October 13th, 2015

Berberine: An Ancient Remedy for Modern Humans


One of the most exciting natural products in current medical research is berberine, an alkaloid found in goldenseal root, barberry bark, Oregon grape root, and coptis (goldthread) root. What is so exciting about the research is:

  1. The results from clinical trials in diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated blood lipid levels.
  2. There is very encouraging experimental data in a wide range of modern health issues including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and others.

Alkaloids like berberine are synthesized in plants to serve vital roles in the plant’s cellular metabolism. Obviously, humans can also gain benefits from these compounds. Since early human times plant alkaloids have been among the most important medicinal agents used by humans. They are now enjoying a Renaissance as these ancient medicines are matching the needs of current times.

Background Data:

Berberine-containing plants have been revered for a number of clinical applications through the years. Perhaps most important have been there use in fighting infections, but they have also been used in diabetes. Since the early 1900s, purified berberine has also emerged as a popular natural medicine, especially in China.

What scientific research has focused on in the last decade is building an impressive amount of clinical research in the use of berberine in lowering blood lipids and blood pressure, and improving blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes. Berberine exhibits a number of beneficial mechanisms to produce these effects including an ability to activate the important enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase or AMPk for short. AMPk is found inside every cell and serves as a “master regulating switch” in energy metabolism. Overall, the activity of this enzyme plays a major role in determining body fat composition and especially the amount of visceral “belly” fat. Here are some of the consequences of low AMPk activity:

  • Accelerated aging
  • Chronic inflammation
  • High blood cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Increased visceral “belly” fat
  • Insulin resistance
  • Mitochondrial insufficiency and dysfunction
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Obesity
  • Poor blood sugar control

Obviously, as an effective activator of AMPk, berberine offers great promise in dealing with all of the consequences of low AMPk activity, as well as other health conditions.

New Data:

A meta-analysis of 27 published clinical trials using berberine as a therapeutic agent in type 2 diabetes, elevated blood lipids and high blood pressure was conducted to answer questions on its safety and efficacy.

Results showed quite convincingly that in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, berberine along with lifestyle intervention lowered the level of fasting blood sugar levels, after-meal blood sugar levels and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) more than lifestyle intervention alone or placebo. When berberine was compared to oral hypoglycemic drugs used in type 2 diabetes, there was no statistical significance between treatment of berberine and these drugs. In other words, the clinical results seen with berberine were on par with the drugs.

The same sort of comparative results seen in type 2 diabetes were found in the treatment of elevated blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and high blood pressure. Studies also supported that berberine combined with conventional drugs in these conditions is safe and can produce better results than the drugs used alone. Typical dosage for berberine was 500 mg two to three times daily.

Side effects with berberine occurred at much lower rates and were milder than prescription drugs. Side effects were seen mainly at higher dosages (e.g., 500 mg three times a day) and included such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal distension, and abdominal pain.

The researchers conducting the meta-analysis concluded that berberine has comparable therapeutic effect on type 2 diabetes, elevated blood lipids and hypertension with no serious side effect or toxicity. Furthermore, the review indicated that berberine combined with conventional drugs in these conditions is safe and can produce better results than the drugs alone.


Berberine is an emerging natural product superstar. Its bright light may end up shining even brighter than curcumin if there is a continued commitment on research. Certainly in all areas where berberine has been currently evaluated, it could be concluded that it has some advantages over curcumin in regards to potential in cancer and other health conditions.


Lan J, Zhao Y, Dong F, et al. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Feb 23;161:69-81.

Dr. Michael Murray

October 6th, 2015

Fish Oils Relieve Depression in College Students


What if in the treatment of depression, physicians quit relying on manipulating brain chemistry with drugs and focused instead on supporting brain chemistry? Based upon the results of a new study with fish oil supplementation conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, it seems that fewer college students would be depressed or need to be on antidepressant drugs.

Depression is a big issue in college students. According to recent surveys, 30% of undergraduate students have felt so depressed that it hindered their ability to function and 6% seriously consider suicide in the preceding 12 months. Given the relative ineffectiveness and possible adverse reactions to prescription antidepressant drugs, it is important to help these young adults with proper nutrition and supplementation. After all, you don’t become depressed because you are lacking Prozac or other antidepressant, but if you are lacking in something as essential as the long-chain fatty acids from fish oils, it could be a major cause of depression.

Background Data:

Fish oil supplements concentrated for the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that are free from lipid peroxides, heavy metals, environmental contaminants, and other harmful compounds have revolutionized nutritional medicine. A huge body of scientific evidence now shows that fish oil supplementation can prevent or benefit over 60 different health conditions, including depression and other brain-related disorder.

Studies have also reported that countries with high rates of fish oil consumption have low rates of depressive disorders.

The importance of omega-3 fatty acids to brain function relates to their role in the phospholipid composition of nerve cell membranes. Studies have shown that EPA and DHA influence:

  • The fluidity of brain cell membranes.
  • Neurotransmitter synthesis.
  • Neurotransmitter binding.
  • Signal transmission.
  • The activity of key enzymes that break down neurotransmitters like serotonin, epinephrine, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Fish oils concentrated for EPA and DHA have been shown to have positive effects for patients with depression and bipolar disorder (manic depression) when given at recommended dosage levels (e.g., 1,000-3,000 mg EPA+DHA), but these studies have primarily focused on older adults and typically have been in patients also taking a prescription antidepressant drug.

New Data:

To evaluate the effects of fish oil supplementation in younger adults with depression, a double-blind study was conducted in 23 subjects (78% female) with an average age of 20 years. These subjects had significant depression as evident by a score of greater than 10 on a standard diagnostic questionnaire (Beck Depression Inventory [BDI]) and were NOT taking an antidepressant drug. The subjects were randomly assigned to a placebo (corn oil) or fish oil group (1.4 g EPA+DHA) of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids). The BDI was completed prior to supplementation and again at day 21.

Results demonstrated that there was a significant difference in depression status between groups. In those taking fish oils, 67% of the subjects no longer met criteria for being depressed, while only 20% in the placebo group were no longer depressed.


These results are quite significant and show that low dosage fish oil supplementation can produce very quick results in boosting mood. Despite the impressive results, my dosage recommendations for fish oils when being used for therapeutic purposes is 3,000 mg EPA+DHA. That dosage level would have produced even better results based upon previous studies in older subjects.

In addition, over the past few years I have featured several newsletters highlighting studies that reflect nutritional approaches for improving mood, brain health, memory, and/or the prevention of age-related mental decline. Here are the key areas of focus: reduce inflammation, control blood sugar levels, provide necessary building blocks with super nutrition, and protect the brain from damage by consuming antioxidants from the diet and through supplementation.

In regards to diet, the Mediterranean or New Nordic Diet look to be very helpful. In regards to supplementation, in addition to fish oils, there are three other primary recommendations:

#1. Take a high quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplement providing at least the recommended dietary intake for all vitamins and minerals.

#2. Take enough vitamin D3 (typically 2,000-5,000 IU daily) to elevate your blood levels to the optimal range (50-80 ng/ml).

#3. Take extra plant-based antioxidants such as flavonoid-rich extracts like grape seed or pine bark extract; curcumin (Theracurmin); a “greens drink” product; or resveratrol.


Ginty AT, Conklin SM. Short-term supplementation of acute long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may alter depression status and decrease symptomology among young adults with depression: A preliminary randomized and placebo controlled trial. Psychiatry Res. 2015 Sep 30;229(1-2):485-9.

September 29th, 2015

New Blood Pressure Target Misses the Mark



An initial report from the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) could be used to justify more aggressive drug therapy for high risk individuals with high blood pressure. Since high blood pressure is a major risk factor for a heart attack or stroke results from the study make some sense, but what the study fails to address is if drug therapy is the ideal approach or even necessary to achieve normal blood pressure.

Despite the fact that virtually every authoritative medical organization (including the Joint National Committee on Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure) has recommended that non-drug therapies be used in place of drugs in the treatment in all but moderate to severe hypertension, the reality is that drugs to lower blood pressure are among the most commonly prescribed medicines in the United States with more than 700 million prescriptions filled annually.

Background Data:

Blood pressure refers to the resistance produced each time the heart beats and sends blood coursing through the arteries. The peak reading of the pressure exerted by this contraction is the systolic pressure. Between beats the heart relaxes, and blood pressure drops. The lowest reading is referred to as the diastolic pressure. A normal blood pressure reading for an adult is: 120 (systolic) / 80 (diastolic). High blood pressure (BP) readings can be divided into the following levels:

  • Prehypertension (120-139/80-89)
  • Borderline (120-160/90-94)
  • Mild (140-160/95-104)
  • Moderate 140-180/105-114)
  • Severe (160+/115+)

High BP is most often the result of any number of factors that damage blood vessels and ultimately disrupt the regulation of the degree of constriction of blood vessels and fluid volume. Since the systolic pressure largely reflects the flexibility or stiffness of blood vessels, it is a strong predictor of vascular problems caused by high blood pressure, especially among older individuals.

Although genetic factors play a role in high BP, there is little debate that dietary and lifestyle factors are the underlying cause in almost all cases of high BP.

Some key dietary factors include: being overweight or obese; high sodium-to-potassium ratio; low-fiber, high-sugar diet; low omega-3 fatty acid intake; and a diet low in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Important lifestyle factors that may cause high BP include stress, lack of exercise, and smoking.

New Data:

The NIH sought to address some of the issues in drug therapy for patients with high BP in the SPRINT. Studies with older medications, primarily beta-blockers, indicated that the drugs may actually increase mortality when used to lower blood pressure. These results and issues with newer drugs like calcium channel blockers and angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors led to the recommendation by many expert organizations to try to achieve a target systolic reading of 140 mm Hg in patients over the age of 60. In fact, less than two years ago, a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute panel told physicians to aim for a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg in subjects under 60 and 150 mm Hg for people ages 60 and older because there were no convincing data showing lower is better. One concern was older people might be especially vulnerable to side effects and drug interactions caused by higher dosages of blood pressure lowering drugs.

In the trial, the goal was to achieve a target systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg in 9,300 men and women over the age of 50 who were at high risk for heart disease or had kidney disease and compare it to those with a goal of 140 mm Hg. Originally, the study was designed to run until 2017, but researchers halted the study prematurely because the results were of such great significance. Hitting this new target reduced rates of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and heart failure, as well as stroke, by almost a third and the risk of death by almost a quarter, as compared to the previous target systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg.

Though the full results of the study have not yet been released, what is known is that in those assigned to get their pressure below 140 mm Hg took, on average, two drugs. Those assigned to below 120 mm Hg took an average of three drugs. Given the long list of side effects that these drugs have it is hard to imagine that more aggressive therapy did not lead to more severe side effects, however study looked at side effects and apparently the reviewers have concluded that the benefits outweighed any side effect issues. Many experts are recommending caution until the full results of the trial are made public.


First, I agree with the overall finding that it is very important to get blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg. But rather than using drugs to accomplish this goal, I think that it is far better to utilize natural approaches. Why? All of the current classes of blood pressure lowering drugs possess significant side effects and 80% of people with high BP can lower their blood pressure without drugs. Writing even more prescriptions for high blood pressure drugs could have disastrous consequences. These drugs are not without serious side effects. For example, a 2013 study showed that women taking blood pressure lowering drugs called calcium-channel blockers, like Norvasc (amlodipine), for 10 years, or more had a 2.5 times higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who never took the medicine or who used other blood pressure treatments.

The bottom line is that I think drug therapy should be secondary to natural approaches, not the first option. The fact that more than 80% of patients with high BP are in the prehypertension to moderate range, what the drug companies won’t tell you and most physicians ignore, is that most cases of high BP can be brought under control with changes in diet, lifestyle, and proper use of dietary supplements. In fact, in head-to-head comparisons, many non drug therapies such as diet, exercise, relaxation therapies, and dietary supplements have proved superior to drugs in cases of prehypertension to mild high BP and are without side effects.

For moderate through severe hypertension, drug therapy may be necessary, but should be ideally used as a bridge therapy until dietary, lifestyle, and supplement strategies to lower blood pressure take hold. In patients with moderate through severe hypertension, drug therapy is appropriate, but should still be thought of as a secondary approach.

In regards to some specific recommendations to lower blood pressure, for most people with high BP, achieving ideal body weight is their most important health goal. Even modest amounts of weight loss often produce a significant reduction in blood pressure.

Another key factor is salt intake. Between 40% and 60% of hypertensives are salt sensitive. In other words, in about half of patients with high BP, sodium restriction (e.g., less than 1,200 mg daily) is effective in lowering BP.

Can dietary changes alone really lower blood pressure? Absolutely. In fact, another NIH funded series of studies were titled “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” (DASH). These studies showed quite convincingly that diet alone is very effective in achieving normal blood pressure in many patients with high BP.

Special foods for people with high blood pressure include celery; garlic and onions; nuts and seeds; cold-water fish, e.g. salmon and mackerel, or fish oil products concentrated for the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA; green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables for their calcium and magnesium; ground flaxseeds, whole grains, and legumes for their fiber; foods rich in vitamin C, such as broccoli and citrus fruits; and foods rich in active flavonoids including berries, cherries, grapes, and legumes.

Here are some key nutritional supplements to consider in high BP:

Foundation Supplements. High potency multiple; Vitamin D3 2,000-5,000 IU/day; Fish oil, EPA+DHA 3,000 mg/day.

Magnesium supplementation has been shown to lower blood pressure, particularly in patients who are already on high blood pressure medication. Dosage: 150 to 250 mg three times daily. The best forms are magnesium citrate, malate, glycinate, and aspartate.

WARNING: People with kidney disease or severe heart disease (such as high-grade atrioventricular block) should not take magnesium unless under the direct advice of a physician.

Bonito Peptides (e.g., PeptAce), a purified mixture of small peptides (proteins) derived from fish bonito relaxes the arterial walls and helps to reduce fluid volume. Clinical studies have shown these peptides from bonito are effective in improving blood pressure control In patients with mild hypertension The degree of blood pressure reduction in these studies was quite significant, typically reducing the systolic by at least 10 mm Hg and the diastolic by 7 mm Hg. Dosage: 1,500 mg daily.

Celery Seed Extract (standardized to contain 85% 3-n-butylphthalide [3nB]) has also been shown to help improve blood pressure control. 3nB is a compound that is unique to celery and is responsible for the characteristic flavor and odor of celery. It was discovered as the active component of celery in response to investigations by researchers seeking to explain some of the traditional effects of celery including lowering of blood pressure and relief of joint pain. Dosage: 75 to 150 mg twice daily.

Grape Seed Extract (standardized to contain 95% procyanidolic oligomers) was shown to normalize high blood pressure in patients with initial blood pressure in the range of 150/95 mm Hg when combined with standard dietary guidelines. Dosage: 300 mg daily.

Olive leaf extract has been shown in clinical trials to work as effective as the conventional antihypertensive drug Captopril in lowering blood pressure, but without side effect. Dosage: 500 mg (17% to 23% oleuropein content) twice daily.

Hibiscus tea or extracts have demonstrated antihypertensive properties in clinical trials. In double-blind studies, hibiscus extract showed similar blood pressure lowering effect to popular antihypertensive drugs. Butunlike the drugs, which carry a significant side effect profile, hibiscus has a 100% tolerability and safety response. Typical reductions in systolic blood pressure are 15-20 mm Hg in subjects with initial readings of 140 mm Hg. Dosage: for the tea, three 240 ml servings/day; for an extract, take enough to supply 10-20 mg anthocyanidins daily.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can help lower blood pressure in some cases. Dosage: 200 to 400 mg daily.

Garlic preparations can lower pressure. Dosage: should provide a total allicin potential of at least 4,000 mcg daily.


Press Release: Landmark NIH study shows intensive blood pressure management may save liveshttp://www.nih.go. v/news/health/sep2015/nhlbi-11.htm