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Berberine May Also Help Protect Your Brain Health


There’s no question that Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared age-related diseases. Even mild cognitive decline such as forgetting someone’s name or where you put the car keys can put you on alert.

Given the concern and fear, it’s not surprising that there has been a flurry of research over the years looking at Alzheimer’s and memory. Scientists have looked at everything from supplements and prescription medication to diet and exercise.

And consistently they find an odd — yet understandable — connection between memory and blood sugar issues. In 15 studies that investigated the link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, 14 found that the two conditions were undeniably related, with nine of the 14 finding a statistically significant connection between the two conditions.[1]

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For example, a variety of studies show a 2- to 3.4-fold increased risk of vascular dementia and a 1.8- to two-fold increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in seniors with diabetes.[2] Other studies show that you’re 1.5 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment if you have diabetes.[2]

Plus, diabetics are 50 to 75 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, and in the reverse, people with Alzheimer’s have a higher than normal tendency to develop type 2 diabetes.[3]

Given such a strong association, many researchers have taken to calling Alzheimer’s disease “type 3 diabetes”.

The Brain-Blood Sugar Connection

The key to the brain-blood sugar connection lies in a peptide known as amyloid beta. Amyloid beta plaques are one of the hallmarks found in Alzheimer patients. Turns out, amyloid beta also happens to be found in the pancreas of people with diabetes.

Additionally, amyloid beta produces oligomers — toxins that are responsible for causing Alzheimer’s-related memory loss.[4] As it turns out, insulin (yes, as in blood sugar insulin) plays a role in memory formation. But when oligomers attach to neurons in the brain, they strike out the insulin receptors from the neuron’s surfaces. The result is insulin resistance in the brain.[4] Insulin resistance, as in a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

As insulin resistance turns into diabetes, it can trigger even more oligomers to accumulate in the brain, thus causing neurons to become even more insulin resistant.[6]

Lastly, tau proteins are an additional common denominator. When tau proteins clump together, they create neurofibrillary tangles, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. High blood sugar compounds this issue, as it can

Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) alters tau proteins in the brain, causing them to clump together and form neurofibrillary tangles.[3]

Given these connections, it’s no surprise that a nutrient well-respected for its blood sugar-lowering properties can also help fend off Alzheimer’s disease.

We are talking about berberine.

Berberine, Blood Sugar, and Your Brain

Berberine is a plant alkaloid found in the roots or stem bark of a variety of plants including goldenseal, goldenthread Amur cork tree and yerba mansa, as well as Oregon grape, tree turmeric, and barberry. It has a long history of use in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medical traditions, primarily as an antibiotic.

More recently, berberine has also been found to improve insulin sensitivity, support glucose control, and even work as well as the diabetes drug Metformin.[5-9]

With such strong ties, it’s not surprising that berberine also helps to ease Alzheimer’s symptoms and risk factors, including amyloid beta. In one animal study, researchers found that rats that were given berberine while also being induced with amyloid beta saw prevention of memory and learning impairment due to the amyloid beta.[10]

Similarly, in another animal study, TgCRND8 mice — a well established engineered mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease — that were also given berberine enjoyed significant abatement of learning deficits, long-term spatial memory retention, and plaque formation. Additionally, the mice also showed a “profound” reduction in levels of amyloid beta. The effects were so significant that researchers concluded berberine provides neuroprotective benefits in TgCRND8 mice, due to its ability to regulate amyloid beta.[11]

Lastly, researchers found that berberine also worked to reduced inflammation caused by amyloid beta. Specifically, they found that berberine significantly inhibited amyloid beta-stimulated production of several inflammation markers, including interleukin-6 and monocyte chemotactic protein-1. Additionally, berberine strongly inhibited activation of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB), a major contributor to inflammation.[12]

Researchers concluded, “Our data indicated berberine is a potent suppressor of neuroflammation, presumably through inhibition of NF-κB activation, and suggested berberine has therapeutic potential for the treatment of neuroinflammation that is involved in neurological diseases such as AD [Alzheimer’s disease].”


  1. Vagelatos NT, et al. Epidemiol Rev. 2013 Jan 21. [Epub ahead of print.]
  2. Samaras K, et al. Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab. 2012 Dec;3(6):189-96.
  3. Kim B, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2012 Dec 19. [Epub ahead of print.]
  4. Bitel CL, et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. October 2012;32(2):291-305.
  5. Yang J, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:363845.
  6. Perez-Rubio KG, et al. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2013 Jun 28. [Epub ahead of print.]
  7. Dong H, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:591654.
  8. Yin J, et al. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712-7.
  9. Dong H, et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:591654.
  10. Haghani M, et al. Eur J Pharmacol. 2015 Jul 5;758:82-8.
  11. Durairajan SS, et al. Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Dec;33(12):2903-19.
  12. Jia L, et al. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2012 Oct;64(10):1510-21.

Kimberly Day Kimberly Day has spent the past 15 years uncovering natural and alternative health solutions. She was the managing editor for several of the world’s largest health newsletters including those from Dr. Susan Lark, Dr. Julian Whittaker and Dr. Stephen Sinatra. She has also penned several health-related newsletter and magazine articles, co-authored the book the Hormone Revolution with Dr. Susan Lark, contributed articles to Lance Armstrong’s consumer site, and created a number of health-related websites and blogs.

For tips, tools and strategies to address your most pressing health concerns and make a positive difference in your life, visit Peak Health Advocate.

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