Transcript: Treating Acne with Barberries
We hear a lot about Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, but less about the herbs used in Japan. There’s a root called Rhizoma coptidis, that appears to have similar anti-acne activities to a drug like Accutane, a drug infamous for its side effects, before it was pulled from the market.
But there are side effects to the root, too. A poor fellow took it to clear up his skin and made things worse. The anti-acne active component of the root is thought to be berberine; any way to get the active ingredient in a safer plant? Yes, apparently in barberries. You may remember barberries as perhaps the most antioxidant packed dried fruit available. You can find them cheap at Middle Eastern grocers, where they’re used to make a signature Persian rice dish. Their taste is described as pleasantly acidulous, which is just “doctor-speak” for sour. I love sprinkling them on my oatmeal just because they’re yummy, but evidently they have played a prominent role in herbal healing for thousands of years around the world, flamboyantly described in this pharmacology journal as an herbal remedy that has no match in serving the human race. And I just thought they were kind of tangy.
The problem with the herbal medicine literature is that there is often a long impressive list of traditional uses, but little or no science to back it up. And what does exist is often either in vitro or animal data that has questionable clinical applicability. Like who cares if barberries induce menstruation in a guinea pig, except maybe the guinea pig. So, you end up with drug companies injecting herbs into the penises of rabbits in hopes of coming up with the next Viagra, but few, if any, human studies.
I’ve seen petri dish studies like this over the years suggesting anti-cancer effects of barberries on human tumor cells in vitro, or the anti-acne effects on hamsters, but there weren’t any such human studies…until now.
Evidently, there had been anecdotal reports of acne clearing up after barberry juice consumption; so, researchers decided to put it to the test: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial of fifty 12- to 17-year-olds with moderate to severe acne. Half got a sugar pill; the other half got the equivalent of about a teaspoon of dried barberries three times a day for a month.
The results were remarkable. After four weeks on the placebo, no change, just as many pimples as before. But in the barberry group, a 43% drop in the number of zits, and about a 45% drop in inflamed zits. That’s extraordinary. And a spoonful costs about eight cents. No reported side effects; healthy for you anyway. The only potential concerns I could find were to not eat them during pregnancy, and we don’t have good data on barberry consumption during lactation; so, best to stay away from barberries during breastfeeding, as well.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.
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