Berberine is a chemical found in barberry, goldenseal, Oregon grape, phellodendron, goldthread, and tree tumeric. It is usually found in the bark, stems and roots of these plants. It has a long history in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. It is very yellow and has been used as a dye in wool and leather. It is also used as a laboratory stain for looking at mast cells.
For this particular group, the study showed berberine was able to regulate glucose and had a modest effect on lipid metabolism. Specifically there was a significant decrease in hemoglobin A1c, fasting blood glucose, postprandial blood glucose and triglycerides.
Often times an herbal extract will have multiple uses. Berberine is one of these. I see it used effectively as an antibacterial, immune supporter, and anti-inflammatory. It appears to be effective across a broad range of bacteria in the digestive system. Often I find it used in balancing gut imbalances.
Berberine has significant antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungus, protozoans, helminths, viruses, and chlamydia. Because of this it can help protect against bacterial infections, particularly in the throat, intestines, and urinary track.
These properties have made it a unique supplement as part of detoxification program and commonly used for treating bacterial diarrhea and intestinal parasite infections.
It is sometimes thought that berberine is not well absorbed in the body, which is probably why it is has such strong effects in the gut, while other discussion is showing that it is actually quite well absorbed. It may just get metabolized too rapidly for blood tests to measure it before your body uses it.
I saw a quote that there were some 2,800 studies over a 5 year period in PubMed discussing berberine. This research is uncovering that the benefits of berberine may extend beyond its antimicrobial properties.
There are additional studies on the ability of berberine to support metabolic function and cardiovascular function. Some of these look interesting, but I am always skeptical because there can be downsides to even natural herbal extracts.
For example, with berberine some research is showing that it may affect how you body eliminates a drug called repaglinide (Prandin) because some important enzymes get down regulated with repeated use. At high dosages it could cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
Yet, another enzyme called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) gets activated by berberine. Metabolic syndrome can arise when the AMPK-regulated pathways gets turned off. This in turn triggers hyperglycemia, diabetes, lipid abnormalities, and energy imbalances.
But let’s not get confused by all this. Just come on down and talk with me.
Scott Porter is a Functional Medicine Pharmacist at Sandpoint Super Drug. He is a member of the Sandpoint Wellness Council.
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