November 14, 2007

Herb & Supplement Guide: Barberry

From Cathy Wong
WHAT IS BARBERRY?
Also known as: Berberis vulgaris, mountain grape, pepperidge, berberry, common grape
Barberry has been used in traditional folk medicine since ancient times for digestive disorders, infection, indigestion, gallbladder disease, and heartburn.
The active ingredients in barberry are isoquinolone alkaloids, such as berberine. These alkaloids are found in the root, rhizome, and stem bark of the barberry plant. Other herbs that contain berberine are goldenseal (which has a higher concentration of berberine than barberry), the Chinese herb coptis, and oregon grape.

WHY PEOPLE USE BARBERRY
Diarrhea
The alkaloid berberine has been found to fight bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections in studies. Another alkaloid in barberry known as berberamine, is believed to help fight infection by stimulating white blood cells called macrophages.
When it comes to fighting infection, barberry is mainly used for bacterial diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, intestinal parasite infections, and chronic candidiasis. Barberry capsules are usually recommended for infection, especially those standardized to contain 5 to 12% isoquinolone alkaloids.
Indigestion
The bitter taste of barberry stimulates digestive function, which is why barberry is sometimes recommended for indigestion. When using it for indigestion, it is important to taste the bitterness of the herb, which is why it is usually taken as a liquid tincture or tea 15 to 20 minutes before a meal.
Liver and Gallbladder Problems
Barberry is a cholegogue, which means it promotes the secretion and flow of bile. This property also makes barberry a mild laxative. Barberry should be used by people with gallstones only under supervision.
Urinary Tract Infections
A study found that berberine can active against bacteria Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Some sources say that the berry is more effective at combatting urinary tract infections than the root. It is really important to see a qualified health practitioner and not self-treat, because if the bacteria aren't fully killed, the infection can spread to the kidneys, even though symptoms such as difficult or painful urination may disappear.
HOW IS BARBERRY USUALLY TAKEN?
Barberry is available in teas, as tinctures, capsules, dried herbs, and tablets.
The dosage of barberry varies depending on the condition being treated. A qualified health practitioner, such as a naturopathic doctor, can help you with this.
* Liquid tincture - 30 to 60 drops, which is equivalent to 1.5 to 5 mL, three times a day
* Tea - 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of barberry root or berry steeped in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes, covered. Strain. One cup a day. Sip it slowly.
* Capsules - look for capsules standardized to contain 8 to 12 % isoquinolone alkaloids. 150 to 500 mg one to three times a day.
PRECAUTIONS
* Pregnant women should not use barberry, because it may stimulate uterine contractions and cause miscarriage.
* Although barberry is sometimes used for diarrhea in children, it should only be used under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
SIDE EFFECTS
* Large doses of barberry have a powerful laxative effect.
* Barberry dilates blood vessels, so it can lower blood pressure.
* Overdose of barberry can cause nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, kidney irritation. Symptoms of kidney problems are bloody urine, pain when urinating, low back or stomach pain, and fever. Seek medical attention immediately.
INTERACTIONS
Berberine may alter the way prescription drugs are metabolised in the body. For example, one study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology found that berberine elevated the amount of the drug cyclosporin A in kidney transplant patients.
REFERENCES
1. Cernakova M, Kostalova D. Antimicrobial activity of berberine--a constituent of Mahonia aquifolium. Folia Microbiol (Praha). 2002;47(4):375-8.
2. Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus: Rodale, 1997.
3. Feltrow, C.W. and J.R. Avila. The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
4. Lust, John. The Herb Book: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to More Than 500 Herbs. New York: Benedict Lust Publications, 2005.
5. Peirce, Andrea. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: William Morrow, 1999.
6. Wu X, Li Q, Xin H, Yu A, Zhong M. Effects of berberine on the blood concentration of cyclosporin A in renal transplanted recipients: clinical and pharmacokinetic study. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2005 Sep;61(8):567-72.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified medical provider for all medical problems prior to starting any new treatment. Always check product information and consult your doctor regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions or contraindications before taking any drug, herb, or supplement. (altmedicine.about.com)