Williams Cancer Institute

Berberine is a supplement often used by cancer patients in conjunction with their treatment

Berberine is a supplement often used by cancer patients in conjunction with their treatment.
Berberine is a monomer of traditional Chinese herbs and is an antibacterial agent, antioxidant, antiapoptotic, and quaternary alkaloid with therapeutic effects against cancer.
But how does it work precisely, and where does its effect come from? To comprehend how this supplement works against cancer, we’re going to describe a little of the tumor microenvironment, which is composed of various types of stromal cells (endothelial, epithelial, fibroblasts, and cancer cells), cytokines, and inflammatory factors that provide the tumor with everything it needs to keep growing.
One of the principal cytokines produced by tumor-associated fibroblasts is the transforming growth factor- β (TGF-β) that regulates the differentiation of other stromal cells, which enables the generation of an optimal microenvironment for tumor development.
Studies have shown that Berberine can not only inhibit cancer cell proliferation but also abolish the epithelial-mesenchymal transition of malignant cells and promotes apoptosis in tumor-associated fibroblast–induced colonic epithelial cells through the mediation of the TGF-β pathways, so it helps by making the tumor microenvironment a rough place for the tumor to keep growing.
Despite studies showing its efficacy in treating different types of cancer and its place in reducing TGF-β expression, far more studies are needed. This supplement alone does not replace any other kind of cancer therapy. In patients taking immunotherapy, we know that a diverse microbiome with certain key bacteria is essential to the immune response. It is unclear how berberine affects the microbiome. Some studies are positive, but others, due to the antibacterial effects, suggest it might decrease diversity. I think the jury is still out in regard to berberine and the microbiome when it comes to immunotherapy.

Reference: Calabrese, L. a. (2020). Chronic inflammatory arthritis following checkpoint inhibitor therapy for cancer: game changing implications. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 309-311.

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