A compound frequently used for gastrointestinal issues — like traveller’s diarrhoea and food poisoning — has moved into the spotlight as a viable option to prevent and treat cancerous tumour formation. It also controls blood sugar and lipid metabolism at the same level as metformin — a potent drug used for the treatment of diabetes. If that wasn’t enough to grab your attention, it also calms inflammation, encourages weight loss, protects the heart, alleviates depression and fortifies against infections and contagious illness.
As it turns out, berberine may be the ultimate one-stop supplement that’s effective against a variety of health disorders.
A traditional botanical with modern applications
Berberine, a golden-coloured alkaloid compound present in an assortment of plants — like European barberry, goldthread, tree turmeric, goldenseal, Oregon grape and phellodendron — is valued by traditional medicine for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting attributes. It’s also useful against bacteria, protozoa and fungi — so much so that it’s been shown to successfully inhibit all tested strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. Berberine is often used topically to prevent and heal infections from cuts and wounds.
Moreover, the compound is making impressive strides on the cancer front. According to a study in the Journal of Natural Medicines, berberine slowed the growth of human colorectal carcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo. When berberine was given at a dose of 50 mg kg-1 day-1, there was an inhibitory rate of 45.3% in human colorectal adenocarcinoma xenograft in mice. The rate jumped to 59.8% when a combination of berberine and 5-fluorouracil (a cytotoxic chemotherapy drug) was administered.
Likewise, berberine shows promise with breast cancer. The journal Biomaterials published research that demonstrated berberine’s effectiveness in reducing the recurrence of breast cancer, which is associated with drug-resistant cancer stem cells (CSCs). According to the team, the drug resistance of CSCs is due to mitochondrial apoptosis-related proteins. Berberine liposomes were developed to modulate the mitochondrial proteins as well as the resistant cell membrane. The liposomes successfully crossed the CSC membrane and selectively accumulated in the mitochondria. Several key enzymes were also activated, leading the researchers to conclude that “significant efficacy of the administrations in mice was observed, indicating that the targeting berberine liposomes are a potential therapy for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer relapse arising from CSCs.”
Berberine also brings about cancer cell death in human melanoma, pancreatic and prostate cancer, while inhibiting liver, lung, ovarian and thyroid cancer metastasis.
So how does it work?
Berberine is effective on several levels in slowing cancer growth and trigger cancer cell death — mainly through interrupting the cell cycle of proliferation, reducing the blood vessel growth for tumours and hindering metastases. A major key in this process is a protein found in our cells, NF-kappa B. According to Integrative Oncology Essentials:
“Cancer (and precancerous cells) often have a permanently activated NF-kappa B, which keeps the cells proliferating and prevents them from dying (apoptosis.) Chronic inflammation can also be a result of activated NF-kappa B, and we know that chronic inflammation can lead to cancer growth.”
Not only does berberine help prevent and heal cancer, but it also takes on other serious health issues.
Balance blood sugar, slim down and protect the heart
If you’re struggling with diabetes or excess weight, it’s crucial you understand the role of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) — an enzyme within the cells of the body that regulates metabolism
“AMPK induces a cascade of events within cells that are all involved in maintaining energy homeostatis … AMPK regulates an array of biological activities that normalise lipid glucose, and energy imbalances.
Metabolic syndrome (MetS) occurs when these AMPK-regulated pathways are turned off, triggering a syndrome that includes hyperglycaemia, diabetes, lipid abnormalities, and energy imbalances.
… AMPK helps coordinate the response to these stressors, shifting energy toward cellular repair, maintenance, or a return to homeostatis and improved likelihood of survival.
The hormones leptin and adiponectin activate AMPK. In other words, activating AMPK can produce the same benefits as exercise, dieting, and weight loss – the lifestyle modifications considered beneficial for a range of maladies.
… One way to appreciate berberine’s potential is to think of it as having the same effect on a patient as increasing exercise while at the same time restricting calorie intake. Think of the effects of AMPK suppression as similar to those of eating a high-calorie diet while leading a very sedentary lifestyle.”
By activating AMPK with berberine, insulin sensitivity is increased, cells uptake glucose more readily and the production of glucose in the liver is reduced. Berberine also inhibits fat storage and increases the effectiveness of insulin, leptin and adiponectin — further supporting fat loss. As an added perk, the compound supports brown fat activity as well. This type of fat burns energy instead of storing it and is an important component of maintaining a healthy weight.
Another positive effect of encouraging balanced blood sugar and normal weight is that both reduce the risk of heart disease. Additionally, berberine lowers lipid levels, supports fat burning in the mitochondria and activates the release of nitric oxide (NO), which lowers blood pressure and relaxes the arteries.
The Natural Medicine Journal brings our attention to the wide-range of benefits of supplementing with berberine once again:
“Berberine activates AMPK in a manner similar to how exercise stimulates increased strength and weight loss. Thus, any condition that would be favorably impacted by a patient losing weight and/or exercising more may be impacted favorably by oral berberine supplementation. It makes sense to consider using berberine in patients with insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, heart disease, dyslipidemia, cancer, depression, and other neuropsychiatric diseases.”
* Please note: berberine should not be used by those suffering from jaundice or with heart disease unless under the guidance of an experienced health professional. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.