Berberine, an alkaloid, found in the Barberry plant

Berberine

  • Vitamins & Supplements
  • Updated January 18, 2017

Berberine is an alkaloid found in many species of the plant genus Berberis, as well as shrubs and trees in the poppy and cork families. Berberine might help to manage diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure for some people, but there is currently no clinical evidence that it can prevent cognitive decline or dementia. While berberine may be safe for short-term use, it interacts dangerously with some medications and evidence for long-term safety is lacking.

Evidence

No studies have specifically tested whether berberine can affect human cognitive function or prevent dementia.

Our search identified:
• Numerous preclinical studies

Potential Benefit

There is no clinical evidence that berberine prevents cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease. Preliminary evidence from clinical trials suggests that it can help to manage type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure [1][2]. Because these conditions raise the risk of poor brain health in old age, managing them may indirectly help promote better long-term cognitive health [3] but other available therapies may be more effective and reliable.

Preclinical evidence on berberine shows both benefit and harm. Several experiments suggest berberine may promote cognitive function [4][5], protect neurons by inhibiting an enzyme that produces toxic beta-amyloid? [6], and reduce brain inflammation [5]. In contrast, other experiments suggest that berberine treatment may accelerate the death of brain cells when started after damage has occurred, such as in Parkinson’s disease [7][8], hypoxia (low oxygen) [9], and neurotoxin exposure [10]. Brain aging alone can lead to damage that may, in theory, be worsened by berberine depending on the timing of treatment. None of these effects on the brain, positive or negative, have been confirmed in human studies yet.

For Dementia Patients

No clinical studies have tested whether berberine benefits patients with dementia. Some preclinical studies have shown that berberine has protected against certain aspects of Alzheimer's disease related to beta-amyloid [6], tau, and brain inflammation [11]. However, other studies suggest that berberine may accelerate neuronal death in the presence of damage [7-10]. None of these potentially beneficial or harmful effects have been confirmed in human studies.

Safety

Berberine is regarded as safe for consumption for most healthy adults [1][2], though no studies have examined its long-term safety. Caution should be taken when combining prescription medications with berberine, and it should not be taken with cyclosporine [12]. New preclinical evidence raises concerns about possible risks of cancer, brain toxicity, and dangerous interactions with other drugs [13][14]. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take berberine, as it may cross the placental barrier and pass into breast milk, with possibly severe risks to the fetus or infant [15][16]. During short-term use, common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal distension, and abdominal pain.

NOTE: This is not a comprehensive safety evaluation or complete list of potentially harmful drug interactions. It is important to discuss safety issues with your physician before taking any new supplement or medication.

How to Use

Berberine is commercially available as a dietary supplement. It is isolated from roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark of plants from the genus Berberis, most commonly Berberis vulgaris or barberry. Commercial extracts vary in content, depending on the species of plant and the extraction method [17]—and the content of many species has not yet been fully evaluated. Berberine is a component of Goldenseal, an herb marketed to promote immune health. It is critical to consult with your physician before taking berberine, given its potential to interfere with other medications [12].

Learn More

Information on safety, doses, and drug interactions from MedlinePlus

Evaluation of berberine's potential biological effects from Examine.com

References

  1. Lan J, Zhao Y, Dong F et al. (2015) Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol 161, 69-81.
  2. Dong H, Zhao Y, Zhao L et al. (2013) The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Planta medica 79, 437-446.
  3. Deckers K, van Boxtel MP, Schiepers OJ et al. (2015) Target risk factors for dementia prevention: a systematic review and Delphi consensus study on the evidence from observational studies. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 30, 234-246.
  4. Haghani M, Shabani M, Tondar M (2015) The therapeutic potential of berberine against the altered intrinsic properties of the CA1 neurons induced by Abeta neurotoxicity. Eur J Pharmacol 758, 82-88.
  5. Zhang Z, Li X, Li F et al. (2016) Berberine alleviates postoperative cognitive dysfunction by suppressing neuroinflammation in aged mice. Int Immunopharmacol 38, 426-433.
  6. Panahi N, Mahmoudian M, Mortazavi P et al. (2013) Effects of berberine on beta-secretase activity in a rabbit model of Alzheimer's disease. Archives of medical science : AMS 9, 146-150.
  7. Shin KS, Choi HS, Zhao TT et al. (2013) Neurotoxic effects of berberine on long-term L-DOPA administration in 6-hydroxydopamine-lesioned rat model of Parkinson's disease. Archives of pharmacal research 36, 759-767.
  8. Kwon IH, Choi HS, Shin KS et al. (2010) Effects of berberine on 6-hydroxydopamine-induced neurotoxicity in PC12 cells and a rat model of Parkinson's disease. Neurosci Lett 486, 29-33.
  9. Zhang Q, Qian Z, Pan L et al. (2012) Hypoxia-inducible factor 1 mediates the anti-apoptosis of berberine in neurons during hypoxia/ischemia. Acta Physiol Hung 99, 311-323.
  10. Kysenius K, Brunello CA, Huttunen HJ (2014) Mitochondria and NMDA receptor-dependent toxicity of berberine sensitizes neurons to glutamate and rotenone injury. PloS one 9, e107129.
  11. Durairajan SS, Liu LF, Lu JH et al. (2012) Berberine ameliorates beta-amyloid pathology, gliosis, and cognitive impairment in an Alzheimer's disease transgenic mouse model. Neurobiology of aging 33, 2903-2919.
  12. Harrison DE, Strong R, Allison DB et al. (2014) Acarbose, 17-alpha-estradiol, and nordihydroguaiaretic acid extend mouse lifespan preferentially in males. Aging Cell 13, 273-282.
  13. Chen S, Wan L, Couch L et al. (2013) Mechanism study of goldenseal-associated DNA damage. Toxicol Lett 221, 64-72.
  14. Dunnick JK, Singh B, Nyska A et al. (2011) Investigating the potential for toxicity from long-term use of the herbal products, goldenseal and milk thistle. Toxicol Pathol 39, 398-409.
  15. Kumar A, Ekavali, Chopra K et al. (2015) Current knowledge and pharmacological profile of berberine: An update. Eur J Pharmacol 761, 288-297.
  16. Shane-McWhorter L (2013) Dietary supplements for diabetes are decidedly popular: Help your patients decide. Diabetes Spectrum 26, 259-266.
  17. Imanshahidi M, Hosseinzadeh H (2008) Pharmacological and therapeutic effects of Berberis vulgaris and its active constituent, berberine. Phytother Res 22, 999-1012.