Active Ingredient in Barberry Helps Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Friday Oct 5 | BY |
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This little berry could help a lot of people to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Remember goldenseal? We took a lot back in the ’60s and ’70s. It was supposed to cleanse the blood, purify the body, and knock out bugs. Yellow and extremely bitter, it was hard to get down.

Goldenseal was from the woods of Appalachia. There were other herbs the Pacific Northwest just as bitter, and almost as good. We started mixing barberry and goldenseal together. It worked better. The dried fruit of Berberis vulgaris is used in herbal medicine. Later we found that the main active ingredient was berberine.

What is Berberine?
Berberine is an alkaloid compound present in a number of plants, including Berberis vulgaris (barberry), Berberis aristata (tree turmeric), Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), and Coptis chinensis (goldthread), a traditional Chinese herb.

As a traditional medicine, berberine has activity against fungal infections, including Candida albicans, as well as against parasites, and bacterial and viral infections. Berberine has synergistic effects with fluconazole even in drug-resistant Candida infections. It’s also considered an antibiotic, as it inhibits growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Microcystis aeruginosa, and has use against MRSA infection.

Berberine prevents and suppresses pro-inflammatory cytokines, regulates genes, and increases adiponectin expression, which may explain its versatile health effects.

Although most well-known for its antimicrobial activity, this important plant extract also demonstrates important benefits for blood-sugar management, lipid lowering, insulin sensitivity, cardiac support, weight management, gastrointestinal health, oncology support, immune modulation, and cognitive support.

Five Berberine Facts

  1. Powerful antimicrobial (best for intestinal, yeast and fungal infections)
  2. Reduces hepatic fat buildup (fatty liver disease)
  3. Helps to restore intestinal function (helps IBS)
  4. Stabilize LDL cholesterol
  5. Lowers blood sugar levels

Berberine for Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), once called “Syndrome X,” comes in many forms. It is a very common condition among modern people. The medical definition for metabolic syndrome requires the presence of any three of the following:

  • increased waist circumference (?102 cm in men and ?88 cm in women),
  • elevated blood pressure (?130/85 mmHg),
  • elevated blood sugar (fasting glucose ?100 mg/dL),
  • low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (<40 mg/dL in men and <50 mg/dL in women),
  • and high triglycerides (?150 mg/dL).

MetS increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease. It also is one of reasons people have difficulty losing weight.

The classic definition of MetS has varying degrees, however, as well as other associated biomarkers. Men with MetS often have very low testosterone. Both men and women often have elevated C-Reactive Protein levels. Cortisol levels may be above the mean value (>15) and insulin may be very low (<2) or in the high normal range. Many experts associate MetS with insulin resistance, where the body cells can’t utilize insulin properly, making it easy to gain and hard to lose weight. MetS is also linked with fatigue, anxiety or depression, and increased symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, and is associated with ovarian polycystic disease. Several recent research studies have shown that an extract of berberine helps lower cholesterol and speeds up weight loss. What the Studies Say
In one study, thirty-two patients with high cholesterol were given 500 mg berberine twice daily for three months, while 11 patients received placebo. Those taking berberine had a 35-percent reduction in triglycerides, a 29-percent reduction in total cholesterol, and a 25-percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

In another study, 89 women with polycystic ovary syndrome and insulin resistance, berberine significantly decreased waist-to-hip ratio and LDL-cholesterol compared to metformin. Compared to placebo, berberine significantly decreased insulin, triglycerides, total- and LDL-cholesterol, and increased HDL-cholesterol.

The mechanism of how berberine works are still unknown. It’s been safely used for a long time, however, and newer forms seem to work better than teas and tinctures. Since modern men and women, and even teens, need a metabolic edge for controlling weight and improving liver function, as well as managing blood sugar, berberine looks promising.

Berberine is useful as a tincture or standardized root extract 6:1, containing 5% total alkaloids. The most clinically active form is berberis concentrate, Berberine HCl 85%. The average daily dose is 500 mg daily taken between meals.

In general, Berberine is safe for children and adults, but should be avoided in pregnant and lactating women.

Useful Links

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. Mike Berman says:

    Some of this data regarding specifically lowering LDL’s and triglycerides are nice to know but what really counts for me and I think most people is the bottom line which illustrates basically two scenarios: 1. What is the difference in overall death rates between taking various dosages of the berry content and a control? 2. Do people feel significantly better on it even if the overall differential death rates do not change? In other words I would rather feel great and have lots of energy all the way to my last day of life and still not live any longer than the control. This is what I think are the two best fates to determine which is what really counts for any supplement or nutrient! The other data that is given here and in many other articles is nice to know but is much more useful for the researcher who may be interested in attempting to optimize health states by intervening biochemical pathways with this nutrient or combining this nutrient with other components which might lead to the desired two scenarios that I mentioned above.

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