Berberine: Its effects on stomach and liver cancer

Berberine, naturally present in some plants, counteracts inflammatory processes. A study review addresses if it has an effect on stomach and liver cancer.

Key takeaways about berberine:

Berberine is a component of traditional Chinese medicine

Berberine is found in some medicinal plants and has been used in Asian medicine for a very long time. The plant substance is the focus of attention of many studies investigating its effects. It is known that berberine has various bioactive effects, for example anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic or weight-lowering.

Many scientists are also interested in the effect of the healing substance on various types of cancer. A recently published review has summarised the current state of research on this topic.

Positive effects on gastric cancer in the mouse model

Several preclinical studies have shown that berberine acts on some signalling pathways of gastric cancer cells, inhibiting the tumour and its growth:

One possible theory is that berberine promotes autophagy of cancer cells. Scientists were able to show that the substance led to autophagy of BGC-823 cells via inhibition of the mTOR, AKT and MAPK signalling pathways. In addition, berberine seems to influence the expression of circRNA and thus inhibit tumour growth.

Sensitisation of tumour cells to chemotherapy

Berberine, in addition to its direct effect on the signalling cascades associated with gastric cancer, also appears to lead to increased sensitisation of tumour cells to certain chemotherapeutic agents. Thus, the efficacy of cisplatin, erlotinib, cetuximab and evodiamine could be improved and supported.

Also positive effects on liver cancer

In addition to the significance of berberine for stomach cancer, the active substance has also been investigated - in a preclinical setting - in relation to liver carcinoma. In particular, cell proliferation seems to be the target of the plant substance:

Berberine and liver cancer prevention

In relation to liver cancer, berberine could also have a preventive effect by acting on the disease precursors, such as alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and inhibiting the progression of the diseases.

This is done by modulating the microbiome in the digestive tract. For example, increased colonisation density of Clostridiales, Lactobacillaceae and Bacteriodale led to an increase in intestinal farnesoid X receptor and FGF15. This in turn resulted in an improvement in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Due to a better colonisation density of Akkermansia muciniphila, a liver-protective effect in alcoholic fatty liver could also be demonstrated.

Conclusion for medical practice

Berberine seems to have the potential to positively influence the course of stomach and liver cancer. Other types of cancer also show good reactions to the healing substance. Currently, research is still in the preclinical stage. However, berberine intake as a food supplement may be helpful for some patients. Studies report an overall good tolerability.

  1. Xiong RG, Huang SY, Wu SX, Zhou DD, Yang ZJ, Saimaiti A, Zhao CN, Shang A, Zhang YJ, Gan RY, Li HB. Anticancer Effects and Mechanisms of Berberine from Medicinal Herbs: An Update Review. Molecules. 2022 Jul 15;27(14):4523. doi: 10.3390/molecules27144523. PMID: 35889396; PMCID: PMC9316001.