A renewed interest in alternative and herbal treatments and remedies has illuminated a wealth of exciting possibilities from the oldest tradition in existence today. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic Medicine are still in practice a few thousand years later. Both practices have some impressive solutions to improving health and maintaining a functioning brain.
Berberine is one of the very first and most fascinating breakthroughs from these traditional health systems. Berberine is a bioactive compound meaning it has biological effects. It exists in a variety of different plants and is used in traditional herbal medications.1
Nootropic Effects of Berberine
Herbal medications containing berberine have been prescribed to improve the conditions of the blood, brain, and heart. Berberine has the special capacity to traverse the blood-brain barrier and bring some potential benefits to health and function. In the following article, we will examine some of the most important nootropic effects found in this ancient treatment.
Once inside the brain, berberine works to enhance the function of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays an important role in synaptic activity and plasticity, ultimately leading to improved cognitive functions. Studies have also found that the up-regulation of BDNF caused by berberine works to counter the effects of stress much like an antidepressant.2
In other research studies, berberine has exhibited more benefits in improving the mood and thereby enhancing cognitive functions. One such study showed that berberine improves the levels of specific neurotransmitters that work to increase concentration, reduce impulsiveness, and improve the mood. When supplementing with berberine, subjects showed improvements in test performance and an increase of dopamine and serotonin by 31% and 47%, respectively.3
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory
The brain’s delicate tissues, as well as the vital blood vessels that support brain activities, can be damaged by inflammatory conditions and increased levels of free radicals in the body.
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Conditions of inflammation disrupt regular neurotransmissions and communications leading to brain fog. When free radicals accumulate, they can cause oxidative stress. Free radicals can chemically alter several important components in the body like DNA, proteins, and lipids. This also plays a key role in the onset of Parkinson’s and other degenerative conditions.
Berberine naturally exhibits strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.4 It has the capacity to fight conditions that may develop from an aging brain and can pass the blood-brain barrier to remedy deep within the brain.5
A brain functioning optimally requires plenty of energy, not just for cognitive function but to keep the brain’s cells healthy and well-maintained. Studies have demonstrated the capacity of berberine to protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Berberine has been found to ameliorate cognitive impairment that can come from conditions that thwart synaptic plasticity. This is often prevalent in diabetics.
Synaptic plasticity is what allows neurons to adapt and acquire new information from regular use. Studies have shown that supplementing with berberine provides an added benefit to cognitive functions from its capacity to improve plasticity.7
Risks and Precautions for Berberine
Berberine has a long history of medical use and is fairly easy to find on the market. It is extracted from plant substances and is most readily available in pill or capsule form. Those looking to obtain berberine for nootropic use should familiarize themselves with some important considerations.
1. Potent Alkaloid
As an alkaloid, berberine can impact many enzymatic processes of the body. Because enzymes are essential for interacting with compounds introduced to the body, taking berberine with some medications, especially antibiotics, can be risky. Some medications that should not be combined with berberine supplements include:
Even though berberine has been found to be an effective medication for controlling diabetes and blood sugar levels, it is not advisable to take berberine with other diabetes treatments. When using medication to regulate blood sugar levels, berberine can cause blood sugar to drop to unsafe levels.
3. Pregnancy and Infants
Berberine is considered “likely unsafe” for infants and can potentially be passed through the placenta of breastfeeding. Berberine can cause a type of brain damage called kernicterus in small children. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are advised not to take berberine. For more information speak with your regular doctor.
4. Gastrointestinal Distress
Despite its fairly safe nature, berberine has been known to upset the digestive system. Some of the most common complaints include cramping, flatulence, constipation, and diarrhea.8
As with all nootropic supplementation, taking a slow and intuitive approach to berberine is guaranteed to avoid possible mishaps and provide the best nootropic benefits. Most experts recommend taking between 300 and 1500 mg of berberine in a day.
Taking the full amount of berberine in one dose is not advisable as the gastrointestinal tract may be upset by such a large presence. For this same reason, taking berberine after a meal will help to mitigate a harsh response.
Introducing supplementation to daily diet slowly is also recommended. On the first day try a single dose, between 300 mg and 500 mg. Since berberine only has a half-life of several hours, you may feel inspired to try two equal doses on the following day. Depending on how you are feeling on the third day, you may choose to increase your berberine intake or leave it as is.
Final Notes on Berberine
Berberine is a natural alkaloid found in many plants. It has been used for many years as a homeopathic remedy for a variety of ailments. Today, it is most often taken as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective. Consider adding berberine to you nootropic stack to experience these benefits first-hand.
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