The hanging small yellow flowers and young leaves of berberine or the Barberry Berberis Sieboldii against a dark backgroundShare on Pinterest
Berberine may have the potential to help treat multiple sclerosis. ZayacSK/Getty Images
  • About 2.8 million people globally have multiple sclerosis (MS), for which there is currently no cure.
  • Researchers recently found that the natural compound berberine helps ease disease severity in mice.
  • Scientists believe these findings promise a significant therapeutic potential against neurological disorders, including MS.

About 2.8 million people around the world have multiple sclerosis (MS) — a chronic condition that affects the body’s central nervous system and leads to mobility issues and even paralysis.

There is currently no cure for MS. Medicinal treatments are available to slow the progression of the disease and relieve symptoms.

Now, researchers from the Semnan University of Medical Sciences in Semnan, Iran, have found the natural compound berberine helps ease the severity of the disease in a mouse model of MS.

The study was recently published in the journal Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease.

Berberine — also known as berberine hydrochloride — is a compound naturally occurring in various plants, including the European barberry, Oregon grape, goldenseal, and tree turmeric. It is technically an alkaloid and is yellow in color.

Berberine has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.

Previous research shows berberine aids the body against inflammation and bacterial infections. Studies have shown berberine as a possible treatment for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and obesity.

Berberine usage has also been linked to improved gut health, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.

According to Dr. Karen D. Sullivan, a board certified neuropsychologist and owner of I CARE FOR YOUR BRAIN in Pinehurst, North Carolina, the mechanism of action for berberine is three-fold.

“One, it activates an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase — also known as the metabolic ‘master switch’ as it is present in many organs — including the brain, muscle, kidney, heart, and liver,” she explained to Medical News Today.

“Two, it is anti-inflammatory by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines in the immune system. And three, it is antimicrobial in that it promotes healthy gut bacteria,” she continued.

How could a natural compound like berberine help a person with MS?

Dr. M Kara, a functional medicine expert and founder of KaraMD — a line of digestive support, heart health, and anti-inflammatory supplements to support full-body health — explained that MS is a disease in which the immune system starts to attack the central nervous system.

MS is also often associated with increased levels of inflammation, which make symptoms worse over time.

“Berberine seems to be the most impactful as a substance at the cellular level, and it has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” he detailed.

“I always say that chronic inflammation is the root of all evil because inflammation if left unchecked, can cause numerous health issues beyond just simple aches and pains. It can impact cognitive health, digestive health, energy levels, heart health, and can even lead to chronic disease or worsen the symptoms of chronic disease in some cases,” he told MNT.

“When it comes to MS, controlling the body’s inflammatory and immune system response is essential and berberine, as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that acts directly at the cellular level, may be a worthwhile solution for reducing inflammation.”
— Dr. M. Kara

In this study, researchers used a mouse model of MS to test the effects of berberine. Mice in two groups received either a low or high dose of berberine, while the third control group received saline water.

Upon analysis, scientists found mice receiving both the low and high berberine dosage experienced a reduction in disease severity, and taking berberine also lowered the severity of disability and paralysis when compared to the control group.

Additionally, mice in the high-dosage group greatly reduced their symptoms of the disease.

“Based on the results of this study, it was found that berberine, by eliminating the inflammation of the central nervous system, led to a decrease in the permeability and disruption of the blood-brain barrier, and thus led to a decrease in the penetration of immune cells, the function and proliferation of inflammatory cells in the central nervous system and the brain,” Dr. Dariush Haghmorad, assistant professor of immunology in the School of Medicine at Semnan University of Medical Sciences in Semnan, Iran, and lead author of this study, explained to MNT.

“By stimulating the anti-inflammatory and regulatory cells, this combination increases the secretion of a series of anti-inflammatory mediators from the cells, and in this way, they can reduce the symptoms of the disease and improve the beneficial course of the disease. Therefore, berberine can reduce the symptoms and improve the course of the disease in the animal model of MS.”
— Dr. Dariush Haghmorad

Dr. Haghmorad said taking into account the results of this research, it is clear that berberine at prescribed doses reduces the autoimmune inflammation of the central immune system, and these in vitro results promise a significant therapeutic potential against neurological disorders, including MS.

Dr. Haghmorad said the next step for this study is more research to understand the mechanism of berberine effects.

“For now it’s an animal model, and we need more investigation,” he added when asked how quickly we may see a berberine-based treatment for MS.

“The next step would be to use this same experimental paradigm in human studies in a variety of autoimmune conditions, including MS, and see if we get the same disease-modifying benefits,” Dr. Sullivan added.

Dr. Kara said educating patients on how something like inflammation can impact their future health outcomes — especially when it comes to chronic disease — is crucial.

“It’s also important for those living with chronic disease to be educated on the options that are available to help with symptom management. For people with MS, it’s essential to know that there are natural remedies out there that may offer a worthwhile solution when it comes to reducing the severity of their symptoms,” he said.

“As always, before starting any new natural remedy or adding anything new to your routine, regardless of if you have MS or not, it is always important to consult your medical professional to make sure it’s right for your health goals and needs.”
— Dr. M. Kara