Berberine: its beautiful roots in Chinese medicine and its cardioprotective and digestive health benefits

So once again, a “new” supplement hits the ground running and I’m left wondering how it all comes to pass.  Berberine is the active chemical alkaloid derived from the Chinese herb Coptis.  This herb is one of the “big yellows” and is one of a group of intensely yellow roots used in Chinese medicine to treat various types of toxins.  Coptis itself is known as Huang Lian and is in the “Drain Damp” category of the Chinese Herbal Materia Medica.  It is used to clear Fire and poison and Toxicity – for such illnesses as infectious disease from rotting food or insect bite, viruses of the stomach and/or intestines, recalcitrant diarrhea and constipation, and other issues that affect blood, heart, and digestive organ health.

Acupuncturists and Chinese medicine healers were among the first to prescribe this herb, and it is a component of many formulas in Chinese medicine to treat some acute and some chronic illnesses.  It is a very safe herb, even for children, and is one that is used for teething children. I use this herb both as a single supplement and in combination with other herbs, and prescribe according to condition.

Many herbs cross over into more than one category of use, and Berberine or Coptis is no exception.  Science and clinical studies are confirming what the ancients knew a long time ago – it is safe and can clear out bacteria and viruses without harming the patient.

A safety and efficacy study published in the July 2003 issue of the “American Journal of Cardiology” determined the supplement helped to improve the quality of life of patients with congestive heart failure with no apparent side effects or toxicity.  It helps regulate the blood vessels endothelial layer (lining of the vessel) so that plaques are not as easily formed, and inflammation is not as dangerous.  I know of this herb mainly for its use to detoxify, but this research data helps me to appreciate its protective effects as well. The ability of herbs to both eradicate poison and also protect the underlying structure is something under appreciated by modern pharmaceutical thinking. But it looks as if this is changing.


Some other interesting facts about berberine:

  • Berberine, when combined with policosanols and red yeast rice, was shown to have a positive effect on flow-mediated vasodilation in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of subjects with hypercholesterolemia.* .  By restoring endothelial homeostasis and reducing blood pressure, berberine acts as a potent antihypertensive and cardioprotective agent. Many studies indicate that berberine can reduce blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c, and insulin levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • Coptis is being lauded for its ability to re establish a healthier gut microbiome by reducing harmful bacteria and preserving species that support healthy bacteria.  I have learned that microbiome is another buzz word. The microbiome is all of the genetic material within the gut, and the implications of insufficient gut microbes include extreme vulnerability to infections, disease, viruses, and more. The microbiome is as important as the genome. The human genome is all of our genetic material including chromosomes and DNA.
  • Berberine is a plant-based antimicrobial and has been shown to treat some of the most resistant infections including MARCoNS short for “Multiple Antibiotic Resistant Coagulase Negative Staph. MARCoNS is opportunistic and it can colonize many areas of the body including your maxilla (upper jaw bone), nasal cavities, hips and more. 

It may be found in people with chronic sinusitis. When I worked with a Lyme doctor, there was a patient who was taking Vancomysin and several other antibiotics simultaneously and continuously for a chronic sinus infection that was actually eating away at her cavities and making her miserable.  I was not surprised at all to find research confirming that coptis is as effectve as Vancomycin for this terrible condition, plus it costs about 1/10 as much.

Coptis aka berberine is just one of the newest herbals that is being “discovered” by pharmaceutical researchers.  I have been able to help patients by clearing out infectious processes using Coptis and many other anti-infectious herbals for chronic itching, dermatitis, sinusitis, enteritis, and diarrhea.


* Affuso F, Ruvolo A, Micillo F, et al. Effects of a nutraceutical combination (berberine, red yeast rice and policosanols) on lipid levels and endothelial function randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis.2010; 20:656–61.