Berberine — a yellow-colored alkaloid compound found in several different plants, including European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape and tree turmeric — has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, antidiarrheal, antineoplastic, antidiabetic and immune-enhancing1 properties. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine, including traditional Chinese medicine, and many of its historical uses now have scientific backing.
For example, it’s effective against a wide range of bacteria, protozoa and fungi, and is commonly used to treat gastrointestinal issues, including traveler’s diarrhea and that from food poisoning. Having similar mechanisms of action as the drug metformin, berberine can also be used as an oral hypoglycemic for Type 2 diabetics.
As noted by Dr. Michael Murray:
“… I think [berberine] is poised to be the biggest thing in the natural product industry …
Here is why: Berberine has been shown to:
Produce results in clinical trials in improving Type 2 diabetes on par or better than conventional drugs including metformin.
Improve blood lipid levels better than statins.
Lower blood pressure in many subjects as well as any class of antihypertensive medication.
Improve liver function and promote anti-obesity effects.
Exert significant beneficial effects on digestive health and the microbiome.
What Makes Berberine Such a Powerful Remedy?
Many of berberine’s health benefits4 have been linked to its ability to activate adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK).5 AMPK is an enzyme inside your body’s cells. It’s sometimes referred to as a “metabolic master switch” because it plays an important role in regulating metabolism.
Low AMPK has been linked to insulin resistance, mitochondrial dysfunction, obesity, neurodegeneration and chronic inflammation — all of which lay the groundwork for a wide variety of serious chronic diseases. In an article discussing the clinical uses of berberine for metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, the Natural Medicine Journal highlights its effect on AMPK:
One way to appreciate berberine’s potential is to think of it as having the same effect on a patient as increasing exercise while at the same time restricting calorie intake. Think of the effects of AMPK suppression as similar to those of eating a high-calorie diet while leading a very sedentary lifestyle.”
Berberine Helps Ease Anxiety and Depression
A number of studies have demonstrated berberine’s usefulness against anxiety and depression, in part by inhibiting monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine in your brain. These neurotransmitters play important roles in mood and have been implicated in depression.
An Indian study published in 2008 confirmed berberine has antidepressant effects, reversing “behavioral despair” in stressed rats. Interestingly, the effects were not dose-dependent. Even low doses had a beneficial effect. According to the authors:
Berberine Supports Gut Health and Much More
Berberine has also been shown to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract and microbiome in a number of different ways, and this too can have a beneficial impact on your mood and mental health. There’s ample research showing your gut health plays a very important role in your brain health, and can influence your mood for better or worse. As for improving your gut health, studies have shown berberine helps:
Prevent diarrhea by delaying the amount of time it takes for food to pass through your small intestine
Lower your risk of leaky gut
Protect against gut damage caused by high alcohol consumption
Lower intestinal inflammation caused by inflammatory cytokines
Preferentially nourish microbes that produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids, known to have many health benefits
Improve symptoms of fatty liver disease by normalizing the gut microbiome
The normalization of gut bacteria also resulted in lower body weight, lower serum levels of lipids, lower glucose and insulin levels, and the normalization of insulin resistance
While berberine is quite safe and well-tolerated, it may be contraindicated if you’re taking medications. For example, berberine may hinder absorption of tetracycline and other similar antibiotics, rendering them ineffective. Also, because berberine significantly inhibits CYP3A enzymes — enzymes needed to metabolize most drugs — it can lower the clearance of medications, which in turn can augment their effect. This can lead to overdose, the risks of which will vary depending on the drug in question.
Berberine inhibits CYP3A just like curcumin, which impairs phase 2 detoxification, where your body makes toxins water soluble so they can be excreted. So, this would not be supplements to use during fasting where you have large lipolysis and liberation of stored toxins that need to be metabolized.
Because of all its benefits, I have been taking berberine for over two years. However, because it is a potent alkaloid, I believe it needs to be cycled. So, I take it for a week then take a week off. Alternatively, you can skip it on the weekends. The general principle is cycling, just like one does with the ketogenic diet. It is not wise to be continuously ketogenic.
Also, as noted by Murray: “Berberine … enhances the effects of oral hypoglycemic drugs used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes through its multitude of antidiabetic effects. People on oral hypoglycemic drugs should monitor blood glucose levels if taking berberine and adjust their dosage of their medications as needed and under the care of a medical professional.” I tell virtually everyone taking metformin to switch to berberine as it is far safer.