Also known as holly-leaved barberry, Oregon Grape is native to western North America. It produces dark blue edible berries, which look like very small grapes and are unpleasant to taste.
Traditional uses for this herbal medicine include for reducing duration of cold and flu and building immunity, improving stomach upset, relieving skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema and reducing infections. The herb is also said to stimulate liver function and have an antispasmodic action, which relieves spasms in the digestive tract. Oregon grape is said to be effective in these modalities due to its many health-supporting actions, including: anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory.
Berberine, the active compound in oregon grape, possesses multiple potent effects, including antimicrobial, anti-diabetic and cell-protective activities [i].
Skin Conditions Eczema and Psoriasis:
Certain gene expression (CDC6) is upregulated in epidermal cells in psoriatic skin lesions. Hyperproliferation, abnormally high levels of skin cell production, is a major characteristic of psoriasis. In test tube studies, berberine has been found to down-regulate the CDC6 gene expression and inhibits proliferation of skin cells in psoriasis. Thus, the writers concluded berberine may serve as a potential therapeutic option for patients with psoriasis [ii].
In a German study also using a topical cream with oregon grape extract on psoriasis patients, 79.7% improved or healed completely. While 30.1% of patients had significant or severe symptoms at the start, this was the case for only 5.6% after 12 weeks. These results were obtained via feedback from 375 psoriasis patients [iii].
A human trial, in which 200 subjects participated and used either the topical cream Reliéva (a homeopathic product containing a proprietary oregon grape extract) or a placebo twice a day for 12 weeks. The cream contained 10% oregon grape standardised extract. Quality of Life Index questionnaires were used to measure improvements and it was seen that significant improvements were seen against the placebo group. Therefore, it was concluded oregon grape was effective and well tolerated in patients with mild to moderate psoriasis [iv].
Oregon grape root is in the Berberidaceae family. Plants of this family have been extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine for conditions including atopic dermatitis (eczema). The root and wood of oregon grape root include plant components such as alkaloids including palmatine, berberine, beramine, and magnoflorine, which account for its therapeutic use. Specifically, its anti-inflammatory properties have led to its recent use in skin diseases such as eczema and psoriasis, reducing symptoms such as itch, redness and swelling [v].
A randomised controlled trial with 42 adult patients diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, studied the topical application of oregon grape extract. The investigators concluded that the cream is a safe and effective treatment of atopic dermatitis in adult patients [vi].
Diabetes, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health:
Berberine has been used for various medical conditions in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, including diabetes and high blood pressure [vii]. Recently, berberine has attracted much interest for its pharmacological actions in managing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases [viii].
Berberine has been shown to regulate glucose and blood lipid levels in both human and test tube studies. A test tube study explored underlying mechanism and pattern of glucose-lowering effect of berberine and metformin in cells. Metformin is a common anti-diabetic medication, which works by reducing the amount of sugar your liver releases into your blood. Berberine and metformin showed almost identical effects on stimulating glucose consumption[ix]. The study compared berberine to metformin, it was found that the blood sugar-lowering effect of berberine was similar to that of metformin. Haemoglobin A1c, a test to show blood sugar control over several months, decreased significantly over the course of the trial.
Total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (known as “bad cholesterol”) were decreased significantly as well in response to berberine [x]. Other studies have also observed cholesterol-lowering effects with a mechanism of action different from that of statin drugs [xi].
In one human study, a dose of 500 milligrams of berberine was administered to individuals with high cholesterol levels two to three times daily for three months. Total cholesterol levels were lowered down to 29% [xii].
It has been shown that berberine reduces viral replication and targets specific interactions between the virus and its host. In so doing, it has been seen to inhibit replication of herpes simplex virus (HSV), human papillomavirus (HPV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Furthermore, it has been reported that berberine supports the host immune response, thus leading to improved viral clearance. As such, berberine is currently being investigated in the light of COVID-19 [xiii].
Berberine's therapeutic potential against neurodegeneration is being investigated via many metabolic structures. The agonistic effects of berberine can combat the common underlying drivers of neurodegeneration, including oxidative stress, neuro-inflammation and mitochondrial disorder (mitochondria are the energy factories inside our cells), all of which contribute to damage to neurons [xv].
Possible Side Effects:
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:
Oregon grape is not recommended during pregnancy due to potential harm some of the active constituents (including berberine) could cause the developing foetus. The same constituents may also be transferred to the infant during breastfeeding, causing harm. Likewise, it is also not recommended to be used in early childhood, also.
Cyclosporine: Oregon grape may decrease the speed of which the liver metabolises this drug, which may cause an excessive build up cyclosporine in the body and thus increase risk of side effects.
Medications interacting with CYP3A4: Certain metabolic processes in the liver may cause interactions between associated medications and oregon grape. Please consult with your prescribing GP prior to use.
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