Traditionally used for gastrointestinal symptoms, berberine has emerged as a potent cardiometabolic aid with diverse benefits and mechanisms of action.
It has hypoglycemic effects, via both an inhibition of alpha-glucosidase activity and an upregulation of insulin receptors in peripheral tissues, thereby improving insulin sensitivity.
Traditional Herbal Medicine Actions
Anti microbial, cholagogue, choleretic, antiemetic, mild laxative, bitter tonic, alterative, anti pyretic
Acute infectious diarrhea, gastric, peptic ulcer (involving helicobactor pylori), giardiasis, hypertyraminemia, adjuvant therapy in diabetes (non-insulin dependent), jaundice, mouth ulcers (topically)
- full heat conditions with inflammation; tongue deep red; coated; yellow, slimy drying out, or damp and sticky; pulse rapid and hard.
- after full heat the fluids are burned out and exhaustion sets in;
- “debilitated and anaemic conditions”; “pale face, with a dingy-greyish tinge, sunken cheeks, and deep-seated eyes, surrounded with bluish and
- Chronic inflammation and congestion, with water and phlegm blocking the fire
- Deeply shattered in mind or body, even multiple personality, from abuse, long-lasting illness.
- mind dull, like a chronic hangover
- brain disorders
- migraine, worse from movement
- eyes sore, dry, biting, burning, or itching
- mouth dry and sticky
- throat; “inflammation of tonsils and pharynx, with swelling and fiery redness and a sensation as if a lump were lodged in the side of the throat”
- chronic swollen glands in throat
- lack of appetite, bad breath, mouth ulcers, gum disease
- relaxed, atonic, catarrhal conditions of the GIT mucosa
- stomach full, congested, lack of secretion, heartburn.
- gastric and duodenal ulcers.
- congestion of abdomen and pelvis.
- constipation, hard stools
- chronic diarrhea and dysentery; cholera; bilious diarrhea
LIVER AND GALLBLADDER
- “jaundice from congestive liver with furred tongue, lowness of spirits, and yellow complexion”
- torpid liver, gallstones; bilious colic, jaundice, sharp pains under the right ribs; pains extending from the liver to the abdomen
SPLEEN AND PANCREAS
- thirsty diabetes
- swollen spleen from malaria
KIDNEYS AND BLADDER
- pain in kidneys, shooting down the thighs, around the torso; kidney stones.
- acute kidney stone colic (5 drops on a sugar cube every five minutes)
MUSCULAR AND SKELETAL
- muscular wasting and debility
- Skin rashes, eczema, psoriasis. A superlati9ve remedy when the skin shows small, dry patches, red, brown or white; ringworm, itching.
- acne, pimples, boils
- “in sensitive young ladies, when the cause is not a reflex one from the ovaries or uterine irritation, or menstrual irregularity.”
- Chronic, low-grade bacterial infections; intestinal, hepatic vaginal; giardia, ringworm. Hot and dry, or hot and damp.
- chronic malarial conditions, intermittent fevers, with disorder of the stomach, liver, intestines, and lymphatics
- Rapid, hard pulse when fever is present.
- scarlet fever
- inflammation in acute disease (berries and leaves).
Damp Stagnation of the liver:
Characteristic indications: Depression, despondency, mental dullness; prostration, weakness; full feeling in the head, pain in the head, headache;
difficult waking in the morning, with reduced comprehension, puffy eyelids, stiff hands and feet, aching joints; fullness in the stomach after eating, nausea and vomiting; heaviness and fullness under the right lower ribs, dull pain that occasionally radiates up into the right shoulder, aggravation from lying on the right side and eating; congestion and swelling of the liver, sometimes also the spleen; diminished production of bile, hence poor digestion of fats and oils; poor appetite, heartburn, flatulence; intolerance of fats and oils; ascites; diarrhoea or constipation, with clay-coloured stools; urine dark in the morning, increasingly clear and copious during the day; chills; skin muddy brown or yellow; rashes and eruptions; flabby, coated tongue, heavy coating; pulse feels indistinct.
Toxic/Stagnation of the Kidneys.
Renal torpor usually occurs due to congestion building up in other parts of the body – heart, lungs, liver, and lymphatics – thus putting a burden on the kidneys. An excess of thickened, congested fluids carrying extra waste products causes the kidneys to become congested and sluggish in their activity. There can be water retention and stone formation.
Characteristic indications: Fullness and weight in the loins, sometimes also in the loins; dull and apathetic mind; eye dull, face expressionless; tongue somewhat full, the pulse lacks sharpness in the wave (Scudder, 1874, 303).
Berberis vulgaris History
Berberis vulgaris. Barberry has been used in Europe since antiquity. The sour berries are mentioned (by Matt Wood) under heat and irritation of the liver.
The bitter root bark is suited to stagnation. It contains berberine, and is therefore considered a “natural antibiotic,” but this is a superficial way of looking at a plant.
I. W. Coffin compared the taste of barberry root to a solution of ox bile. “We infer that this bark, which so nearly resembles the healthy bile, must be an excellent corrector of a diseased or vitiated liver. We have acted upon the experimental lesson thus derived from the book of Nature and have never found it to fail, for it is seldom that Nature deceives her followers.” He used it “as a corrector of the secretion of the liver,” for which “it stands in the whole catalogue of remedies without a rival” (Coffin, 1885, 116).
The bark of the root is first green, then dries to yellow, so it not only tastes, but looks like bile. The flowers add their two cents worth as well. Dr. Voegli notes that they have a urinous smell. This, coupled with the propensity of the bush to grow along streams, indicates a relationship to the kidneys. Barberry is suited to conditions where the secretions of the liver and kidneys are inhibited and there is an accompanying condition of dampness and heat. The mucosa of the digestive tract are not properly stimulated by the bile, so that there is lack of digestion, leading to fermentation. The liver is damp and hot, unable to detoxify the blood from the portal circulation.
Berberis vulgaris. Barberry is native to Europe, but naturalized in North America. The root acts primarily on the liver and kidneys; it is also described under toxic/stagnation of the liver. The berry is mentioned under damp/relaxation of the liver.
The kidneys are unable to clean the fluids out of the blood. Berberis is for heat conditions that are like a fire burning in damp leaves, a sort of “smoldering liver fire” or “damp heat in the liver.” In patients who have been sick for a long time, the swelling gives way to loss of flesh.
Dark circles may appear under the eyes (Lippe). This symptom is indicative of a chronic course of disease, of wasting and damage to fluids and kidneys. Berberis is particularly suited to patients who have been suffering from recurrent, chronic inflammatory conditions, tissue irritation or stubborn bacterial infections, such as occur in conjunction with such microbial agents as gardnerella, clymidia, gerardia or candida. Such patients are difficult to treat from a standard or alternative standpoint. They are usually chronic patients, upon whom antibiotics have proved ineffective. There is poor elimination of both irritant and fluidic waste material. There are symptoms of systemic, internal infection, such as red facial colour and sometimes pimples.
But there is also a dulling, occluding element, giving rise to a dull mind, apathetic feelings, and occluded eyes.
The heat symptoms tend to rise, producing the facial flushing, while the damp symptoms tend to descend, producing cystitis and vaginitis.
But the two combine, producing hot, swollen tissues of the face, vagina and urethra. This is one of the best remedies for chronic vaginitis.
Homeopath Adolphe Lippe (1867) described the pulse indications very neatly. In some conditions the pulse is “full, hard and rapid.” Whenever I ran across this pulse I always think of Berberis vulgaris and I am never disappointed in its action.
This pulse occurs in the more recent cases, where there are symptoms of fullness and heat: swollen, hot, red tissues. In most of these cases, the tongue was red along the edges with a yellow coating down the middle. ( This is usually a sign of damp heat- P.S)
In the more chronic patients, Lippe describes the pulse as low, wiry and rapid, the face pallid with sunken eyes surrounded by blue or blackish circles, puffy underneath. This is the pulse of a chronic settled heat in the blood or fluids, with liver involvement (wiry pulse).
Specific indications: Sharp pains in the kidneys, running down the legs, or around the torso, with or without gravel and stones.
Aching in the small of the back worse for sitting- Murphy.
Worse standing- Boericke.