Berberine..a natural statin drug replacement?

Interest in berberine as a natural cholesterol reducer isn’t new, in fact research on berberine dates back more than a decade. However of recent, there has been an increasing interest in the effectiveness of berberine extract as an alternative to taking statin drugs (cholesterol reducers), with several well designed studies coming online.

What is berberine? Berberine is a natural plant extract from Berberis aristata bark (commonly known as Indian Barberry). Biochemically, berberine has been proposed to reduce cholesterol AND triglyceride levels by increasing LDL-cholesterol receptors on the liver cell surface, and inhibiting triglycerides biosynthesis, and potentially inhibiting an enzyme associated with atherosclerosis.

In a randomized 2011 study [Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 August]: “Clinical evidence of efficacy of red yeast rice and berberine in a large controlled study versus diet.” Researchers evaluated dietary counseling alone versus consuming a supplement containing red yeast extract and berberine plus diet counseling. There was strong evidence that the berberine formula significantly improved the participant’s lipid profiles versus diet counseling alone:

At 16 weeks; comparison of diet counseling + berberine/red yeast vs diet counseling alone:
Reduction of total-cholesterol: −19.1% vs −9.4%.
Reduction of LDL-Chol: −23.5% vs −10.8%.
Reduction of plasma triglycerides: −17.9% vs −11.3%.
HDL-Chol levels showed a moderate increase: +11.6% vs +4.0%.

Findings similar to these have been reproduced and repeated in several studies and it does appear that berberine may be an option for people who refuse to take statins, or people who have tried statin drugs but then stopped due to side effects such as muscle and joint pain.

Research regarding taking statin drugs + berberine are less numerous. It should be noted that, biochemically, statin drugs and berberine work via different metabolic mechanisms.

A study in lipidworld found that adding a berberine supplement to patients already on a stable dose of statin drugs resulted in further decreased total cholesterol (-8.1%), LDL (-10.5%) triglyceride levels (-5.4%).

In a study of rats; [J of Metabolism 2008 Aug] titled “Combination of simvastatin with berberine improves the lipid-lowering efficacy.” (Simvastatin is a commonly prescribed statin drug).

Researchers compared simvastatin, berberine and the combination of simvastatin + berberine extract in rats. LDL cholesterol was reduced 28% with simvastatin alone, 27% with berberine alone, the combination resulted in a 46% reduction in LDL. Interestingly the combined results of berberine + simvastatin were as effective as doubling the dose of simvastatin, which when doubled resulted in a 43% reduction in LDL cholesterol.

Summary – berberine does appear to be metabolically active, and does reduce cholesterol based on the findings of numerous research studies, and may be a useful alternative for those who refuse statins, or have had side effects with statins. Of course, any change in your statin regimen must be reviewed with your physician.

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