Berberine is an alkaloid compound found in several botanicals, such as goldenseal, Oregon grape, and barberry. It has been used to support human health in a variety of ways. Chinese medicine and other Asian traditions have used berberine for more than 1,000 years. Current research focuses on the role of berberine to support cardiovascular function, a healthy response to inflammation, gastrointestinal health, and healthy metabolism.
A recent review article highlights the broad cardiovascular-supportive qualities of berberine. It may support a healthy response to atherosclerosis through its support of lipid metabolism, its inhibition of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase and c-Jun N-terminal kinase signaling pathways, and its ability to modulate tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-6, and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB). Berberine may also support healthy blood pressure by promoting vasodilation and relaxation of vascular smooth muscle and inhibiting endothelial apoptosis. It also has been shown to support healthy heart function in the presence of ischemic heart disease, myocarditis, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.
Another recent article links berberine to the support of gastrointestinal and metabolic health within the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome has been associated with the development of metabolic disorders, and berberine may interact with the gut microbiome to support metabolic health through multiple pathways. Berberine has been shown to promote the synthesis of butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that is produced by bacteria in the gut microbiome that may support lipid and glucose metabolism. Short-term exposure to berberine has been associated with the alteration of certain populations of intestinal bacteria, such as Clostridium cluster XIVa and IV; the downstream effect may mediate the metabolism of bile acids, lipids, and glucose through the activation of the intestinal farnesoid X receptor.
Berberine has also been shown to interact with cells related to inflammation and the immune system. It may inhibit messenger RNA expression of IL-4, IL-10, macrophage migration inhibitory factor, and TNF-α. Recent research points to the potential role of berberine as a neuroprotective agent directly through its influence on brain-derived neurotrophic factor, NF-κB, and its ability to decrease kynurenine, which influences glutamatergic neurotransmission and is metabolized to quinolinic acid and other neurotoxic compounds. It is also indirectly supportive of neurological health through its influence on risk factors, such as hyperlipidemia, hyperglycemia, and diabetes mellitus.
The main alkaloid of berberine has been shown to influence many pathways in the human body. Berberine may support healthy lipid and glucose metabolism, cardiovascular function, cellular health, and a healthy response to oxidative stress and inflammation.
By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT