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Does Berberine Protect Against Prostate Cancer?

Berberine, a natural component of Oregon grape holly, has some fascinating biological activity. Could it be helpful against prostate cancer?
Does Berberine Protect Against Prostate Cancer?
Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon-grape or Oregon grape) is a species of flowering plant in the family Berberidaceae, native to western North America.

Berberine is a fascinating compound. It is one of the key constituents of the Oregon grape holly plant (Mahonia aquifolium). Traditionally, this natural compound was used to treat digestive disorders such as indigestion and ulcers. Berberine also has impressive antibacterial activity. More recently, though, some in vitro research suggests that it might have anticancer action.

Berberine to Treat Prostate Cancer:

Q. What can you tell me about the natural product berberine? One friend takes it to ward off a recurrence of his prostate cancer. Is there anything to this?

A. Some scientific studies do support the antitumor activity of berberine (Frontiers in Pharmacology, Feb. 14, 2019). It is an active ingredient found naturally  in several plants used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Researchers reported a decade ago that this compound can help suppress androgen signaling (Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, Aug. 2011). That is especially important because androgen suppression is a  key component of prostate cancer treatment.

Another reader also asked about berberine against prostate cancer.

Q. A friend of mine was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer several years ago. After surgery and radiation, his PSA started going up again.

His prostate cancer specialist suggested metformin and a dietary supplement called berberine. These and some other medications have helped control his PSA ever since. What can you tell me about berberine?

A. Berberine is an alkaloid compound found in many plants that have been used in traditional medical systems. Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have used Berberis species such as barberry (Frontiers in Pharmacology, Aug. 21, 2018).

In research on mice, berberine was able to block many biochemical pathways involved in the pathogenesis of prostate cancer (Oncotarget April 28, 2017). The researchers report that in their animal model berberine can reverse “the abnormal metabolism of prostate cancer.”

They go on to say:

“Our research could provide the data basis and scientific methods in subsequent studies of berberine therapy for prostate cancer.”

Test-tube research suggests that it may also suppress prostate cancer metastasis (International Journal of Medical Sciences, Jan. 1, 2015).  We haven’t seen clinical trials of berberine to treat this kind of cancer, however.

The Berberine Experiment:

Your friend is wise to be taking the supplement under his specialist’s supervision. This compound appears to have a lot of promise, but there is very little information on how real men with cancer of the prostate might respond to it. This way the oncologist can monitor the results of this experiment. In addition to prostate cancer, researchers are investigating its activity against cancers triggered by herpes viruses (Viruses, May 28, 2021).

You may also wish to review this article on mushrooms against prostate cancer.

Other Properties of Berberine:

This natural compound also has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-diarrheal activity. Occasionally, people take it to control blood sugar levels or cholesterol.

A Natural Approach to Quell Diarrhea:

One reader shared this testimonial:

“I was having terrible diarrhea every morning. None of the medications my gastro doctor prescribed worked, except for a pricey antibiotic.

“Then I noticed a section on diarrhea in one of your books. It mentioned berberine, a 3000-year-old medicine. I started taking one 500 mg capsule in the evening and it has stopped my diarrhea almost every day for three months. If I have a little diarrhea, I take a second capsule in the morning and my diarrhea is gone.”

Anyone planning to take berberine should check with their physician. Excess amounts of this compound can cause rather than calm diarrhea and may lead to kidney inflammation.

Lowering Blood Glucose and Cholesterol:

Q. I am taking berberine for pre-diabetes and my wife is considering it for lowering cholesterol. Some studies I found equate it with metformin for effectiveness. Have you researched it?

A. Berberine is a component of several plants used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat high blood sugar. Research indicates that it may reduce insulin resistance and promote insulin secretion as well as lower blood lipids (International Journal of Endocrinology, online March 11, 2015). Moreover, scientists have investigated its ability to control blood sugar and found it comparable to metformin (Metabolism, May 2008).

Several experts in complementary and alternative medicine have pointed out the potential for berberine to lower cholesterol, not alone but rather in conjunction with red yeast rice (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Suppl. 2, 2015).

To learn more about the miracle of metformin, click on this link. Not only is this drug a derivative from a natural source (French lilac), it appears to have strong anticancer activity. Berberine may someday get the respect that metformin now.

Learn More:

You can learn a lot more about berberine in our Herb Library. Here is a link to Oregon Grape.

Have you had any experience with berberine? If so, please share your story in the comment section below.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
  • Liu D et al, "A natural isoquinoline alkaloid with antitumor activity: Studies of the biological activities of berberine." Frontiers in Pharmacology, Feb. 14, 2019. DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2019.00009
  • Li J et al, "Berberine suppresses androgen receptor signaling in prostate cancer." Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, Aug. 2011. DOI: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-10-0985
  • Neag MA et al "Berberine: Botanical occurrence, traditional uses, extraction methods, and relevance in cardiovascular, metabolic, hepatic, and renal disorders." Frontiers in Pharmacology, Aug. 21, 2018. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2018.00557
  • Yin J et al, "Efficacy of berberine in patients with Type 2 diabetes." Metabolism, May 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013
  • Li, X., et al, "Metabolic Characterization and Pathway Analysis of Berberine Protects Against Prostate Cancer," Oncotarget, April 28, 2017, DOI: 10.18632/oncotarget.17531
  • Liu C-H et al, "Berberine inhibits the metastatic ability of prostate cancer cells by suppressing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT)-associated genes with predictive and prognostic relevance." International Journal of Medical Sciences, Jan. 1, 2015. doi: 10.7150/ijms.9982
  • Šudomová M et al, "Berberine in human oncogenic herpesvirus infections and their linked cancers." Viruses, May 28, 2021. DOI: 10.3390/v13061014
  • Pang B et al, "Application of berberine on treating type 2 diabetes mellitus." International Journal of Endocrinology, online March 11, 2015. DOI: 10.1155/2015/905749
  • McCarty MF et al, "Red yeast rice plus berberine: Practical strategy for promoting vascular and metabolic health." Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Suppl. 2, 2015.
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