of a traditional Chinese medicine having beneficial effects for people
suffering from type 2 diabetes now has some scientific evidence to back
up the claims. A collaboration between Chinese, Korean, and Australian
scientists at Sydney's Garvan Institute, has revealed that the natural
plant product berberine could be a valuable new treatment.
Berberine is found in the roots and bark of a number of plants used for
medicinal purposes including wound healing and treatment of diarrhea. It
has also been documented in Chinese literature as having a glucose
lowering effect when administered to people with diabetes; yet, until
now, its mode of action was unknown.
Garvan scientist Dr Jiming Ye says: "Our studies in animal models of
diabetes show that berberine acts in part by activating an enzyme in the
muscle and liver that is involved in improving sensitivity of the tissue
to insulin - this in turn helps lower blood sugar levels. In addition,
it seems berberine can help reduce body weight".
Current medicines for treating type 2 diabetes include metformin and the
TZD group of drugs. However, a large number of patients cannot tolerate
metformin and the TZDs can cause undesirable weight gain. Therefore, it
is critical to develop new therapies to treat type 2 diabetes, which is
a growing health problem.
"Berberine has been used for decades, if not centuries, with few
reported side effects. Given the limitations of existing medicines we
are excited to have evidence that berberine may be a helpful new
treatment for type 2 diabetes; however, despite its widespread use in
traditional medicine practices, it will still have to be evaluated
properly following the defined clinical trials process", said Professor
James, head of the Garvan's Diabetes & Obesity Research Program and
co-author of the Diabetes paper.
The next step is to investigate how berberine activates the enzyme that
mediates these 'insulin-sensitising' effects.
This study will be published in the August issue of 'Diabetes'. The
title is: Berberine, a natural plant product, activates AMP-activated
protein kinase with beneficial metabolic effects in diabetic and insulin
resistant states. Yun S. Lee, Woo S. Kim,Kang H. Kim, Myung J. Yoon, Hye
J. Cho, Yun Shen, Ji-Ming Ye, Chul H. Lee, Won K. Oh, Chul T. Kim,
Cordula Hohnen-Behrens, Alison Gosby, Edward W. Kraegen, David E. James,
and Jae B. Kim
Berberine (or plant material containing berberine) has also been
documented as having anti-microbial, antitumour and anti-inflammatory
properties as an oral medicine.
Additional information from the University of California San Diego
Dietary Supplement Database
The combination herbal supplement of echinacea and goldenseal has
emerged as one of the top five herbal supplements sold in the world-wide
market with annual sales in the US close to $50 million. Despite its
popularity, much of the peer reviewed literature available on goldenseal
deals specifically with the plant alkaloid component berberine, and not
the herbal supplement itself. The berberine component of goldenseal is
not considered toxic at doses used in clinical situations.