Written by Dr. Michael Murray
Berberine is finally getting its day in the sun. It’s the superstar in botanical medicine research right now and may someday even supplant curcumin as the most important commercially available plant-based dietary supplement. When you get down to it, the research backs up its current status and is really quite mind blowing!
It reflects an unequaled pharmacological complexity and effectiveness in promoting overall wellness in many areas. A new review by Dr. Francesco Di Pierro1 on the benefits of berberine on the gut microbiome highlights that much of its actions in improving health, including promoting weight loss, lowering blood lipids and blood pressure, and improving blood sugar control, are mediated not only by direct effects, but also through berberine’s influence on the gut microbiome. Berberine may be an age-old natural medicine, but it’s becoming the prototype of an entirely new way of improving health, by influencing the microbiome.
Berberine is a yellow alkaloid found in goldenseal root, barberry bark, Oregon grape root and coptis (goldthread) root. It has been shown to:
One of the clearest indicators of how berberine affects the microbiome is its effectiveness as a useful remedy for occasional diarrheas caused by several different types of parasites and infectious organisms.2 Berberine has also been shown to be effective at fighting harmful microbes, even over conventional antibiotics. It exerts a selective antimicrobial action by targeting a wide range of harmful organisms, yet leaves health-promoting bacterial species such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacter species alone. We told you the research was mind blowing!
In Dr. Di Pierro’s review, he shows that berberine’s health benefits in weight loss, insulin resistance and inflammation may largely be the result of modulating the gut flora (microbiome). At first glance, some are confused by the many benefits due to the fact that there is a low percentage of berberine absorbed in our bodies. The answer to this is berberine uses the microbiome!
One of the biggest changes seen in the microbiome with berberine supplementation is that the quantity of the beneficial bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila in the gut increases. This bacteria plays a critical role in gut health because it is a key factor responsible for mucin thickness. Mucin lines the gut, protecting the intestines from damage.
A thinning or absent mucin layer is associated with increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation. The greater the colonization of the Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria, the less incidence of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and low-grade chronic inflammation. In other words, when the levels and activity of this bacteria are low, these disorders seem to take root. The assumption is that these disorders are associated with altered gut barrier function due to reduced mucin protection, which leads to the absorption of many gut-derived toxins that trigger a cascade of different systems that promote chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.
Berberine has been shown to reverse a lacking gut barrier, along with the absorption of gut-derived toxins that comes with it, by promoting the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila—leading to an improved intestinal barrier, reduced circulating levels of gut-derived toxins and a significant reduction in inflammation. Another helpful bacteria boosted by berberine is Bifidobacterium—beneficial to intestinal health, it reduces absorption of gut-derived toxins and inflammation.
We are discovering a new way of thinking about drugs and botanicals that interact with the microbiota before they affect the human metabolism. If we can promote the growth of good bacteria that protects us from harmful toxins, we won’t need to take medicine to solve the problems those toxins cause. The microbiome is a powerful ally to our health!
A revolution is taking place within medicine. It’s exciting to see it take place. There is no question that the microbiome is a key factor in determining our health. I am convinced that a greater understanding of the microbiome will bring with it a greater use of dietary and natural supplements designed to promote its growth and well being.
1 Di Pierro F. Impact of berberine on human gut bacteria. Nutrafoods (2018) 17:5-8.
2 Parasites and infectious organisms known to cause diarrhea that berbine is effective with include: E. coli (traveler’s diarrhea), Shigella dysenteriae (shigellosis), Salmonella paratyphi (food poisoning), B. Klebsiella, Giardia lamblia (giardiasis), Entamoeba histolytica (amebiasis), and Vibrio cholerae (cholera).
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