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The Wealth of Berberine
Berberine Research Continues to Unfold

By Will Block

I f personal wealth included health—which it arguably should—one of the top coins of your wellbeing might be berberine, an herbal extract which imparts a golden color. In fact, berberine showed up in the first millennium in China as a preservative of valuable ancient idea-preserving manuscripts, which are imbued with the color of berberine (see “Take This Dye for Diabetes” in the November 2010 issue).

Also historically intriguing, the plague devastated Asia and Europe in the second millennium without much medicinal defense, although evidence exists showing that berberine-containing barberry fruit was used by ancient Egyptian pharaohs and queens to ward off the plague.1 Recent berberine research has found berberine use as a therapeutic agent of choice against the plague versus conventional antibiotics.2 Imagine how history would have been changed had the Egyptians shared their knowledge.

Berberine for Diabetes

In the last few years, study after study has confirmed berberine to have multiple bioactivities, including cholesterol-lowering, anti-insulin resistance, anti-diabetes, cardiovascular protection, anti-inflammation, and anti-cancer properties. In a recent review, researchers summarized the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine as well as their molecular basis.3 These beneficial activities changed oxidative stress markers, antioxidant enzymes, and proinflammatory cytokines after berberine administration in diabetic animals. Berberine was found to inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation in various tissues including kidney, liver, adipose tissue, and pancreas. Mechanisms of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine were complex, which involved multiple cellular kinases and signaling pathways.

Berberine for Cancer

We know that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, and while conventional medicine has been useful, it has not demonstrated the needed efficacy. So novel therapeutic agents such as berberine are promising. In a recent review, the molecular targets of berberine in breast cancer, among other cancers are discussed.4 Berberine has been found to be effective in inhibiting cell proliferation and promoting apoptosis in various cancerous cells. Pathways affected by ber­berine, include the MAP (mitogen-activated protein) kinase and Wnt/β-catenin pathways (Wnt signaling was first identified for its role in carcinogenesis). These have been determined as critical for reducing cellular migration and sensitivity to various growth factors. AS well, there are recent promising studies based on microRNAs and other crucial regulators that help define the action of berberine in cancer.

Berberine for Memory

And that’s not all! Recent studies have found that berberine can fight dementia and Alzheimer’s disease along with improving memory. Berberine has been found to possess multiple memory pharmacological effects: it can inhibit acetylcholinesterase (which breaks down the important memory molecule associated with concentration and focus), and induce improved survival, development, and function of neurons, while protecting these electrically excitable brain cells (see “Berberine is Very Promising for Alzheimer’s” in the February 2012 issue). Furthermore, in the references papers, berberine was found to reduce the production of amyloid-beta 40–42 plaque, which plays a primary and critical role in the neurological degradation that bottoms out in Alzheimer’s disease.

Berberine Fights Tau and Neurofibrillary Tangles

Even more recent research has found that berberine protects against neuronal cell death induced by homocysteic acid, which is considered as a risk for Alzheimer’s.5 Another recent study has found that berberine can protect the brain cells from induced toxicity in metabolism and viability, as well as hyperphosphorylation of tau and neurofilaments, hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.6 Berberine modulated the activity of crucial phosphatases that dampen phosphorylation as well as oxidative stress, and reversed hyperphosphorylation of tau and neurofilaments, the axonal transport impairment induced in a cell line used to study cells have been used to study neurotoxicity and Alzheimer’s disease.

In mice, berberine improved short-term memory by inhibiting apoptosis in the hippocampus, thus demonstrating that it may serve to alleviate memory impairment and motor dysfunction in patients with PD.7

Berberine Research Continues to Unfold

For vision: New findings suggest that leukocytes from diabetes kill retinal endothelial cells, and that berberine inhibits this process and thus represents a therapy against diabetic retinopathy.8

For polycystic ovary syndrome: Another new study postulates that women with PCOS will have improved insulin resistance following berberine administration.

For oral mucosal disease: Recurrent aphthous stomatitis is a common oral mucosal disease, yet effective therapeutic approaches are lacking. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial, berberine was given to 84 Chinese subjects, without obvious side effects.9 Berberine reduced the ulcer pain score compared with placebo and ulcer size was significantly reduced. Also, lower erythema and exudation levels were associated with berberine treatment.

Berberine Is a Good Choice

I could go on (and Life Enhancement will), but berberine continues to looks better and better as an important aspect of your supplement program. Add to your wealth and your health with berberine.

References

  1. Chevallier A: The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. St Leonards: Dorling Kindersley; 2001.
  2. Zhang J, Zuo G, Bai Q, Wang Y, Yang R, Qiu J. Microarray expression profiling of Yersinia pestis in response to berberine. Planta Med. 2009 Mar;75(4):396-8.
  3. Li Z, Geng YN, Jiang JD, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:289264. doi: 10.1155/2014/289264. Epub 2014 Feb 11.
  4. Jabbarzadeh Kaboli P, Rahmat A, Ismail P, et al. Targets and mechanisms of berberine, a natural drug with potential to treat cancer with special focus on breast cancer. Eur J Pharmacol. 2014 Jun 26. pii: S0014-2999(14)00467-1. doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2014.06.025. [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Chen M, Tan M, Jing M, et al. Berberine protects homocysteic acid-induced HT-22 cell death: involvement of Akt pathway. Metab Brain Dis. 2014 Jul 23. [Epub ahead of print]
  6. Liu X, Zhou J, Abid MD, et al. Berberine attenuates axonal transport impairment and axonopathy induced by Calyculin A in N2a cells. PLoS One. 2014 Apr 8;9(4):e93974. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093974. eCollection 2014.
  7. Kim M, Cho KH, Shin MS, et al. Berberine prevents nigrostriatal dopaminergic neuronal loss and suppresses hippocampal apoptosis in mice with Parkinson’s disease. Int J Mol Med. 2014 Apr;33(4):870-8.
  8. Tian P, Ge H, Liu H, et al. Leukocytes from diabetic patients kill retinal endothelial cells: effects of berberine. Mol Vis. 2013 Oct 2;19:2092-105.
  9. Jiang XW, Zhang Y, Zhu YL, et al. Effects of berberine gelatin on recurrent aphthous stomatitis: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial in a Chinese cohort. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol. 2013 Feb;115(2):212-7.


Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.

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