BotanicalsHealthy Aging

Beating Metabolic Syndrome Before It Beats You

Clinical research on berberine and French maritime pine bark extract

Perhaps it starts with realizing that belly bulge won’t go away. The next thing you know, your blood pressure reading is high during your annual checkup. Then, your doctor calls to talk about your cholesterol levels.

The health conditions associated with the umbrella term “metabolic syndrome” include excess belly fat, increased blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Whether we develop just one of these ailments, or a host of them, the condition tends to come on gradually as we age, and typically doesn’t resolve on its own.  Metabolic syndrome increases the long-term risk of a cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, so it is important to address the problem at an early stage.[1]

Although much of the initial management focuses on a healthy diet and exercise regimen, certain supplements also may help tip the scales in our favor.  In this article we will discuss two natural products:  berberine and standardized pine bark extract.

Berberine: metabolic syndrome’s best friend

Berberine, an orangish-yellow compound found in several plants including Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and barberry (Berberis vulgaris), is a botanical well recognized for its impact on metabolic function.[2] Interestingly, a major site of action of berberine is within the gastrointestinal tract.

Supplementation with berberine alters the gut microbial balance[3] and increases the abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila,[4]  a beneficial microorganism linked to healthy body weight and a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. On average, higher levels of A. muciniphila have been shown in athletes and individuals with a low body mass index (BMI), while lower levels of A. muciniphila have been observed in individuals with impaired glucose metabolism and obesity.[5],[6],[7]

Supplementation with berberine alters the gut microbial balance and increases the abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila,  a beneficial microorganism linked to healthy body weight and a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.

In addition, berberine helps reduce intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) thereby decreasing the leakage of bacterial endotoxin into circulation.[8],[9] Endotoxin in circulation (endotoxemia) contributes to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance, and impairs detoxification pathways, liver, and gallbladder function.

Scientific studies suggest that berberine supplementation supports healthier glucose, cholesterol, and fat metabolism – each of these being challenges individuals with metabolic syndrome often face. Berberine has been evaluated in clinical studies of individuals with metabolic syndrome,[10] diabetes,[11] non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,[12] and mild hyperlipidemia.[13] The effects included reductions of waist circumference, body weight, systolic blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol (triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol), and improvements in other metabolic syndrome-related markers.

French maritime pine bark extract: a rich source of antioxidants

Standardized pine bark extract (SPBE), also known as maritime pine bark extract, is sourced from the French maritime pine (Pinus pinaster Aiton).  SPBE is a rich source of proanthocyanidins and procyanidins, which serve as antioxidants and free radical scavengers in the body.[14] Excess free radicals contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which may be improved by SPBE due to its antioxidant function.[15],[16]

Scientists have shown that SPBE promotes the development of brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that can boost metabolism and burn calories.

SPBE supplementation has been shown to help reduce blood pressure and improve blood vessel function in hypertensive subjects.[17],[18] In several studies, individuals who were supplemented with SPBE for three to four months experienced a reduction in total cholesterol and/or LDL cholesterol levels, while the protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels were either unaffected or increased.[15],[19] In diabetics, the addition of SPBE to a standard treatment regimen further lowered plasma glucose levels within 12 weeks.[20]

In men and women with metabolic syndrome, SPBE supplementation was associated with a reduction in triglycerides, high blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose.[21] Moreover, both genders experienced a significant reduction in waist circumference (belly fat) over a six-month period. Scientists have shown that SPBE promotes the development of brown adipose tissue,[22] a type of fat that can boost metabolism and burn calories.[23]

SPBE has been shown to inhibit the formation of advanced glycation end products,[24] the sugar-carrying proteins or lipids in the blood that play a role in the development of diabetes-related complications such as eye, kidney, nerve, and cardiovascular disease.[25] Collectively, this helps protect all the organs of the body from oxidative damage leading to pathology downstream.

The antioxidant and peripheral blood vessel effects of SPBE also have been shown to support eye health and vision,[26],[27] kidney function,[28],[29],[30] healing of diabetic ulcers,[31] and nerve health,[32] with many of these benefits seen in clinical settings. Beyond this, the research on SPBE showing positive outcomes spans a broad array of conditions including arthritis,[33] cognitive health,[34] allergies and asthma,[35],[36] and even sexual function.[37]

Summary

Mechanistic and clinical studies suggest berberine and SPBE can help modulate cellular and gut pathways related to lipid and glucose metabolism and vascular health. Using these and other natural substances wisely can help protect the body from the many metabolic challenges it may face with age.

 

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