. Eur J Pharmacol.2000;399(2-3):187-196.

16. Guan S, Wang B, Li W, Guan J, Fang X. Effects of berberine on expression of LOX-1 and SR-BI in human macrophage-derived foam cells induced by ox-LDL. Am J Chin Med. 2010;38(6):1161-1169.

17. Zeng XH, Zeng XJ, Li YY. Efficacy and safety of berberine for congestive heart failure secondary to ischemic or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Am J Cardiol. 2003;92(2):173-176.

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