|Mahonia aquifolium or Oregon Grape, one source of berberine.|
The recent outbreak of hemorrhagic E. coli at Chipotle restaurants is heartbreaking to read about. Here is a restaurant chain which has made applaudable efforts to supply quality, hormone and antibiotic free meat to it's customers which has now gained yet another black eye due to food related illness. Unfortunately, wherever the contamination came from (last I read was narrowed down to lettuce or tomatoes) it wasn't the restaurant's fault. However, the stories you read about the extent of the illness caused would make anyone think twice about eating there, or anywhere really...
The whole situation has made me incredibly grateful for some advice I got from my botanical medicine professor (Dr. Jill Stansbury, ND) in my second year of naturopathic med school. She said that for any case of suspected food-related illness (i.e. as soon as you get that queasy feeling in your gut and think "uh-oh, what did I eat???") to pop a berberine capsule (generally 200-400mg) and to keep doing so every few hours until the feeling completely passed. To this date, it has never failed me or my family and my husband has finally come to ask for it whenever he second guesses that state-fair chili that truly wasn't intended for human consumption.
So what is it?
Berberine is an alkaloid compound that is present in many traditionally medicinal herbs such as Oregon Grape, Goldenseal, and Barberry. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 1000 years. It is what makes parts of these plants, such as the root of the Oregon Grape, bright yellow and incredibly bitter.
Why is it so effective against bad gut bugs?
Berberine has been shown to be effective at killing E. coli by a number of methods including damaging it's DNA, interfering with cell wall transport, and inhibiting cell movement. It also messes with the genes responsible for the E. coli's metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids, essentially starving it.1 It has also shown strong anti-microbial activity against MRSA, vancomycin resistant E. faecium, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.2 It has also shown some promise, although not as well studied, against Salmonella and Candida species.17, 18
Now E. coli is never a fun bug to get, but the strain in the Chipotle cases is particularly bad because it is classified as hemorrhagic, meaning it induces bleeding. Bleeding from hemorrhagic E. coli can take place in the gut, in the kidneys, in mucous membranes, and in pretty much any small blood vessel which can lead to a condition known as HUS or hemolytic uremic syndrome in which the toxins from the bacteria destroy the red blood cells and cause multiple tiny clots leading, potentially, to kidney failure. In a study of five multi-drug resistant hemorrhagic E. coli species (isolated from yaks…. Apparently they eat at Chipotle too), berberine was found to be a highly effective treatment. Oh, if only the sweet kids sickened recently had read up about their yak treatments! Truly though, so far no one has died, but think of the misery berberine could have saved these patients.
What else does it do?
Not only does berberine kill the bad gut bugs, it also appears to lower intestinal inflammation levels in response to the pathogen via the Cox-2 pathway, the same target pathway of newer classes of gut-friendly NSAIDS.5,6
Berberine also has consistently demonstrated blood-sugar lowering, cholesterol lowering, anti-tumor, and immune system beneficial effects. It also protects against cardiovascular disease by stopping overgrowth of the inside of blood vessels and reducing atherosclerosis and has been suggested as a beneficial treatment in post-menopausal women to reduce risk of heart disease.7, 11, 13
In case that wasn't enough to have you totally sold on this amazing plant nutrient, it also appears to be quite effective in weight management. Berberine can stop the development of new fat cells and shows the same effect as metformin in the gut where it decreases less beneficial gut bugs yet promotes the growth of bacteria who help produce short-chain fatty acids which not only feed the gut, but are clean and efficient fuel for your body.9,12
Berberine also reduces the liver damaging effects seen in NASH (Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), halts progression of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinsons, post trauma), and reduces kidney damage due to diabetes.10,14,16
So, are you ready to go buy yourself some berberine yet? I know my cupboards will never be without at least one bottle and my family have come to rely on it to protect us against potentially life-threatening food-born illness, just at the first sign of queasiness. If you've eaten at Chipotle recently, it sure wouldn't hurt….
***Warning: Berberine is NOT pregnancy approved and can induce miscarriage if taken in high doses early in pregnancy. Do not take if you are pregnant! ***
- OMICS. 2014 Jan;18(1):42-53. doi: 10.1089/omi.2013.0100. Epub 2013 Nov 16.
Assessment of berberine as a multi-target antimicrobial: a multi-omics study for drug discovery and repositioning.
- PLoS One. 2014 May 13;9(5):e97514. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097514. eCollection 2014.
Rational design of berberine-based FtsZ inhibitors with broad-spectrum antibacterial activity.
Sun N1, Chan FY2, Lu YJ3, Neves MA4, Lui HK1, Wang Y1, Chow KY1, Chan KF1, Yan SC1, Leung YC1, Abagyan R5, Chan TH1, Wong KY1.
- Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2013 Apr 13;6(4):315-9. doi: 10.1016/S1995-7645(13)60063-2.
Potential antibacterial activity of berberine against multi drug resistant enterovirulent Escherichia coli isolated from yaks (Poephagus grunniens) with haemorrhagic diarrhoea.
Bandyopadhyay S1, Patra PH, Mahanti A, Mondal DK, Dandapat P, Bandyopadhyay S, Samanta I, Lodh C, Bera AK, Bhattacharyya D, Sarkar M, Baruah KK.
- Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2012 Oct;96(2):503-10. doi: 10.1007/s00253-012-4302-y. Epub 2012 Aug 10.
Effect of berberine on Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, and their mixtures as determined by isothermal microcalorimetry.
- Int Immunopharmacol. 2012 Jan;12(1):182-8. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2011.11.009. Epub 2011 Dec 9.
Berberine ameliorates COX-2 expression in rat small intestinal mucosa partially through PPARγ pathway during acute endotoxemia.
- Poult Sci. 2010 Jan;89(1):13-9. doi: 10.3382/ps.2009-00243.
The effects of berberine on the magnitude of the acute inflammatory response induced by Escherichia colilipopolysaccharide in broiler chickens.
- Atherosclerosis. 2015 Sep 30;243(2):449-461. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2015.09.032. [Epub ahead of print]
Berberine, a plant alkaloid with lipid- and glucose-lowering properties: From in vitro evidence to clinical studies.
- Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2015 May;40(9):1660-5.
[Effect of berberine in treating type 2 diabetes mellitus and complications and its relevant mechanisms].
[Article in Chinese]
- Sci Rep. 2015 Sep 23;5:14405. doi: 10.1038/srep14405.
Modulation of gut microbiota by berberine and metformin during the treatment of high-fat diet-induced obesity in rats.
- Int J Clin Exp Med. 2015 May 15;8(5):7535-43. eCollection 2015.
Berberine reverses abnormal expression of L-type pyruvate kinase by DNA demethylation and histone acetylation in the livers of the non-alcoholic fatty disease rat.
- Biochem Pharmacol. 2015 Sep 15;97(2):173-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2015.07.012. Epub 2015 Jul 20.
Berberine induces GLP-1 secretion through activation of bitter taste receptor pathways.
- PLoS One. 2015 Apr 30;10(4):e0125667. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125667. eCollection 2015.
Berberine Suppresses Adipocyte Differentiation via Decreasing CREB Transcriptional Activity.
- Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:723093. doi: 10.1155/2015/723093. Epub 2015 Feb 17.
Potential benefits of berberine in the management of perimenopausal syndrome.
- Sci China Life Sci. 2015 Jun;58(6):564-9. doi: 10.1007/s11427-015-4829-0. Epub 2015 Mar 6.
Therapeutic potential of berberine against neurodegenerative diseases.
- Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2015 Feb 4;8:89-96. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S78877. eCollection 2015.
Clinical role of a fixed combination of standardized Berberis aristata and Silybum marianum extracts in diabetic and hypercholesterolemic patients intolerant to statins.
- PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e113398. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113398. eCollection 2014.
Berberine improves kidney function in diabetic mice via AMPK activation.
- Curr Microbiol. 2005 Oct;51(4):255-61. Epub 2005 Aug 2.
Berberine inhibits arylamine N-acetyltransferase activity and gene expression in Salmonella typhi.
- J Nat Prod. 1998 Sep;61(9):1150-3.
Antimicrobial activity of 8-alkyl- and 8-phenyl-substituted berberines and their 12-bromo derivatives.