Berberis vulgaris, commonly known as barberry, is a shrub that grows tart, red berries.
While the plant is native to parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, it can now be found worldwide.
Its berries have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat digestive issues, infections, and skin conditions.
They contain several beneficial compounds, most notably berberine, which acts as an antioxidant and may help manage conditions like diabetes, fight dental infections, and treat acne.
Here are 9 impressive benefits of barberries.
1. Barberries are packed with nutrients
Barberries are highly nutritious. They are rich in carbs, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals.
In particular, berries are an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that may help protect against cellular damage, which can lead to heart disease and cancer.
A 1/4-cup (28-gram) serving of dried barberries contains:
- Calories: 89
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 1 gram
- Carbs: 18 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Vitamin C: 213% of the daily value
- Iron: 15% of the daily value
In addition, barberries contain zinc, manganese, and copper, all of which are trace minerals that play significant roles in immunity and disease prevention.
The bright red color of the berries comes from anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that may boost your brain and heart health, among other benefits.
2. Barberries contain beneficial plant compounds
Barberries are rich in berberine, a unique plant compound that may be associated with several health benefits.
Berberine is a member of the alkaloid family, a group of compounds known for their therapeutic effects.
Studies have shown that it acts as a powerful antioxidant, combating cell damage caused by reactive molecules called free radicals.
Also, berberine may help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, slow the progression of certain cancer cells, fight infections, and have anti-inflammatory effects.
Moreover, barberries contain other compounds with health benefits, such as other alkaloids and organic acids. Yet, most research has focused on berberine.
Summary: Barberries contain a high concentration of berberine, a therapeutic compound with antioxidant activity that may provide several health benefits.
3. Barberries may help manage diabetes
Barberries — particularly their berberine content — may play a role in managing diabetes, a chronic disease marked by high blood sugar levels.
Specifically, berberine has been shown to improve how your cells respond to the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar. In turn, this may help lower your blood sugar levels.
One 3-month study in 36 adults with type 2 diabetes found that taking 1.5 grams of berberine daily led to a significant 2% reduction in hemoglobin A1c — a measure of your average blood sugar control over the past three months — compared with baseline values.
In fact, researchers found that the beneficial effects of berberine on blood sugar and hemoglobin-A1c were comparable to those of the traditional diabetes drug metformin.
Another 8-week study in 30 people with type 2 diabetes found that those who took 2 mg of dried barberry fruit extract daily had reduced hemoglobin A1c levels and significantly lower blood sugar levels than a placebo group.
However, these studies focused on supplemental berberine and barberry extract. It’s unclear if consuming fresh or dried barberries would have comparable effects on your blood sugar control.
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Summary: Studies suggest that supplemental berberine and barberry extract can lower your blood sugar levels and may help treat diabetes.
4. Barberries can help treat diarrhea
Barberries have been used to treat diarrhea for centuries.
This is likely due to their high concentration of berberine, which helps slow the transit of feces through your gut by inhibiting certain receptors, thus preventing diarrhea.
In fact, one of the oldest human studies on berberine found that it treated diarrhea caused by infections from certain bacteria, including E. coli.
Furthermore, one study in 196 adults with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) found that taking 800 mg of berberine hydrochloride daily significantly decreased the frequency of diarrhea and the urgent need to defecate, compared with a placebo.
While these results are interesting, more human research is needed to understand better how berberine and barberries may help treat diarrhea.
Summary: Berberine may prevent diarrhea by slowing transit time in the gut. Thus, eating berberine-rich barberries might help treat diarrhea. However, more studies are needed.
5. Barberries may protect against metabolic syndrome
Eating barberries may help prevent metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
In particular, barberries may protect against obesity and high blood sugar, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels — all of which are risk factors for this syndrome.
One 8-week study in 46 patients with type 2 diabetes found that drinking around 7 ounces (200 mL) of barberry juice daily significantly reduced blood pressure, triglyceride, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, compared with a placebo.
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In addition to improving the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, barberries may help decrease oxidative stress in those who already have the condition.
Oxidative stress results from underlying cell damage caused by reactive molecules called free radicals. Too much oxidative stress — and insufficient antioxidants to fight it — can lead to heart disease and other health issues.
A 6-week study in 106 people with metabolic syndrome showed that taking 600 mg of dried barberry daily significantly decreased oxidative stress compared with a placebo.
Based on these results, eating berries may help decrease your chances of developing risk factors for metabolic syndrome and reduce oxidative stress associated with it. Nevertheless, more research is needed.
Summary: Barberries have been shown to improve your risk factors for metabolic syndrome and decrease oxidative stress.
6. Barberries are good for dental health
Test-tube studies have shown that barberry extract can fight inflammation.
This is likely because berberine acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
Therefore, it may help treat inflammatory dental diseases like gingivitis, which is marked by plaque buildup, swelling, and irritation of the gums.
One study of 45 boys between the ages of 11 and 12 found that applying barberry dental gel for 21 days reduced plaque and gingivitis significantly more than a placebo.
The study also indicated that barberry gel was more effective than traditional anti-plaque toothpaste, but the results were insignificant.
These results suggest that barberry treatments may promote good dental health, but more research is needed.
Summary: Given that berberine is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, dental gels containing barberry may help fight gingivitis and related inflammation of the mouth. However, research is still limited.
7. Barberries may have anticancer effects
There are several ways in which barberries may exert anticancer effects, all related to berberine.
Since berberine acts as an antioxidant, it may help fight underlying oxidative damage associated with cancer development.
Additionally, berberine may cause cancer cell death, prevent cancer cell replication, and inhibit enzymes involved in the life cycle of cancer cells.
Several test-tube studies have shown that berberine prevents tumor growth and initiates cell death in the human prostate, liver, bone, and breast cancer cells.
However, research is limited to test-tube studies, and more research is needed to understand better the potential role of barberries in cancer treatment and prevention.
Summary: Berberine may help protect against cancer through different mechanisms and has been shown to slow cancer progression in test-tube studies.
8. Barberries may help fight acne
Barberries may play a role in treating acne, a skin condition characterized by inflamed bumps and pimples.
Specifically, berberine and other compounds in barberries may help fight inflammation and infections associated with acne.
One study in adolescents with moderate to severe acne found that taking 600 mg of dried barberry extract daily for 4 weeks significantly reduced the average number of lesions compared with a placebo.
The study concluded that extract from this berry may be a safe and effective treatment option for teenagers with acne, but more extensive research is needed.
Summary: Limited research suggests that barberry extract effectively treats acne and decreases pimples, but more studies are needed.
9. Barberries are easy to add to your diet
Barberries have a tart, slightly sweet flavor and can be eaten raw, in jam, or as a component of rice dishes and salads. They can also be juiced or used to make tea.
Supplemental barberry forms include dried capsules, liquid extracts, and ointments or gels made from whole berries or berberine extract. However, due to limited human research, there is no recommended dosage for barberry or berberine supplements.
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While barberries are generally recognized as safe for most people, there are some reports that large amounts or high supplemental doses can cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
Moreover, there is no research on the effects of barberries on children or pregnant or lactating women. Therefore, barberry or berberine supplements should be avoided in these populations.
To reap the possible health benefits of barberries, try using whole, fresh berries in your cooking.
If you are interested in taking a barberry or berberine supplement, consult your healthcare provider first and look for a supplement that has been tested for quality by a third party.
Summary: Whole barberries can be added to jams and salads and used to make tea. Barberry supplements come in various forms and should be used cautiously, especially in high doses and among certain populations, such as children and pregnant women.
Barberries are the tart, red berries of the Berberis vulgaris plant.
They contain a unique compound called berberine, which acts as an antioxidant. It may help improve blood sugar control, treat diarrhea, and fight inflammation related to dental infections and acne.
Adding barberries to your diet may help you reap some health benefits, but consult your healthcare provider before taking supplemental barberry or berberine.