The Many Benefits of Berberine
Berberine is a specific active phytochemical (plant chemical) which can be found naturally in many different plants, including Phellodendron amurense, Hydrastis Canadensis (best known as goldenseal), Mahonia aquifolium or Berberis aquifolium (also known as Oregon Grape), Rhizoma Coptidis, Coptis chinensis (known as goldenthread), and Berberis vulgaris (also known as barberry). Many of the plants which are rich in berberine are native to Asian countries and have been incorporated into Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for hundreds or thousands of years.
Berberine is most concentrated in the root and sometimes berries. It's bright yellow color is so rich that it can also be used as dye, known as "natural yellow 18". Berberine is extracted from plants to produce berberine hydrochloride or berberine sulphate. There is also a synthetic form of berberine which is sold as a medication in other countries for gastrointestinal benefits. Many of the research studies on berberine use the synthetic version; however, some scientists and doctors believe that berberine is best utilized by taking the whole herb rather than the isolated extract.
Benefits of Berberine
Regardless of which plant berberine is extracted from, it has the same actions. The research on berberine is impressive. For some medical applications, the therapeutic effects of berberine rival its pharmaceutical counterparts. This is especially true in the case of stabilizing blood sugar levels and treating intestinal infections with diarrhea.
One of the most interesting and important biochemical roles for berberine is its action on an enzyme called AMPK. AMPK is an abbreviation for "adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase", which is an enzyme that triggers chemical reactions in the body and controls cellular metabolism. The role of AMPK is extremely important because it acts as a master switch which coordinates various biochemical pathways and functions in the body. Its function is akin to the thermostat in your house, which turns on the heat when it's cold out and turns on the AC when it's hot. AMPK also reacts to external factors; however, it controls many more functions than just temperature, such as glucose control and metabolism. Most of the processes that AMPK controls are directly or indirectly related to how fast or slow we age and how long we live. AMPK is sometimes called the longevity enzyme because it is involved in so many processes that determine our rate of aging!
AMPK and Oxidation
One critical factor of aging that AMPK influences is oxidation. Oxidation is a normal part of metabolism, but it can become excessive and get out of balance. During normal cellular metabolism, free radicals are created through the process of oxidation. Free radicals have the potential for causing cell damage unless antioxidants swoop in to neutralize them. When the antioxidant supply is low, too many free radicals are created, and the body has trouble keeping up with the neutralization process. Free radicals cause damage to cells and tissues, which can physically manifest as disease and impact any area of the body to cause atherosclerosis, joint pain, and a host of other conditions. AMPK is the master control which can come to the rescue and limit damage induced by free radicals.
AMPK and Blood Sugar Regulation
AMPK also helps regulate blood sugar. In a normal healthy state, after eating, insulin acts as the delivery system for glucose to go from the blood into cells, where it's stored or made into energy (ATP). In an unhealthy state, such as with insulin resistance, the system is out of balance and blood sugar is poorly regulated. Insulin resistance means cells shut down the insulin delivery and prevent glucose from entering. By keeping the glucose floating around in the blood, blood sugar levels spike while cells starve and tissues are damaged. AMPK comes to the rescue to counteract insulin resistance by enhancing blood sugar uptake into the cells. Balance is restored as the cells use glucose for energy and lower blood sugar levels.
AMPK also contributes to healthy aging by increasing antioxidant activity, preventing inflammation and limiting fat storage. By properly managing these key pathways, AMPK slows the aging process and enhances healthy functions, but when AMPK activity is diminished, the aging process accelerates and visual signs become noticeable.
AMPK slows aging
Active AMPK may regulate the speed of aging, but ironically, as we age, AMPK loses sensitivity, and becomes less responsive to the usual triggers. Sadly, although we need AMPK more as we age, it is both less sensitive and less available. This is when it is helpful to have an "AMPK-Activator" on hand, and berberine is one of the best plant-based solutions available. A large number of human and animal studies have shown that berberine enhances AMPK activity, balances blood sugar, and acts as an antioxidant, just to mention a few of it's powerful actions.
Berberine on its own has a low rate of absorption. Some studies have investigated various technologies for enhancing it; however, one of the most simple and effective methods is to take berberine with the whole herb that it came from. Berberine extract is effective in doses of 500 mg 2-4 times daily.
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