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Can Berberine Lower Your Cholesterol Levels?

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Updated September 08, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Berberine is a chemical found in many types of herbs, such as the bark, roots, rhizomes of plants found across the world, as well as a supplement in health foods stores. The healthy benefits of berberine have been known for many centuries and it has been used to treat various medical conditions in Indian and Chinese medicine, ranging from diabetes to infections. Because of its yellow hue, it was also used by some cultures to dye fabrics.

In recent years, berberine isolated from some plants has also been studied in the treatment of inflammation, cancer, arthritis and heart failure. There is even some evidence that suggests that berberine may be effective in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Recent Studies Show Promise

Although there are a few human studies that examine the effects of berberine on cholesterol levels, the majority of these studies were conducted in hamsters and mice. The berberine in these studies was gathered from a variety of herbs, including goldenseal root and Huanglian.

In animal studies, berberine was administered anywhere between 100 and 250 mg/kg of body weight every day. Berberine appeared to lower total cholesterol levels by down to 31%. Additionally, triglyceride levels were lowered by almost 32% and LDL cholesterol levels was lowered by 25%. Although HDL was tested, berberine did not appear to greatly affect it.

The few human studies examining berberine appeared to echo the studies conducted in animals. Berberine 500 mg was administered to individuals with high cholesterol levels two to three times daily for up to three months. As a result, total cholesterol levels were lowered down to 29%. Triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels also decreased as a result of berberine intake. For instance, LDL cholesterol levels were lowered by an average of 21%, whereas triglyceride levels were lowered by anywhere between 22 and 35%. HDL levels, on the other hand, did not appear to change significantly with the addition of berberine.

How Does Berberine Lower Cholesterol?

Although the manner by which berberine works in lowering cholesterol is not completely known, scientists have a couple of theories on this based upon recent studies. It is thought that berberine has the ability to increase the number of LDL receptors in the liver, which may help increase clearance of LDL cholesterol from the body. Berberine also appears to act on signaling pathways involved with making fats in the body. Berberine has also been shown to act similarly to phytosterols by blocking absorption of lipids from the small intestine.

Should You Take Berberine to Lower Cholesterol?

The studies examining the use of berberine to lower cholesterol appear promising, however, more research is needed before it can be included as a recommended cholesterol-lowering agent.

Berberine should not be given to newborns, as it can cause brain damage, or to pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding (it could damage the fetus or newborn).

Berberine by itself is difficult to find as a supplement to take to lower your lipids. However, many herbal supplements and plants are commercially available that contain higher amounts of berberine, including:

  • Goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis L()
  • Ohio grape root (Berberis aquifolium)
  • Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
  • Huanglian (Coptis chiensis)

The berberine content varies between each herbal plant. For instance, goldenseal may contain anywhere between 1% and 6% of berberine. Therefore, you would need to check the supplement label to note the berberine content, instead of the amount of total herb, in each tablet. To see the effects on cholesterol noted in human studies, you would need to consume 500 mg of berberine two to three times a day.

Although easily accessible, you should consult with your healthcare provider before adding berberine – or any herbal supplements containing this chemical – to your cholesterol-lowering regimen. Side effects reported with products containing berberine include headache, abdominal bloating, and nausea. The effects of these herbs on certain health conditions are not completely known, and it is not known whether or not berberine-containing supplements could interact with any other medications you are taking.

Sources:

Abidi P, Chen W, Kraemer FB, Liu J. The medicinal plant goldenseal is a natural LDL-lowering agent with multiple bioactive components and new action mechanisms. J Lipid Res 2006; 47: 2134–2147.

Cicero AFG, Erkek S. Berberine: metabolic and cardiovascular effects in preclinical and clinical trials. Nutr Diet Supp 2009;1:1-10

Berberine. Natural Standard Monograph. Accessed July 6, 2013.

Xiao HB, Sun ZL, Zhang HB, Zhang DS. Berberine inhibits dyslipidemia in C57BL/6 mice with lipopolysaccharide induced inflammation. Pharm Reports 2012;64:889-895.

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