Medically reviewed on November 1, 2017
Scientific Name(s): Berberis vulgaris L. and Mahonia aquifolium Nutt. Family: Berberidaceae
The fruits have been used in jams, jellies, and juices. Plant alkaloids have been found to be antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antidiarrheal. Berberine is a uterine stimulant.
Barberry berries and root bark have been used as a source of berberine. Daily doses of 2 g of the berries have been used, but there are no clinical studies to substantiate barberry's varied uses.
Barberry is contraindicated in patients with hypersensitivity to M. aquifolium .
Documented adverse effects (including uterine stimulant effects). Avoid use.
None well documented.
Hypersensitivity reactions (eg, burning, itching, redness) have occurred in some patients using topical dosage forms.
Symptoms of poisoning are characterized by lethargy, stupor and daze, vomiting and diarrhea, and nephritis. Barberry is contraindicated during lactation and pregnancy.
The barberry grows wild throughout Europe but has been naturalized to many regions of the eastern US. M. aquifolium is an evergreen shrub native to the northwestern US and Canada. Barberry grows to more than 10 feet with branched, spiny, holly-like leaves and is widely grown as an ornamental. Its yellow flowers bloom from May to June and develop into red to blue-black oblong berries. 3
The plant has a long history of use, dating back to the Middle Ages. Salishan native elders have used M. aquifolium to treat acne 4 and native American Indians utilized Mahonia berries to treat scurvy. 5 A decoction of the plant has been used to treat GI ailments and coughs. 3 The alkaloid berberine was included as an astringent in eye drops, but its use has become rare.
The edible fruits have been used to prepare jams, jellies, and juices. The use of the plant in traditional medicine has been limited by the bitter taste of the bark and root. However, more than 3 dozen medicinal uses for barberry, including cancer, cholera, and hypertension have been listed. 6 , 7 Other reported uses of M. aquifolium include the treatment of the following conditions: Fever, gout, renal and biliary diseases, rheumatic symptoms, diarrhea, gastric indigestion, and dermatosis. 8 , 9
The root and wood are rich in protoberberines (berberine, palmatine, jatorrhizine) and bisbenzylisoquinoline derivatives (oxyacanthine, berbamine) as well as other alkaloids such as bervulcine, magnoflorine, and columbamine. 2 , 3 , 8 , 9 The root may contain as much as 3% alkaloids, which impart a yellow color to the wood. Berberine, berbamine, and oxyacanthine are considered the 3 most important alkaloids. 10 The edible berries are rich in vitamin C, sugars, and pectin.
Uses and Pharmacology
M. aquifolium is valued for its antipsoriatic effects and its antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activity. It also has been used for treating acne, eczema, and candida infection.Anti-inflammatory
Products of lipoxygenase metabolism enhance the pathophysiology of psoriasis. Each of the 6 bisbenzylisoquinoline alkaloids (oxyacanthine, armoline, baluchistine, berbamine, obamegine, aquifoline) isolated from M. aquifolium exhibited various lipoxygenase inhibitory activity resulting in an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect. 11Animal data
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of berberine as an anti-inflammatory agent.Clinical data
Additional studies suggest that the antiproliferative effect is caused by the berberine content of M. aquifolium . Berbamine may reduce the synthesis of 5-lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase, thereby reducing the activity of these enzymes in the arachidonic acid cascade. 12Antibacterial
Berberine and several related alkaloids are bactericidal, in 1 study exceeding chloramphenicol (eg, Chloromycetin ) against Staphylococcus epidermidis , Neisseria meningitidis , Escherichia coli , and other bacteria. 2 Another study reported that a methanolic extract (containing 80 mg of dried plant material) from the root of M. aquifolium exhibited antifungal activity against Trichoderma viridae and was considered more effective than nystatin. 13Animal data
Several alkaloids (eg, berbamine, oxyacanthine) in Mahonia reportedly block the influx of calcium. For example, M. aquifolium root extract blocked calcium-induced contraction in an in vitro experiment on isolated rat aorta. The mechanism of the vasodilation is postulated to also involve alpha-adrenoreceptors. 14 , 15Clinical data
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of berberine as an antibacterial.Anti-diarrheal
Berberine does not appear to exert its antidiarrheal effect by astringency, and the mechanism of action has not been defined. 16Animal data
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of berberine as an anti-diarrheal.Clinical data
Berberine (100 mg 4 times/day), given alone or together with tetracycline (eg, Achromycin V ), has been found to significantly improve acute watery diarrhea and excretion of vibrios after 24 hours, compared with placebo in patients with noncholera diarrhea. 17Other uses
Barberry berries and root bark have been used as a source of berberine. Daily doses of 2 g of the berries have been used, but there are no clinical studies to substantiate barberry's varied uses. 18
Documented adverse effects (including uterine stimulant effects) 19 . Avoid use. M. aquifolium is contraindicated during lactation and pregnancy because some of the alkaloids (eg, berberine, palmatine) may stimulant uterine contractions. 20 Barberry is contraindicated during lactation and pregnancy.
None well documented.
Symptoms of poisoning are characterized by lethargy, stupor and daze, vomiting and diarrhea, and nephritis. 20 M. aquifolium is contraindicated during lactation and pregnancy because some of the alkaloids (eg, berberine, palmatine) may stimulant uterine contractions. 20 It is also contraindicated in patients with hypersensitivity to M. aquifolium .
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