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The alkaloid, berberine, receives the most research and widest acclaim as the active component of barberry and its relatives. Berberine is also a key constituent of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Berberine and its related constituents (such as oxyacanthine) are antibacterial17 and have been shown to kill amoebae in a test tube study.18 Berberine inhibits bacteria from attaching to human cells, which helps prevent infection.19 This compound treats diarrhea caused by bacteria, such as E. coli.20 Berberine also stimulates some immune system cells to function better.21 Berbamine is another alkaloid found in barberry. It may help reduce inflammation22 and is an antioxidant.23
The bitter compounds in barberry, including the alkaloids mentioned above, stimulate digestive function following meals.
For digestive conditions, barberry is often combined with other bitter herbs, such as gentian, in tincture form. Such mixtures are taken 15 to 20 minutes before a meal, usually 2–5 ml each time. As a tincture, 2–3 ml of barberry can be taken three times per day. Standardized extracts containing 5–10% alkaloids, with a total of approximately 500 mg of berberine taken each day, are preferable for preventing infections. Standardized extracts of goldenseal are a more common source of berberine, since goldenseal contains a higher concentration of berberine than barberry. An ointment made from a 10% extract of barberry can be applied topically three times per day for psoriasis. A tea/infusion can be prepared using 2 grams of the herb in a cup of boiling water. This can be repeated two to three times daily.24
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.