New research shows one ancient herb used in Chinese medicine can help you boost your brainpower and your metabolism. How’s that for a fresh start for your mind and body in 2015?
I’ll tell you more about this incredibly versatile herb in a moment.
But first, let’s back up…
Unlike natural approaches, drugs that have multiple actions worry me. (And all drugs have multiple actions, so most worry me.) In fact, in medical school, my professors always cautioned, “any drug can have any effect.” In other words, drugs can cause any number of problems.
And they knew what they were saying.
My medical school was the kind of place where the professors who taught us every day wrote and edited the textbooks we used. In fact, one of our professors edited the leading textbook of the day for pharmacology. And another professor edited the second leading textbook on pharmacology.
And indeed, just as these insightful professors warned, drugs have many effects–mostly unwanted.
To make matters worse, sometimes the FDA approves a mainstream drug for one purpose, but then doctors begin using it for another therapeutic use. We call this “off-label” use. In fact, many of our most popular drugs were actually developed for something else.
For example, a potent antipsychotic drug turned out to combat tuberculosis effectively. This example turned out well. But many “off-label” drug treatments may incur more harmful side effects than helpful benefits.
In one well-known instance, a hair loss remedy and a blood pressure drug ended up as “blockbuster” treatments for the quasi-medical condition of erectile dysfunction (ED). Though the drugs provide “solid” improvements in one aspect of a man’s sexual stamina, they cause many more side effects. (Of course, in many instances, you can reverse erectile dysfunction simply by getting more of one vital nutrient.)
Today, we know that many herbal remedies have beneficial effects beyond those for which they were originally known and studied. But unlike off-label drug use, off-label use of natural products generally benefits the patients.
Take berberine, for example.
Berberine is a naturally occurring plant alkaloid used in many Chinese herbal formulations. You can also find it in the U.S. as an ingredient in better brain health supplements. And now, it appears this natural brain booster also has some other impressive benefits.
In a recent lab study, researchers found berberine significantly increases energy expenditure in lab animals. In other words, it helps them burn more calories.
For this study, researchers injected mice with a daily dose of berberine compound for four weeks. The mice all showed evidence of increased energy expenditure.
Berberine appears to help regulate energy expenditure by burning more carbs to create body heat. Therefore, the mice had increased fat-burning cellular activity and limited weight gain. Interestingly, the mice also generated more body heat when exposed to cold–something to keep in mind this winter.
Of course, we know animals (and humans) have a “caloric response” after eating any meal. That is, when food enters the body, the body generates more heat. That’s the reason you can feel warmer after eating a meal. Berberine appears to optimize this response.
The word calorie actually comes from the Latin word calor, meaning heat. In early medicine, doctors believed the body had four cardinal responses to injury–calor, rubor, dolor, and tumor (heat, redness, pain, and swelling). Many different injuries–physical, chemical, immunological, or even emotional–can manifest in one or more of these responses, based on alterations in blood flow and fluids, cellular responses, and biochemical reactions.
Generating heat when you eat foods is a normal and healthy part of cellular respiration, which acts just like burning a fire or running an internal combustion engine. Your body captures most of this energy and stores it in high-energy biochemical bonds that fuel metabolic processes. But heat is a byproduct. And the more heat given off, the less energy can be stored as fat.
Recent studies reveal these same mechanisms may be at work in adults for weight control. And because of this study, researchers now have developed great interest in berberine as an effective, natural treatment for obesity.
Without a doubt, berberine appears to be incredibly versatile. It reminds me of the unusual herbal category of “adaptogens,” like South African Sutherlandia frutescens or the Chinese ginseng. Speaking of ancient Chinese remedies, berberine also works as an anti-diarrheal agent.
See the difference?
One drug…many harmful side effects.
One herbal remedy…many health benefits.
1. “Berberine activates thermogenesis in white and brown adipose tissue,” Nature Communications (www.nature.com) 11/25/2014