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A potent chemical found in certain Chinese, European, and North American herbs called berberine offers another tool for aiding weight loss. Its applications, however, work with a highly specific weight loss plan.

The human body, most diet gurus fail to mention, contains not just one but two different kinds of fat. White fat is the fatty tissue that stores fat. Brown fat is the fatty tissue that burns fat to keep the body warm.

It should come as a surprise to no one that our bodies contain a lot more white fat than brown fat. But an extract from well-known herbs can help brown fat burn fat more efficiently, and even transform white fat into brown fat. First, however, let's review some definitions that a lot of health-oriented websites are getting wrong.

The Terms You Need to Know to Locate Berberine

The weight loss multiplier found in certain anti-infective herbs is berberine. Berberine isn't a plant. Berberine is a chemical. Berberine is found in:

  • The Chinese herb called coptis, golden thread, gold thread, Coptis chinensis, or Huánglián. If this herb is included in a Chinese herbal tea, it's hard to miss. It dyes the tea yellow, and it has an intensely bitter taste.
  • The American herb called Oregon grape root. or mahonia root.
  • The American and European herb called barberry, which has the scientific name Berberis vulgaris.

There is also berberine in California poppies, Mexican prickly poppy, and phellodendron (Amur cork tree). These plants contain berberine. They aren't the same as berberine. Berberine can be extracted from them to make berberine capsules, which bypass your taste buds and make using the herb a lot easier. There is no Chinese herb called "berberine," despite what other websites say.

What's the Buzz on Berberine?

The latest news on berberine is that a group of scientists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine have figured out how it works. Giving the herb extract to mice in the lab, they have shown that:

  • Berberine increases the rate at which brown fat burns fat.
  • Berberine causes belly fat to burn fat, too. And,
  • The way berberine works is by decreasing insulin resistance.

It's that last finding that's new. Insulin resistance is your body's way of avoiding the toxic side effects of too much sugar inside cells. Cells shut down their receptor sites for insulin so that they don't receive more glucose (sugar) than their antioxidant systems can handle. 

However, this has a secondary effect. When your body shuts down insulin receptors, the amount of insulin in your bloodstream increases. When the amount of insulin in your bloodstream increases, fat cells shut down an enzyme that allows them to convert stable, stored fat into the fatty acids they can burn for fuel. Berberine makes cells all over your body more sensitive to insulin, so your bloodstream contains less insulin, so fat cells get the signal that it is safe to burn fat.

Research into how berberine aids weight loss isn't really new. There have been 19 studies over the last 16 years, and one clinical trial of a product that includes berberine but isn't just berberine. The clinical study found that the herb extract is not a weight loss miracle, but it is helpful.

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