Berberine the Next Magic Bullet?
Chinese medicine has been using this herb to treat diarrhea, diabetes, high blood pressure, high lipids and tumors for centuries. The rest of the medical community is catching up with the benefits of this ancient herb and many research studies are underway to provide scientific documentation to its anecdotal claims. Let’s examine the current scientific literature on each of these diseases and disorders.
In a study published in 2011, the researchers showed that the ability of berberine to inhibit and to kill a strain of bacteria that causes diarrhea, called Shigella, was almost the same as that of ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic.1
Other researchers, publishing in “Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine,” drew conclusions from 14 clinical studies that involved 1068 study participants. This research compared lifestyle modifications for diabetes with berberine or with a placebo. Berberine combined with lifestyle modification showed significantly lower blood sugar, even more than just oral hypoglycemics including metformin, glipizide, or rosiglitazone alone. Just as important was that these studies found no serious adverse effects from berberine taking berberine.2
Berberine has been shown to lower blood pressure in hypertensive rats.3 A well controlled study in humans has not been done yet.
In a review published in 2013 of eleven clinical trials that included 874 participants, berberine was shown to significantly reduce total cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein. There was quite a remarkable increase in HDL, the good lipoprotein. Again, no serious adverse effects were seen in the participants taking berberine.4
Numerous publications report the ability of berberine or its metabolites to induce tumor cell death5 render the tumor more sensitive to chemotherapeutic agents6 and prevent tumor cells from migrating and invading other tissue7. Does it have these effects on all types of tumors? The scientific proof isn’t there yet, but studies of many different tumor types are underway.
A study published in “Phytomedicine” in 2102 reported a 5 pound weight lose in Obese human subjects given berberine at a dose of 500 mg three times a day for 3 months.8 This study is promising, not just because of the modest weight loss, but because these study subjects also showed significant reduction in triglycerides of 23% and a decrease of 12% in serum cholesterol.
Does berberine work as the ancient Chinese medical folklore purports? Probably. And modern day medicine has just started to explore the breadth of disorders this herb can treat and the mechanisms of its actions. Current research suggests that even newer uses for berberine may exist to treat Alzheimer’s, prevent kidney stones and prevent some of the damaging effects of abdominal radiation.
1. Pharm Biol. 2011 Jan;49(1):94-100. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2010.500295. Epub 2010 Aug 25.
Antidiarrheal activity, chemical and toxicity profile of Berberis aristata.
Joshi PV, Shirkhedkar AA, Prakash K, Maheshwari VL.
2. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:591654. doi: 10.1155/2012/591654. Epub 2012 Oct 15.
Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis.
Dong H, Wang N, Zhao L, Lu F
3. Pharmacology. 1999 Dec;59(6):283-9.
The antihypertensive effect of the berberine derivative 6-protoberberine in spontaneously hypertensive rats.
Liu JC, Chan P, Chen YJ, Tomlinson B, Hong SH, Cheng JT.
4. Planta Med. 2013 Apr;79(6):437-46. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1328321. Epub 2013 Mar 19.
The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
Dong H, Zhao Y, Zhao L, Lu F.
5. Oncol Rep. 2013 Jun 19. doi: 10.3892/or.2013.2543. [Epub ahead of print]
Berberine induces apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway in liver cancer cells.
Yip NK, Ho WS.
6. Acta Biochim Biophys Sin (Shanghai). 2013 Sep;45(9):756-62. doi: 10.1093/abbs/gmt075. Epub 2013 Jul 3.
Berberine sensitizes ovarian cancer cells to cisplatin through miR-21/PDCD4 axis.
Liu S, Fang Y, Shen H, Xu W, Li H.
7. Tumour Biol. 2013 Feb;34(1):215-21. doi: 10.1007/s13277-012-0531-z. Epub 2012 Oct 12.
Berberine inhibits the migration and invasion of T24 bladder cancer cells via reducing the expression of heparanase.
Yan L, Yan K, Kun W, Xu L, Ma Q, Tang Y, Jiao W, Gu G, Fan Y, Xu Z
8. Phytomedicine. 2012 Jul 15;19(10):861-7. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2012.05.009. Epub 2012 Jun 26. Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats.
Hu Y, Ehli EA, Kittelsrud J, Ronan PJ, Munger K, Downey T, Bohlen K, Callahan L, Munson V, Jahnke M, Marshall LL, Nelson K, Huizenga P, Hansen R, Soundy TJ, Davies GE.
By: Sheryl Wood