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In the quest for effective natural supplements to lower cholesterol, many people turn to supplements like fish oil, niacin, plant sterols, and red yeast rice. While these are often effective, sometimes they are not tolerated or an additional supplement is needed to optimize lipid levels.
Berberine-containing products are moving to the forefront as surprisingly effective natural supplements to lower cholesterol.
In two recent studies, people with high cholesterol who took berberine supplements experienced significantly lower cholesterol levels without side effects.
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Researchers are surprised by berberine’s ability to help people lower their cholesterol in addition to helping with weight loss
Berberine, a compound known as an alkaloid which is found in a number of medicinal plants, is better known for its role as a natural treatment for obesity and type 2 diabetes. That’s why a group of researchers found it particularly interesting when they discovered how effective it happened to also be for lowering cholesterol.
Dr. Hu Yueshan, Ph.D, and colleagues from the Avera Institute for Human Genetics, in Sioux Falls, SD, had been investigating berberine for its ability to prevent fat accumulation in obese humans and mice.
During their initial investigations, they were surprised to find that it also worked quite well as a natural cholesterol-lowering agent. They therefore conducted a study in obese human subjects to determine the safety and efficacy of berberine treatment on cholesterol and a number of other important cardiovascular risk factors such as body weight and markers of inflammation.
Subjects were given 500 mg berberine three times a day for twelve weeks.
Taking berberine supplements to lower cholesterol leads to 12% reduction in cholesterol and 23% reduction in triglycerides
The treatment with berberine significantly reduced blood lipid levels. Cholesterol levels decreased by an average of 12% and triglycerides by 23%.
The researchers also replicated the lipid-lowering effect of berberine in rats (9% decrease of cholesterol and 34.7% decrease of triglycerides). The human subjects also lost an average of five pounds without changing their diets.
Markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein, were not significantly affected by treatment with berberine.
“Collectively, this study demonstrates that berberine is a potent lipid-lowering compound with a moderate weight loss effect…,” the investigators concluded.
Berberine supplements reduce cholesterol more effectively than the drug ezetimibe
Another study published in the September issue of the medical journal Lipids in Health and Disease also found berberine to be an effective natural treatment for high cholesterol.
Researchers from the University of Genoa in Italy compared a supplement containing 500 mg berberine, 10 mg policosanol, and 200 mg red yeast rice to the commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drug ezetimibe (brand name: Zetia).
The Italian researchers studied a total of 228 subjects with high cholesterol who were either intolerant to statin drugs or refused to take them. The berberine-containing supplement was significantly more effective than ezetimibe in lowering LDL cholesterol and was better tolerated.
Those taking the supplements to lower cholesterol were able to reduce their LDL cholesterol by 31.7% compared to reductions of 25.4% in the ezetimibe group. LDL cholesterol fell below 130 mg/dl in 28.9% of subjects in only 11.8% of those treated ezetimibe. They concluded that the berberine treatment was effective and safe.
How to treat your high cholesterol with berberine supplements
If you want to try berberine for your high cholesterol, look for 500 mg capsules and take 1 capsule three times a day. A three month trial should be sufficient to know just how much berberine is likely to lower your LDL and triglycerides. For more ideas on effective supplements to lower cholesterol, see our comprehensive guide to natural cholesterol and triglyceride therapies here.
This post originally appeared in 2013 and has been updated.