I just learned that the bright golden-orange color in the California poppies that burst forth around our ranch every spring comes from berberine, an herbal powerhouse that has the potential to block cognitive decline and slam the door on Alzheimer’s disease.
Berberine’s medicinal properties date back to the Shennong Ben Cao Jing, a Chinese book on agriculture and medicinal plants written approximately two thousand years ago. Back then, berberine was used mainly for its antibiotic, antiprotozoal, and antidiarrheal activity. Nowadays we use it to control the blood sugar and atherosclerotic vascular problems found in most Alzheimer’s patients. In fact, if you wanted to develop a drug that addresses all the metabolic derangements that cause vascular dementia—and does a far better job than currently available drugs (which don’t do it at all)—berberine would fill the bill.
Berberine addresses and repairs every major causative factor in vascular dementia. Why is this important? Because almost all patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s also have vascular dementia, caused by atherosclerotic hardening and plaque formation in the brain’s blood vessels. Vascular dementia is caused by a nasty combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol that damages and blocks flow in brain arteries such that they can no longer properly nourish nerve cells.
Remarkably, 90 percent of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have a combination of neurologic damage and vascular damage. Clinically, it is impossible to tease the two apart; the whole package is lumped together and called Alzheimer’s disease. No Alzheimer’s diagnostic workup or treatment program can be considered adequate unless it separately addresses the vascular component, though it is routinely disregarded. It’s easy to identify. Just test a patient’s blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, and homocysteine (an amino acid). If any of these biomarkers is out of range, it must be addressed and repaired.
Berberine is exceptionally effective at lowering elevated blood sugar. It also helps normalize cholesterol and blood pressure. In numerous randomized, placebo-controlled trials, patients diagnosed with diabetes and blood lipid abnormalities who took berberine had significantly lower blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and total cholesterol. Berberine reduces blood sugar better than the most-used pharmaceutical, metformin.
In 2017, Iranian researchers demonstrated that berberine reverses the arterial blockages that cause stroke and vascular dementia. They did this by feeding berberine to mice that had had strokes. The berberine reversed the brain damage and the cognitive deficits caused by stroke, strongly reinforcing the theme that winds its way through hundreds of other berberine studies: the herb prevents and reverses vascular disease, including stroke damage, and is therefore a valuable tool for preventing and treating vascular dementia.
The usual dose of berberine is one or two 500 mg capsules taken twice daily, for a total of 1,000–2,000 mg/day. The dose for aggressive treatment of advanced cases can go safely up to 4,000 mg/day.
Berberine also enhances the growth of new brain cells and has proven useful in weight control.
And that’s why I take berberine every day.