More new findings …

Improves memory, combats antibiotic resistant micro-organisms, reduces 
smoke-induced lung damage, and fights cancer 

Berberine comes to us from China and India where it was first used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines. It is present in a number of plants including goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), goldenthread (Coptis chinensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), and tree turmeric (Berberis aristata). Within these plants, the berberine alkaloid can be found in the stem bark, roots, and rhizomes, and stem bark of the plants. Among its uses, the extracts and decoctions have exhibited significant antimicrobial activity against a variety of organisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoans, parasitic worms, and chlamydia. Over time, the major clinical uses of berberine include bacterial diarrhea, intestinal parasite infections, and ocular trachoma infections.

But now, voluminous research has promoted berberine into a superstar nutrient status for those with concerns about high blood sugar and abnormal lipid profiles. On top of that, research shows that it has positive benefits for blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels, weight loss, and dementia. Berberine has even been found to be superior to metformin, operates as an important antioxidant, and more!

And now there are even more reasons to celebrate berberine:

Berberine Improves Episodic Memory

A new study has shown that the pre-synaptic component of synaptic plasticity—which strengthens synapse responses and is one of the important neurochemical foundations of learning and memory—is negatively affected by diabetes, and that berberineprevents this effect in the dentate gyrus part of the hippocampal formation.1 This region is thought to contribute to the formation of new episodic memories.

While previous studies indicate that diabetes hinders synaptic transmission in the hippocampus, leading to impairments of synaptic plasticity and defects in learning and memory, the mechanism has not been made clear.

Berberine has even been found to 
be superior to metformin and 
shown to operate as an important 
antioxidant, and more!

The researchers aimed to determine the effects of berberine on short-term plasticity in inhibitory interneurons in the dentate gyrus of diabetic rats with induced memory dysfunction. Also, they investigated whether the effects of berberine are pre- or post-synaptic or both. Experimental groups included: (1) control, (2) control berberinetreated (100 mg/kg), (3) diabetic and (4) diabetic berberine treated (50–100 mg/kg/day for 12 weeks). In comparison with controls, paired pulse facilitation in the diabetic group was significantly increased. However, this effect was prevented by chronic berberinetreatment (50–100 mg/kg). There were no differences between responses of the control berberine 100 mg/kg treated and diabetes berberine treated (50 and 100 mg/kg) groups as compared to the control group. The overall results suggest that that the pre-synaptic component of synaptic plasticity in the dentate gyrus is affected under diabetic conditions and that berberine prevents this effect.

Berberine Acts as Antibacterial Agent Against Multi-Drug Resistant E. coli

Researchers selected ten multi-drug resistant isolates drawn from yaks with hemorrhagic diarrhea for a new study.2 For both categories of enterovirulent Escherichia coli (E. coli) isolates, berberine displayed an antibacterial effect in a dose-dependent manner. The results indicate clearly that berberine may serve as a good antibacterial against multi-drug resistant E. coli. This adds to other studies showing that berberine is effective against clinical multi-drug resistant isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).3 MRSA is responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans. It is also called oxacillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and is the scourge the world over in hospitals, prisons and nursing homes, where patients with open wounds, invasive devices, and weakened immune systems are concentrated.

For both categories of enterovirulent Escherichia coli (E. coli) isolates, berberine displayed an antibacterial effect in a dose dependent manner.

Berberine Reduces Cigarette Smoke Inflammation

Berberine possesses anti-inflammatory properties. In a recent study, researchers investigated berberine’s effects on cigarette smoke-induced lung inflammation.4 Mice were exposed to cigarette smoke to cause acute lung injury and were then given berberine intragastrically at 50 mg/kg. Upon examination of lung tissues, it was shown that cigarette smoke caused infiltration of inflammatory cells into alveolar spaces along with interstitial edema. Pretreatment with berberine significantly lessened lung inflammation. The numbers of total cells, macrophages, and neutrophils in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid were decreased by 43, 40, and 53 %, respectively, accompanied by decreased myeloperoxidase activity (which is a marker of neutrophil accumulation).

Berberine improves smoke-induced 
acute lung injury through its anti-
inflammatory activity.

Berberine pretreatment also diminished secretions of macrophage inflammatory protein 2, tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-6, and monocyte chemotactic protein-1 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, along with reduced nuclear translocation of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) p65 subunit and lower NF-κB DNA-binding activity. These measures, all quelled by berberine, are either inflammatory inducers known as cytokines, or are implicated in processes of synaptic plasticity and memory (NF-κB).

These results were profound. Berberine reduces smoke-induced acute lung injury through its anti-inflammatory activity. This adds to a prior study showing that when berberine is added to cigarette filters, the amount of hydrogen cyanide in the smoke entering the lungs is decreased and the amounts of oral peroxidase, the principal antioxidant in the oral cavity, is increased in a dose-dependent manner (i.e., the greater the amount of berberine in the filter, the greater protection it provides).5

Berberine for Colorectal Carcinoma

Berberine has long been used as an antibiotic, although proof of this is only recent (see above). Berberine’s antineoplastic (anticancer) properties were subsequently discovered in vitro, and in a new study the effects of berberine on the growth of human colorectal carcinoma cells in vitro and in vivo were investigated.6 The results showed that berberine inhibited human colorectal adenocarcinoma cell growth in a time- and dose-dependent manner. The inhibition of human colorectal adenocarcinoma cell growth by berberine was associated with the suppression of cyclin B1, cdc2, and cdc25c proteins.

Berberine at a dose of 50 mg kg-1 day-1 showed inhibitory rates of 45.3% in a human colorectal adenocarcinoma xenograft in nude mice. When berberine was combined with 5-fluorouracil (used to treat several types of cancer including colon, rectum, and head and neck cancers) the results were yet higher with an inhibitory rate (59.8 %) than the berberine group (36.4%), but no significant difference was observed between the 5-FU group (43.0%) and the combination group. These results support the possibility that berberine may be useful as an alternative therapy for colorectal carcinoma. Bear in mind that fluororacil has many side effects, including myelosuppression, mucositis, dermatitis and diarrhea, while berberine has none.

Berberine as Preventative

At the top of berberine’s applications is its ability to prevent disease and precursor ailments. In a recent study, berberine was found to be a potential therapy for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer relapse arising from cancer stem cells.7 In another study, berberine combined with yohimbine may be an effective immuno­modulator agent for the prevention of sepsis.8 Also, in the same journal, PLoS One,recent findings suggest that the prevention of obesity and insulin resistance by berberine in high-fat diet-fed rats is at least partially mediated by structural modulation of the gut microbiota.9 Other findings lend support for the traditional application of crude berberine extracts in the prevention of infection.10 Another paper reviewed the evidence to evaluate the metabolic properties of the berberine and its potential application to the treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention. What they found is that berberine is good so far, with the usual “pharmaceutical standard demand” for more and larger studies.11

We could go on exploring the benefits of berberine, but this article (combined with the recommendations in the second paragraph) should give you enough information to make you want to include berberine among the top nutrients in your supplement program.


  1. Moghaddam HK, Baluchnejadmojarad T, Roghani M, Goshadrou F, Ronaghi A. Berberine chloride improved synaptic plasticity in STZ induced diabetic rats. Metab Brain Dis. 2013 May 3. [Epub ahead of print].
  2. Bandyopadhyay S, Patra PH, Mahanti A, Mondal DK, Dandapat P, Bandyopadhyay S, Samanta I, Lodh C, Bera AK, Bhattacharyya D, Sarkar M, Baruah KK. Potential antibacterial activity of berberine against multi drug resistant enterovirulent Escherichia coli isolated from yaks (Poephagus grunniens) with hae.morrhagic diarrhoea. Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2013 Apr 13;6(4):315-9.
  3. Zuo GY, Li Y, Han J, Wang GC, Zhang YL, Bian ZQ. Antibacterial and synergy of berberines with antibacterial agents against clinical multi-drug resistant isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Molecules. 2012 Aug 29;17(9):10322-30.
  4. Lin K, Liu S, Shen Y, Li Q. Berberine attenuates cigarette smoke-induced acute lung inflammation. Inflammation. 2013 Apr 21. [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Wu J, Ye X, Cui X, Li X, Zheng L, Chen Z. Reducing the inhibitory effect of cigarette smoke on the activity of oral peroxidase by the addition of berberine in cigarette filter. Toxicol Ind Health. 2013 May;29(4):317-24.
  6. Cai Y, Xia Q, Luo R, Huang P, Sun Y, Shi Y, Jiang W. Berberine inhibits the growth of human colorectal adenocarcinoma in vitro and in vivo. J Nat Med. 2013 Apr 21. [Epub ahead of print]
  7. Ma X, Zhou J, Zhang CX, Li XY, Li N, Ju RJ, Shi JF, Sun MG, Zhao WY, Mu LM, Yan Y, Lu WL. Modulation of drug-resistant membrane and apoptosis proteins of breast cancer stem cells by targeting berberine liposomes. Biomaterials. 2013 Jun;34(18):4452-65.
  8. Li H, Wang Y, Zhang H, Jia B, Wang D, Li H, Lu D, Qi R, Yan Y, Wang H. Yohimbine enhances protection of berberine against LPS-induced mouse lethality through multiple mechanisms. PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52863. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052863. Epub 2012 Dec 28.
  9. Zhang X, Zhao Y, Zhang M, Pang X, Xu J, Kang C, Li M, Zhang C, Zhang Z, Zhang Y, Li X, Ning G, Zhao L. Structural changes of gut microbiota during berberine-mediated prevention of obesity and insulin resistance in high-fat diet-fed rats. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42529. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042529. Epub 2012 Aug 3.
  10. Cech NB, Junio HA, Ackermann LW, Kavanaugh JS, Horswill AR. Quorum quenching and antimicrobial activity of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Planta Med. 2012 Sep;78(14):1556-61.
  11. Derosa G, Maffioli P, Cicero AF. Berberine on metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors: an analysis from preclinical evidences to clinical trials. Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2012 Aug;12(8):1113-24.