In the course of researching various supplements to cure my gastritis, I’ve come across quite a few interesting chemicals. One of them is berberine, a benzylisoquinoline alkaloid found in goldenseal, Oregon-grape, Californian poppy, and a number of other plants. Berberine lowers LDL cholesterol without any effect on HDL cholesterol. Could berberine be an alternative to statins? The linked study used large amounts (100mg/kg), but smaller amounts may also be beneficial.
It’s arguable if lowering LDL cholesterol actually leads to a reduced risk of cardiac disease, but if you want to lower LDL, berberine might come with fewer side effects than statins (which may result in muscle pain, liver damage, and an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes). Berberine has other positive physiological effects as well, including lowering blood pressure (at least in diabetic rats), and (when used in combination with other nutraceuticals) assisting weight loss.
Berberine also appears to reduce leaky gut and alleviate colitis (someone should give some to George St. Pierre–I’d like to see him fight again soon). Berberine may also improve glucolipid metabolism and prevent or even help reverse nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (again, in rats, but results may carry over to people). Berberine may even protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Berberine used with cinnamon may help prevent lung cancer.
Berberine appears to activate AMPK, a kind of metabolic master switch, which may be the reason it’s helpful in treating so many conditions. It might be the closest thing we have to exercise in a pill.
Here’s a good article reviewing many of the benefits of berberine, as well as dosing recommendations, and links to more research.
And here’s the link if you want to go down the PubMed berberine rabbit hole yourself!
What Are The Risks?
Berberine has a slight laxative effects, and there are some reports of GI distress at higher doses.
One note of concern is this study in regards to an increased risk of liver cancer in male rats and mice with longterm use of goldenseal powder. Goldenseal contains berberine, but it also contains quite a few other things, so its hard to know what to make of this study.
This study raises concerns in regards to the potential neurotoxicity of berberine with higher doses and accumulation in tissues. Berberine, like many phytochemicals, may be protective at lower doses, but toxic in higher doses. More is not better. As with all supplements, use the minimum effective dose.
Berberine can interact with a number of medications, and can increase the cardiotoxicity of microlide antibiotics such as azithromycin and clarithromycin. Here’s another article re: berberine side effects.
Overall berberine appears to be quite safe at doses up to 1500mg/day, best taken in divided doses before meals.
I’m currently experimenting taking berberine 400mg twice a day. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to include it as a regular part of my supplement regimen, but I’ll report back at a later date.
Please feel free to share your experience using berberine in the comments.
Wishing you health and happiness over the holidays!