A staple of both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, berberine has likely been used medically for three thousand years.2 Berberine is a naturally occurring phytochemical compound (an “alkaloid”) found in many plants around the world, including Chinese goldthread (Coptis chinensis), Indian barberry (Berberis aristata or “tree turmeric”), common barberry (Berberis vulgaris), and the Amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense).
Berberine has been used over the centuries to effect a surprisingly wide array of health benefits, but it is only recently that this has come to light in Western medicine. A PubMed search for medical papers about berberine yields over 4500 hits, of which ~4000 were published after 1990. In other words, interest has exploded in recent years, and those who are curious can explore far beyond the papers linked below.
A review of the literature reveals that berberine has been used (either by Western or traditional healers) to treat at least ten different ailments.
We can broadly describe the ways in which berberine supports the optimization of cell function. Like many plant-based nutraceuticals, berberine acts on multiple pathways simultaneously to support healthy cellular function. The pathways are discussed in more detail in this blog post. They include:
- Detoxification: Berberine supports your liver’s ability to process and neutralize toxins before cell damage can occur.1,2
- Cell-Cycle Arrest: halting replication until a damaged cell can be repaired. (This is similar to pulling your car over when you have a flat tire, to prevent the damage from extending beyond the tire; once the flat is repaired, the car is allowed to continue.) Berberine has been shown to induce cell-cycle arrest, in cells and in mice.3-8,12
- Apoptosis: If a cell cannot be repaired, it is given the signal to permanently stop replicating. Berberine has been shown to support normal cellular apoptosis.3,4,6,9
- AMPK activation: discussed below.
About Apoptosis: Your Cellular Self-Destruct Button
Your cells are really into self-criticism. If they notice a mutation in one of their genes, cells will usually “self destruct,” so that the mutation is not passed on to the next-generation cell. This is a great system, and keeps us healthy for the most part. However, you can see an inherent problem: what if we get a mutation in the self-destruct code itself? If there is no way to send the signal to self-destruct, the cell will keep dividing, even if it is unhealthy. Many of the natural products contained in Curos Essential, including berberine, tocotrienols, Green Tea extract and Siliphos® (silymarin) have the ability to help cells maintain normal cellular “apoptosis,” which means “programmed cell death.” By eliminating these cells, your body avoids downstream problems.
Berberine is a powerful AMPK Activator
One of the hot topics among longevity enthusiasts is AMPK activation; the AMPK pathway is being actively researched as a way of increasing both health-span and lifespan.10,30 The reason is, inhibition of AMPK is implicated in a number of diseases of aging,29 while AMPK activation seems to keep cells young and healthy (and allows mice and monkeys to live longer!). Among the most famous (notorious?) ways of activating AMPK is caloric restriction11 either as continuously limited intake or as intermittent fasting.
Here is a nice diagram from a 2014 journal article about berberine,6 which summarizes these effects:
Berberine and Metabolic Function (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol)
While our primary interest in berberine is for cellular defense, apoptosis and AMPK activation, berberine has been extensively studied for the downstream benefits of some of these effects, including maintaining healthy blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Many of these studies have been linked below. 2,23-26,28
Berberine supports both healthy LDL levels and healthy triglyceride levels, but by separate mechanisms:
The mechanism by which berberine supports healthy LDL levels has to do with it’s effect on the LDL receptor, and is unrelated to AMPK activation.
By contrast, berberine’s AMPK activation does play a significant role in maintaining healthy triglyceride levels, as AMPK activation lowers fat storage in the liver.24
Berberine and Siliphos®: Better Together
Combining berberine with silymarin (Milk Thistle extract) has been shown, in humans, to increase the effectiveness of berberine.13 Milk Thistle is a powerful addition to any wellness regimen, and is frequently used to maintain healthy liver function in people who have been exposed to toxins (including toxicity from medications). Berberine alone is also able to help maintain healthy liver enzyme levels.1 And Milk Thistle, like berberine, has been shown to activate AMPK.27 So, combining Milk Thistle with berberine is a powerful strategy for maximizing the benefits of both plant extracts. Precisely for that reason, Curos Essential also includes a form of Milk Thistle with proven absorption in humans, called Siliphos®.
Berberine and Cognitive Function
The focus of Curos Essential is to support your body’s innate ability to fight off disease. However, there are a number of ingredients included in Essential that we hope will also support clients who have concerns about cognitive function or “brain fog.” Those ingredients include micro-dosed Lithium, tocotrienols, Green Tea and berberine. We have included below a number of papers13-21 showing that berberine seems to protect memory and cognitive function in mice.
Berberine (by itself) is generally used in fairly high doses, often 1000 to 1500mg per day. However, well-designed human trials have shown effectiveness at just 750mg per day in supporting detoxification.1
Regarding apoptosis support: quite a few human studies have been done on berberine exploring its use for liver (detox) protection or support of healthy blood sugar or cholesterol levels23,24,25, but we could not find a human study that specifically addressed dosing for apoptosis support. We did, however, find a study in rats showing that 50mg/kg was adequate to confer apoptosis support.9 That translates to a human dose of 8mg/kg, or about 600mg for a 165lb person. As noted above, combining berberine with Siliphos® may allow us to derive benefit without using the maximum possible dose. Taking these factors into account, we felt that 800mg of berberine per day would be sufficient for Curos Essential.