Berberine Reverses Biomarkers for Aging and Keeps Cells Healthy
Berberine is a natural substance produced by the Chinese goldthread, barberry, and goldenseal plants that has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for millennia. Although initially used to aid in digestion, modern research has uncovered some remarkable anti-aging properties that were previously unknown.
Does berberine have anti-aging effects on human cells?
The process of aging is the result of a series of changes to the different structures and systems in the body. There is a systematic loss of physiological function that impairs the natural functions necessary to support health and normal activities. This deterioration of the body, together with an increased vulnerability to diseases, diminishes the quality of life and leads to death. Aging is also the main risk factor for many chronic illnesses.
At the cellular level, aging occurs one cell at a time in a process called cellular senescence. Senescence is defined as irreversible damage caused by stress or aging that causes cells to stop replicating. These senescent cells impair tissue function and, consequently, shorten lifespan. To grow and to repair themselves, the cells in the body must replicate continuously throughout their lifespan. After about sixty replication cycles, DNA becomes damaged, and cells either die off or become stuck in their final replication stage. Also, repetitive damage caused by different stressors has a damaging effect on cells. This stress-induced premature aging of normal cells is considered one of the primary causes of aging.
Berberine affects the aging process through its protective effects on DNA (4). Research has also shown that berberine increases the lifespan and mobility of lab animals (5). For these reasons, berberine may be an excellent effector of aging in humans.
Putting berberine’s anti-aging effects to the test
Building upon research conducted on berberine, a group of Chinese scientists have examined the effects of berberine on human tissue. Their findings were recently published in the journal Aging Cell (6). In this study, the researchers first used cells from human lung tissue and yeast before performing tests on living animals. For the live-animal portion of the study, they used both healthy mice and mice undergoing chemotherapy.
The results of berberine on yeast were striking. The yeast colonies that had been treated with berberine experienced extended lifespans by 28% compared to the control group. Additionally, berberine reduced the cell-cycle length of the yeast colonies, which led to an increase in the group's lifespan. Even more interestingly, these results were achieved with relatively low doses of berberine.
Berberine’s effects translate to human cells
The authors used special lung cells that are frequently used to evaluate cell growth. The cells that were exposed to an optimized dose of berberine had a healthier rate of growth than those in the control group.
The researchers also looked at several biomarkers to evaluate senescence and cell integrity. Untreated cells from the control group had a steady increase in the biomarker for senescence. After a brief period of exposure to berberine, the levels of the biomarker reverted to the levels seen in young cells.
The next step was to evaluate how berberine helps preserve healthy cell replication. Cells were closely monitored to observe the different stages of replication after they were exposed to the optimized dose of berberine. After several rounds of cellular replication, cells that had been treated with berberine continued to replicate and transition into concurrent cellular phases, with fewer delays in the replication process than those in the control group.
Berberine rejuvenates chemotherapy-affected cells
For the next round of tests, the researchers set out to evaluate the effects of berberine on cells that had been undergoing chemotherapy, a well-documented process known to induce cellular senescence. The drugs used in chemotherapy are known to cause long-term health problems and also accelerate aging. The aim was to see if berberine could rescue cells after chemotherapy.
The study showed that berberine was able to rejuvenate premature senescence in cells that had undergone chemotherapy. These results were not limited to the cells only, experiments done in live mice showed similar results. Mice that had received chemotherapy exhibited reduced body weight, as well as a decrease in exercise performance. After receiving a small dose of berberine, these indicators of senescence decreased, and the median lifespan for the treatment group was extended by 52%.
The results from the study confirm observations from previous research that demonstrate the anti-aging effects of berberine.
- Ortiz LM, et al. doi:10.3390/molecules190812349
- Li HY, et al. doi:10.1089/rej.2017.1972
- Ahmed T, et al. doi:10.1016/j.pharep.2015.03.002
- Zhao H, et al. doi:10.18632/aging.100593
- Navrotskaya V, et al. doi:10.4236/ajps.2014.53037
- Dang Y, et al. doi:10.1111/acel.13060