That unassuming bush you pass every morning on the way to your car could help you to lose weight and boost your health. How so?

Berberine is a compound found in evergreen shrubs, and it has been linked to all kinds of health benefits, including heart health, mental health, and more.1

Berberine has been used as a medicine for centuries, but more modern ways to apply it are still being studied.2

The benefits of are many. How does it work? Read on.

The Evergreen

Berberine is an extract that can be found in many different plants, but it’s most commonly found in evergreen shrubs known as Berberis.3

Some of the plants include Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Coptis or Goldenthread (Coptis chinensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), and Tree turmeric (Berberis aristata).4

Berberine has been used in both ancient Chinese and Indian medicines for a wide range of symptoms.5,6 It’s known for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties.7,8 It has also been used in herbal medicine for centuries.9 Given this information, is it any wonder that this medicinal plant deserves a much closer look?

Berberine | Nucific

Barberry fruit from the Berberis shrub

A Multi-Use Metabolism Monster

After taking berberine, it’s transported into the bloodstream. It then travels into the body’s cells, binding different targets and changing their functions. It’s how most man-made pharmaceuticals work as well.

One of its main actions is to rev up the metabolism by activating a protein enzyme that’s found throughout the body, from the brain to the kidneys.10

Modern medicine is hopping on the berberine train, too. It’s being used in studies focusing on inflammation, infectious diseases, cardiovascular disorders, metabolic disorders, and allergic diseases.11

Benefits A-Plenty

Berberine has many health benefits, from helping with weight loss to mental health. A lot of scientific studies are ongoing, and further research is needed, but the findings on how this herb can boost our health are promising.

Diabetes and Weight Loss

Perhaps the most popular suggested benefit linked to berberine would be with symptoms similar to those of diabetes.12,13

Berberine may help lower glucose levels and regulate lipid metabolism.14,15 (Lipids are just substances found to be insoluble in water.) As a result, it’s suggested to be a potent oral hypoglycemic agent.16

It is also believed to be linked to anti-diabetic effects that could possibly lead to organ improvement, but longer trials would be needed to prove this suggestion.

Berberine may also help to lower total cholesterol levels and promote glycemic control.17,18

Gut Health

Because of its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, berberine has been suggested to help with gut health as well.19

It may help to increase the presence of beneficial bacterias within the gut, while slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates.20 It is also believed to improve blood lipids, including cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fat).21

In addition, berberine may help fight off parasitic intestinal infections, while also being anti-diarrheal.22

Berberine | NucificHeart Health

Berberine has been linked to cardiovascular studies, too.23,24

It is believed to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood lipids – cholesterol and triglycerides.25 It may also help to lower apolipoproteins – lipids that form even bigger lipids like fat and cholesterol, which are big risk factors when it comes to potential heart issues.26

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a common allergic skin disease. If you’ve ever struggled with it, you know the symptoms: dryness, itchiness, and thickening and inflammation of the skin.27 Eosinophils are white blood cells containing granules. When they manage to wriggle into the dermal layer of skin, they can cause all kinds of uncomfortable reactions.28

It’s no surprise then, with its anti-inflammatory properties, that berberine was linked to a study on the skin disease. In combination with other medicinal herbs, t showed an ability to relieve allergic inflammation, stopping the activation of the pesky eosinophils.29

Mental Health

Mental health conditions have also been studied in correlation with berberine.30,31

It has been suggested to affect neurotransmitter activity related to dementia.32 A berberine extract, taken from Goldenthread, was believed to help stop brain cell death as well.33 It was suggested that it may help combat the onset of symptoms linked to dementia.34

The extract has also been linked to studies focusing on mental depression.35

In addition to its potential benefits on dementia and depression, berberine is also being closely studied by the scientific community for its possible effects on neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.36

Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral ischemia, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety are all conditions in which more trials are needed to study berberine’s possible beneficial effects.37

Are There Any Side Effects?

Berberine clearly offers potent benefits that target an array of the body’s systems. It’s impressive, but it may beget some questions: is it safe? Are there any side effects?

The short answer to the question is this: berberine is considered to be very safe and any side effects are incredibly unusual.

Berberine | NucificHere’s some evidence to back that up: in 2015, a clinical study involving berberis extract and 2,569 patients was performed. The study was comprised of 27 separate experiments, and remarkably — no adverse reaction was noted in any of those 27 experiments.38

So berberine rarely causes side effects. But perhaps more interesting is this: it is actually used to counteract side effects — specifically those stemming from serious medical procedures. A study was performed on berberine’s potential to alleviate side effect symptoms arising from radiation. These symptoms included fatigue, lack of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, and intestinal inflammation. Researchers found that patients who took a berberine supplement exhibited a reduction in these side effect symptoms.39

In other words, not only does it lead to few — if any — side effects, it may also be able to help relieve the side effects of radiation.

The Takeaway 

At this point, there’s little doubt that berberine offers awesome potential health benefits. To be fair, there is no one simple solution to weight loss, and you can’t always take one supplement to enjoy heart-healthy benefits – it’s a combination of things all rolled into, well, one.

It may be an ancient remedy, but it’s a fairly new, hot topic in the scientific community, with good reason. Given its potential, researchers are understandably clamoring to learn about every single berberine health benefit.

This potent plant extract may hold the key to helping with everything from diabetes to heart disease and even dementia. The buzz certainly warrants a closer look.

At the very least, the next time you pass by that shrub in the driveway, you’ll pay more attention. It could be exactly what you need for what ails you!

 

Article updated: April 6, 2018


Sources
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About the Author

Dr. Amy Lee

Dr. Amy Lee has board certifications in internal medicine, physician nutrition and obesity medicine specialty. She practices internal medicine with a heavy emphasis on nutrition, wellness and weight management. Her Clinical nutrition fellowship training at UCLA has allowed her to incorporate realistic lifestyle modification in all her medicine patients.