According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 71 million Americans have high cholesterol. High cholesterol is often treated with medications or diet and lifestyle changes. Some people prefer alternative treatments, such as supplements. Herbal supplements, such as berberine, are being increasingly considered for their potential cholesterol benefits.
Berberine is an alkaloid. Alkaloids are chemical compound found in several plants. For centuries, this herb was used by a number of Native American tribes for treating ailments, including stomach ulcers and eye irritation.
Other herbs that contain berberine are:
- Chinese goldthread (Coptis trifolia)
- barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
- Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
It’s also found in roots, rhizomes, and the stem bark of these plants.
Berberine use can be traced back to China some 3,000 years ago. It was used to fight bacterial and fungal infections, treat diarrhea, and ease stomach issues. Because of its yellow color, berberine is also sometimes used as a dye for coloring materials.
Berberine affects AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This is the enzyme that controls the way your body produces and uses energy. If the body’s AMPK levels are unbalanced, this can affect how your body regulates cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
In more recent years, research has started to identify other potential uses. Studies on animals indicate that berberine might have some potential as a treatment for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Forms of Berberine
Oregon grape, a plant that contains berberine, is available in supplements and in an extract. Taking Oregon grape in the form of droplets will enable your body to obtain the positive benefits of berberine.
Goldenseal, a plant that contains berberine, can be found in tea form. Goldenseal provides a variety of benefits in addition to berberine. But experts are split on whether or not the berberine found in goldenseal can be obtained orally.
Berberine Capsule Supplements
Berberine can be found in capsule supplements sold in health food stores. The maximum recommended amount of pure berberine per day is 2,000 milligrams. For best results, berberine should be taken with a meal or shortly after eating. This will yield the most potent effect on keeping blood spikes at bay.
Berberine and Cholesterol
One study showed that berberine can effectively reduce cholesterol levels in hamsters fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. A 2012 study using human subjects found that three 500-milligram doses of berberine a day for 12 weeks was more effective in lowering cholesterol than ezetimibe.
Statins, such as simvastatin, pravastatin and others, are the most common medications used to treat high cholesterol. Unfortunately, some people are unable to tolerate the side effects of statins. Berberine may be a safe alternative for these people. Because it works in a different way than statins, it can also be combined with the drugs as a more effective treatment than using either alone.
Berberine and Mental Health
Studies have shown that mood can have an effect on cholesterol. In this way, decreasing stress levels and feelings of depression may have a positive impact on high cholesterol.
Berberine affects metabolic function. This means that it can prevent blood sugar from spiking, and can suppress appetite. If you begin taking berberine, it’s possible that it will even out daily mood swings caused by blood sugar. People taking berberine have reported that they have more energy, feel less hungry, and feel physically better throughout the course of the day.
Berberine’s effect on depression has been studied in animal trials, with positive conclusions. More research into the subject is needed. It does appear that berberine can be used to directly treat the symptoms of depression.
Risks and Warnings
In its pure form, berberine is generally considered safe for adults. It is not considered safe for pregnant or lactating women or infants. Also, the various plants that contain berberine may have their own side effects.
It’s also important to remember that supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means private manufacturers are responsible for making sure their products are safe for human use. These products could potentially contain other additives that may be harmful.
Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding shouldn’t take berberine because it can cause or worsen jaundice in babies. It may also lead to kernicterus, a rare type of brain damage that is induced by high bilirubin levels.
Pros and Cons
Berberine supports liver function, evens out blood sugar levels, and helps your body to metabolize calories. Even though its cholesterol-lowering benefits cannot be proven, taking berberine will still support your goal of a healthy lifestyle and help you in other ways.
The mental health benefits of berberine are reported widely by many who take it. Taking berberine can possibly improve your daily mood.
It’s not safe to take both berberine and the diabetes drug metformin. If you are using the drug metformin to treat type 2 diabetes, berberine can interact with the drug and make it less effective.
A huge drawback is the lack of knowledge we have about berberine. So much of berberine’s side effects are unknown. It may be some time before researchers uncover the long-term effects of using berberine to treat high cholesterol. If you decide to use berberine, you must keep in mind that there has been no conclusive guarantee that it will work to change your cholesterol levels.
Studies on berberine show encouraging results for its potential in treating cholesterol and other conditions. However, most of this research has involved animals, with only a few small human trials. Larger studies will be needed before berberine becomes widely accepted as a treatment. There are several kinds of berberine and berberine-containing herbs on the market. Speak to a medical professional before deciding to take berberine as a way to treat your high cholesterol.