Is Berberine an "All-Purpose" Nutrient Solving Various PCOS and Other Health Problems?

What botanical extract can reduce the incidence or severity of PCOS, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver disease, kidney disease and intestinal infections?  

And lowers cholesterol, may relieve depression, is anti-inflammatory, is an antioxidant, helps reduce insulin resistance, and is anti-obesity?

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Sounds like an "all-in-one" nutrient, doesn't it?  We've spoken about it before, where we reported a study showing it was as effective as metformin for treating PCOS.

The mystery nutrient is berberine extract.

When it's consumed by lab animals, berberine and its metabolites are found in the liver, kidneys, muscle, lung, brain, heart, pancreas and fat cells.  The highest concentration is in the liver.  Its widespread distribution in the body may explain some of its benefits.

Berberine, Your Weight and Your GI Tract

However, perhaps its most powerful effect is in your intestines. 

Did you know that your gut, and the micro-organisms living there, are an organ of your body, just as important to your health as your ovaries, liver, thyroid or pancreas?   In response to things you consume, gut microorganisms perform a wide variety of functions.  For example, they influence insulin production.  They influence whether you gain weight or not.  They are major determinants of whether you have chronic inflammation or not. 

Well, berberine has a well-known ability to alter the function and types of micro-organisms in your gut.  For example, consider this study of rats conducted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.  One group of rats was fed a normal diet.  The other group was fed a high-fat diet.  Some in each group were given berberine.

The results?  The rats on a high fat alone gained a lot of weight, while the high-fat diet rats taking berberine avoided any weight gain and weighed the same as the rats on a normal diet.  The berberine-treated rats also consumed less food.  The researchers reported that alterations in the gut were mostly responsible for these results.  This study suggests that if your diet isn't as healthy as you'd like, taking this extract would be a very good idea. 

Estrogen Dominance and Breast Cancer

There's more to say about this but let's move on to something else that should interest you, namely estrogen-related cancers such as breast cancer.  A lot of women with PCOS have an excess of estrogen in relation to progesterone.  This is called "estrogen dominance".  The issue with chronic estrogen dominance is that it might increase risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, endometriosis or fibroids.

Could this botanical extract help to reduce risk?  It appears the answer is "yes".

Let's take breast cancer for example.  Estrogens are believed to be the major risk for breast cancer.  It's a little complicated, but essentially estrogen is metabolized by two different metabolic pathways.  One pathway is protective (2-OH E2) while the other pathway (4-OH E2) is carcinogenic. 

Berberine helps to steer your estrogen metabolism down the protective pathway and away from the carcinogenic pathway, according to a study from the Chongqing Medical University in China. Thus it has the ability to help protect you from estrogen-related diseases.  It has other anti-cancer properties, which we won't go into here. 

In summary, all the evidence we've seen so far suggests that berberine can improve your present situation as well as reduce future disease risks.

Yao J et al. Learning from berberine: Treating chronic diseases through multiple targets. Sci China Life Sci. 2015 Sep;58(9):854-9.

Zhang X et al, Structural changes of gut microbiota during berberine-mediated prevention of obesity and insulin resistance in high-fat diet-fed rats. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42529.
Wen CJ et al, Preferential induction of CYP1A1 over CYP1B1 in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells after exposure to berberine. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2014;15(1):495-9.

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