Barberry: The Heart-Healthy Herb that Cleanses Your Gut, Liver & Gallbladder

June 15, 2017
Barberry - Dr. Axe

What if I told you there was an herb that could boost heart health, cleanse your gut and liver, and perhaps even prevent diabetes and cancer? Would you be interested? Of course you would, and that’s why you need to know about barberry.

It’s a berberine-containing plant that’s been used for over 2,500 years for its medicinal properties. Barberry and goldenseal are often used for similar medicinal purposes because of their berberine content. Why is berberine so important? It’s been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria in test tubes and can actually help the immune system to function better.

In addition, barberry extract has beneficial effects on both the cardiovascular and neural systems, including the treatment of hypertension, abnormal heartbeat, and neural disorders like epilepsy and convulsions. Studies have shown that antioxidant-rich barberry can even help prevent center types of cancer! (1, 2)

Recent research is verifying what natural healers have known for centuries — barberry has an incredible range of remarkable health benefits.


6 Health Benefits of Barberry

1. Fights Infection

Many studies have pointed out that the berberine contained within barberry has significant antibacterial, antifungal and antiprotozoal abilities. By inhibiting the ability of bacteria to attach to human cells, it helps protect against many infections. (3)

Barberry is used to ease a large variety of inflammation and infection in the body. It helps with bladder, urinary tract and gastrointestinal infections. It also helps relieve common respiratory tract ailments, including sore throat, nasal congestion, sinusitis and bronchitis. (4) Candida infections can also be improved through the use of this herb.

2. Aids the GI Tract

Berberine also acts on the smooth muscles that line the intestines, helping improve digestion and reduce gastrointestinal pain. Barberry is even an effective treatment for diarrhea, including both traveler’s diarrhea and diarrhea caused by food poisoning.

A few studies have suggested that it improves gastrointestinal problems faster than antibiotics, most likely due to its astringent properties. Studies like the one published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases showed that berberine relieves bacterial diarrhea without any negative side effects. (5)

3. Prevents and Treats Diabetes

Barberry has proven positive effects on blood sugar, making it an excellent choice to prevent and improve diabetes. One study conducted on berberine compared taking 500 milligrams of this compound found in barberry two to three times daily for three months with taking the common diabetes drug metformin. Berberine was able to control blood sugar and lipid metabolism as effectively as metformin, with researchers describing berberine as a “potent oral hypoglycemic agent.” (6)

Additional studies have also indicated that berberine improves glucose and lipid metabolism disorders. A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that berberine can improve insulin sensitivity by adjusting adipokine (cell-signaling proteins) secretion. (7) Adipokines have been shown to mediate inflammation and insulin resistance.

Barberry benefits - Dr. Axe

4. Improves Heart Health

When it comes to heart health, many medicinal properties of the Berberis species of plants have been reported, including effectiveness in improving hypertension, ischemic heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy. (8)

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow. Alternative medicine, including yoga, acupuncture, biofeedback and supplementation with herbs like barberry have been shown to be very effective at treating atrial fibrillation.

A study conducted in 2015 reported that barberry’s active alkaloid berberine produces a biochemical action in the heart that prolongs the effective refractory period, which improves atrial fibrillation. The study concludes that the berberine acts as a class IA or III anti-arrhythmic agent, but the benefits of berberine in atrial fibrillation/atrial flutter have not been systematically studied in human clinical trials — therefore its mainstream acceptance in the treatment of atrial fibrillation remains limited. (9)

Barberry has also been shown to reduce the density of serum cholesterol and triglycerides, which is excellent for heart health and overall wellbeing. (10)

5. Combats Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a metabolic disorder that involves not one, but a combination of three or more of the following health issues: abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

A 2014 study in Iran aimed to explore the impact of supplementation with barberry, a fruit rich in antioxidants, on pro-oxidant-antioxidant balance (PAB) in patients with metabolic syndrome. PAB is a measure of factors that promote and control oxidative stress, and PAB may also be associated with the risk factors of coronary heart disease. Oxidative stress is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants so the less oxidative stress (lower PAB) the better!

For this particular study, a total of 106 patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome were randomized in two groups: case and control. The case group received three capsules of barberry, and the control group received three capsules of placebo for six weeks. A significant decrease in PAB was observed in the barberry group while there was no significant change in the control group.

The findings indicated that supplementation with barberry (600 milligrams per day for six weeks) is associated with the suppression of systemic oxidative stress (as assessed by PAB). For people suffering from metabolic syndrome, supplementation with this herb can reduce oxidative burden, which is a key way to fight metabolic syndrome and all of its possible complications. (11)

6. Cleanses the Liver and Gallbladder

The liver detoxifies our blood, produces the bile needed to digest fat, breaks down hormones, and stores essential vitamins, minerals and iron. The gallbladder’s main job is to store the cholesterol-rich bile that’s secreted by the liver. Bile is what helps your body digest fatty foods. Barberry can be an effective liver cleanse and gallbladder flush agent. Berberine also aids in the secretion of bile, acts as a mild laxative and helps regulate the digestive processes. (12)

Berberine’s ability to aid in the secretion of bile is key since cholesterol is excreted from the body almost exclusively via bile. Waste products also leave the body via bile secretion. However, this secretion can be impaired by a variety of factors, including a poor diet. By increasing the secretion of bile, barberry is excellent for improving the health of both the liver and gallbladder.


Barberry Plant Origin & Nutrition

Barberry is any of almost 500 species of thorny evergreen or deciduous shrubs of the genus Berberis and the family Berberidaceae. The barberry bush is common in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Some species of Oregon grape, a relative of barberry, are sometimes called barberry. It’s also referred to as European barberry, trailing mahonia or berberis. The root, bark and berries of the barberry bush are used for medicinal purposes, while the fruit is edible and a rich source of vitamin C with a very sharp taste.

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is the most popular landscape of this plant. It grows from three to six feet tall and four to seven feet wide, and its half-inch berries persist into winter.

The fruit, stem and root bark contain alkaloids, the most prominent being berberine. Laboratory studies in test tubes and animals suggest that berberine has anticonvulsant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive and sedative effects. Berberine has also been shown to have a positive impact on the immune system, making it helpful for a wide range of infections and diseases.

In addition to berberine and vitamin C, barberry also contains contains the B vitamin thiamine, the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, as well as chromium, cobalt and zinc. (13)

Native Americans originally taught settlers barberry’s value as a medicinal herb. The ancient Egyptians used it in combination with fennel seed to ward off plagues while it was used to treat dysentery in India. European herbalists have used it to treat gallbladder and liver problems, while healers in Russia used it for inflammation, high blood pressure and abnormal uterine bleeding.


How to Use Barberry

Barberry is available in capsules, fluid extracts, tinctures and as a topical ointment. The dried roots can also be used in tea, and its extracts are standardized to contain 8 percent to 12 percent alkaloids (berberine).

For children, it should only be used under the supervision of a qualified health care provider. For adults, it’s traditionally used at a dose of two grams three times daily or an equivalent amount in extract form. For treatment of psoriasis and other skin conditions, barberry is used in the form of a 10 percent cream applied to the skin three times daily — an additional benefit. (14)

It’s not recommended for long periods of time (more than a week) without the supervision of your doctor.


Barberry Precautions & Possible Side Effects

People using normal and appropriate doses of barberry don’t generally report any negative side effects. With extremely high doses, cases of nosebleeds and vomiting have been reported.

Berberine is not recommended for very young children. In infants, it can interfere with liver function and might worsen jaundice. Pregnant women should not take it because it may cause uterine contractions and trigger miscarriage. Barberry is also not recommended for nursing mothers since the berberine can be passed to the infant this way.

If you take any other prescription medicine, non-prescription medicine or supplements, check with your doctor before taking it. If you have any chronic health issues, such as liver problems or diabetes, check with your doctor before consuming any barberry supplements. With diabetes, it can be so effective at lowering blood sugar that a diabetic might not want to combine it with a prescription diabetes medicine.


Final Thoughts on Barberry

I’m sure you’ll agree that barberry is quite the impressive herbal remedy. Its superpowers mainly come from the extensively researched alkaloid known as berberine. Whether you have a bladder, urinary tract, gastrointestinal or respiratory infection, barberry can be a smart natural choice with its strong antibacterial, antifungal and antiprotozoal abilities. It helps people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and abnormal heart rhythms. It’s also excellent for liver and gallbladder health.

In fact, it fights infection, aids the GI tract, treats and prevents diabetes, improves heart health, combats metabolic syndrome, and cleanses the liver and gallbladder. It’s even been shown to fight certain forms of cancer and improve skin health.

If all the positive health effects weren’t enough, I also love barberry because when it’s used within normal and appropriate doses, there are typically no negative side effects. With all that barberry can naturally help relieve and improve, you might want to seriously consider adding it to your natural medicine cabinet as soon as possible!

Read Next: Berberine: The Plant Alkaloid that Treats Diabetes & Digestive Problems


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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