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What Is Berberine?

Some eyedrops contain berberine.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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Berberine is a crystalline alkaloid that is extracted from the roots of several different plants. Considered to be helpful as both a dietary supplement as well as a medicine in a number of cultures, the alkaloid is somewhat yellow in color, and has a bitter taste. The substance does not dissolve well in water, but can be dissolved effectively in alcohol as well as in ether.

Several different plant roots, including barberry and goldenseal roots, are excellent sources of berberine. The dried alkaloid can be consumed internally, but can also sometimes be used in a poultice. Different schools of alternative healing make use of this substance in different forms, sometimes as a tincture or in conjunction with other herbal products.

There are several health benefits associated with the use of berberine. One of the more important has to do with the treatment of various types of fungal infections. The alkaloid is believed to be an effective means of dealing with different types of yeast, as well as dealing with parasites that bore into the skin. There is also some evidence that berberine is helpful in the resolution of viral and bacterial infections. The substance has long been considered an effective tool in battling cholera.

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While there are some anecdotal claims of berberine working well as an antibiotic, the evidence supporting this claim is somewhat thin and not accepted by many in the medical community. Still, the substance can sometimes function as a potentiate, helping other compounds function more effectively. This fact has led to the inclusion of the alkaloid in some traditional as well as homeopathic medications formulated for the treatment of health issues that are not directly impacted by berberine.

Ongoing research into the uses of berberine have led to the inclusion of the alkaloid in a number of over the counter products as well as herbal medicines and supplements. Some brands of eyedrops include the substance in the formula. Research into the efficacy of this alkaloid in the treatment of MRSA is ongoing, and has shown some encouraging results. The product is also thought to be helpful with a number of skin conditions when used in a poultice, as well as a tool to use in easing the symptoms of the common cold.

Berberine has the distinction of being among the herbs that are used in many different types of medical traditions. Both Eastern and Western medicine have identified some uses for this alkaloid, leading to pharmaceutical companies around the globe including the product in a number of different medications. While there is some potential for berberine side effects like headaches or insomnia, the incidence of any side effects appears to be extremely low, making the substance a popular option with medical practitioners of all stripes.

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