Berberine is a bitter-tasting, yellow, plant alkaloid with a long history of medicinal use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Berberine is present in the roots, rhizomes and stem bark of various plants including Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal), Coptis chinensis (coptis or goldenthread), Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape), Berberis vulgaris (barberry), and Berberis aristata (tree turmeric). Berberine has also been used historically as a dye, due to its yellow color.
Clinical trials have been conducted using berberine. There is some evidence to support its use in the treatment of trachomas (eye infections), bacterial diarrhea, and leishmaniasis (parasitic disease). Berberine has also shown antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoans, helminths (worms), and chlamydia (STD). Future clinical research is warranted in these areas, as well as cardiovascular disease, skin disorders, and liver disorders.
Berberine has been shown to be safe in the majority of clinical trials. However, there is a potential for interaction between berberine and many prescription medications, and berberine should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, due to potential for adverse effects in the newborn.
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These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Preliminary research suggests that berberine, in addition to a standard prescription drug regimen for chronic congestive heart failure (CHF), may improve quality of life and heart function, and improve mortality. Further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn in this area.
One trial has assessed the use of berberine in combination with pyrimethamine in the treatment of chloroquine-resistant malaria. Well-designed clinical trials are still required in this field.
Diabetes (type 2)
Historically, berberine has been suggested to aid in glycemic regulation. The safety and effectiveness of berberine for this indication remains unclear. More research is needed in this area.
Preliminary study of berberine does not appear to reduce intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma. The safety and effectiveness of berberine for this indication remains unclear. Additional study is needed in this area.
H. pylori infection
Berberine has been compared with antibacterial drugs and ranitidine in stimulation of ulcer healing and
Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol)
Berberine may reduce triglycerides, serum cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. Higher quality trials are needed before berberine's cholesterol-lowering effect can be established.
Berberine has been evaluated as a treatment for infectious diarrhea, including choleric diarrhea, although the data is conflicting. Therefore, there is currently insufficient evidence regarding the efficacy of berberine in the management of infectious diarrhea.
Parasitic infection (leishmania)
The benefits of berberine in the treatment of leishmaniasis are widely accepted. Berberine is thought to be equally efficacious as the standard drug treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis, antimonite (sulfide mineral), although limited study of this treatment probably limits its widespread use. Additional study is needed to confirm these results.
Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
Berberine has been shown to significantly increase platelet production in individuals with thrombocytopenia both as monotherapy and adjunctive therapy. Additional human study is needed to confirm these results.
Trachoma (eye disease)
Berberine has been found to possess antimicrobial properties, and there is limited evidence of anti-inflammatory properties as well. Preliminary evidence suggests that berberine eye preparations may be beneficial for trachoma. However, the safety and efficacy of berberine for this indication remains unclear.