Barberry, a shrub with gray, thorny branches, offers many health benefits. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, laboratory studies in animals and test tubes suggest that barberry contains the chemical berberine, which exhibits anti-inflammatory, blood pressure-lowering and sedative effects. Berberine helps with seizure control and has the ability to kill bacteria and parasites. It may promote optimal immune function. Berberine may also help improve digestion and mitigate abdominal pain by acting on the smooth muscles that line the intestines. The UMMC recommends consulting your doctor before using barberry.
Strengthens Your Heart
A study published in "Circulation Journal" in May 2012 reported that berbamine, an active compound in barberry, protects your heart from ischemia/reperfusion injury, which is the tissue damage caused when blood flow is restored to the tissue after a lack of oxygen. Berbamine executes this job by regulating the concentration of calcium ions inside cells and by preventing the activation of a protein called calpain, which plays a crucial role in heart failure. Furthermore, berbamine enhances the contraction of heart muscles by increasing the sensitivity of cells to calcium, a mineral that regulates muscle contraction, revealed a study published in the July 2011 issue of "Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology."
Manages Your Blood Sugar
Barberry may offer protection against Type 2 diabetes, disclosed a study published in the July 2012 issue of the journal "Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity." The researchers involved in the study asked the participants to consume a preparation containing barberry and Silybum marianum, also known as milk thistle, for 90 days. Results showed reduced triglycerides and total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and lower fasting insulin and glycosylated hemoglobin -- a blood test that shows a person’s average blood sugar level for the two to three months prior to the test. This led to the conclusion that barberry, when used along with milk thistle, helps stabilize blood sugar levels and treat diabetes.
Protects Your Liver
A study published in "International Journal of Molecular Sciences" in July 2012 discovered that barberry offers liver-protective benefits. In the animal study, pretreatment with barberry lessened liver and DNA damage, maintained normal levels of antioxidant enzymes and prevented liver injury caused by a toxic chemical called carbon tetrachloride. However, additional studies are needed to confirm these results.
According to the UMMC, barberry may help treat diarrhea, including traveler's diarrhea and diarrhea caused by food poisoning. A few studies suggest that barberry eases symptoms quicker than antibiotics, possibly because of its astringent properties. However, antibiotics may be more powerful at eliminating intestinal bacteria than the herb. Because bacterial diarrhea can have serious consequences, the UMMC suggests taking barberry along with standard antibiotic therapy. Also, using barberry with antibiotics may decrease the effectiveness of antibiotics, so consult your doctor before combining the two.
Treats Infection and Skin Disorders
Barberry is used to alleviate inflammation and infection of the gastrointestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts, states UMMC. The herb is also used to soothe yeast infections of the skin or vagina. Barberry extract may help relieve symptoms of certain skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. However, more research needs to be done to confirm these benefits.