Due to serious adverse effects and the limited effectiveness of currently available pharmacological therapies for obesity, many research efforts have focused on the development of drugs from natural products. Our previous studies demonstrated that berberine, an alkaloid originally isolated from traditional Chinese herbs, prevented fat accumulation in vitro and in vivo. In this pilot study, obese human subjects (Caucasian) were given 500 mg berberine orally three times a day for twelve weeks. The efficacy and safety of berberine treatment was determined by measurements of body weight, comprehensive metabolic panel, blood lipid and hormone levels, expression levels of inflammatory factors, complete blood count, and electrocardiograph. A Sprague-Dawley rat experiment was also performed to identify the anti-obesity effects of berberine treatment. The results demonstrate that berberine treatment produced a mild weight loss (average 5 lb/subject) in obese human subjects. But more interestingly, the treatment significantly reduced blood lipid levels (23% decrease of triglyceride and 12.2% decrease of cholesterol levels) in human subjects. The lipid-lowering effect of berberine treatment has also been replicated in the rat experiment (34.7% decrease of triglyceride and 9% decrease of cholesterol level). Cortisol, calcitriol, ACTH, TSH, FT4, and SHBG levels were not significantly changed following 12 weeks of berberine treatment. However, there was interestingly, an increase in calcitriol levels seen in all human subjects following berberine treatment (mean 59.5% increase, p=0.11). Blood inflammatory factors (CRP, IL-6, TNFα, COX-2) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) were not significantly affected by treatment with berberine. Tests of hematological, cardiovascular, liver, and kidney function following berberine treatment showed no detrimental side effects to this natural compound. Collectively, this study demonstrates that berberine is a potent lipid-lowering compound with a moderate weight loss effect, and may have a possible potential role in osteoporosis treatment/prevention.
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