Everything you need to know about berberine
Last reviewed Fri 19 July 2019
By Jennifer Berry
Reviewed by Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, MS, FASCP
Benefits How to use Side effects Summary
Berberine is a compound in several plants, including goldenseal, barberry, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric.
Research has suggested that berberine can help treat diabetes, obesity, and inflammation, among other conditions. However, side effects can include stomach upset and nausea.
Berberine has been a part of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It works in multiple ways in the body and is able to make changes within the body’s cells.
Studies suggest that berberine has a “harmonious distribution” into several targets in the body, which allows it to fight certain conditions while causing minimal side effects.
Many studies of berberine have indicated that it can treat several metabolic health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, and heart problems.
Although berberine appears to be safe and to cause few side effects, a person should speak with a doctor before taking it.
The following are conditions that berberine may help treat, according to research.
Berberine, which is a compound in tree turmeric, is an effective antimicrobial agent.
Berberine could be an effective antimicrobial agent. A laboratory study found that berberine helped inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus.
S. aureus can cause many health problems, including sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis, and a range of skin conditions.
Another study found that berberine has the ability to damage the DNA and protein of certain bacteria.
Inflammation is a key factor in several health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
Some research suggests that berberine has anti-inflammatory properties, which means that it could help treat diabetes and other inflammation-related health conditions.
Research has shown that berberine may work as a diabetes treatment. Studies have found that it can have positive effects on blood sugar, triglycerides, and insulin.
One meta-analysis indicated that berberine was better than a placebo at lowering blood sugar.
The same analysis found that a combination of berberine and blood sugar lowering drugs is more effective than the drugs alone.
According to other research, berberine shows promise as a potential diabetes treatment, especially for those who cannot take existing antidiabetic drugs, due to heart disease, liver failure, or kidney problems.
Another meta-analysis found that berberine combined with lifestyle changes worked better to lower blood glucose than lifestyle changes alone.
Berberine appears to activate AMP-activated protein kinase, which can help regulate how the body uses blood sugar. Researchers believe that this activation can help treat diabetes and related health issues, such as obesity and high cholesterol.
However, scientists need to conduct more large, double-blind studies to fully determine berberine’s safety and efficacy.
Speak with a doctor before taking berberine for diabetes. It may not be right for everyone and could interact with other medications.
What causes high cholesterol?
Some studies suggest that berberine can help lower high cholesterol. What causes high cholesterol? Learn more here.
High levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Some evidence suggests that berberine could help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. According to one review, studies in both animals and humans indicate that berberine has cholesterol lowering effects.
It may help reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and increase high density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol.
A meta-analysis found that berberine combined with lifestyle changes works better than lifestyle changes alone in treating high cholesterol.
Furthermore, a study in hamsters observed that berberine helps move excess cholesterol to the liver, where the body can process and remove it. This, in turn, helps lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Researchers believe that the effects of berberine might be similar to those of drugs that reduce high cholesterol, while berberine does not cause the same side effects.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease.
A meta-analysis found that berberine combined with a blood pressure lowering drug was more effective than the drug alone.
Also, results of a study in rats indicate that berberine could delay the onset of high blood pressure and, when it did develop, help reduce its severity.
Obesity is a common condition that can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
One review reported that people who took 750 milligrams (mg) of barberry twice a day for 3 months had a significant decrease in weight. Barberry is a plant that contains high amounts of berberine.
Also, a double-blind study found that individuals with metabolic syndrome who took 200 mg of barberry three times a day experienced decreases in their body mass index readings.
The team behind another study observed that berberine may activate brown adipose tissue. This tissue helps the body turn food into body heat, and increased activation may help treat obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Some research suggests that berberine works similarly to the drug metformin, which doctors often prescribe to treat type 2 diabetes. In fact, berberine may have the ability to change the bacteria in the gut, which could help treat both obesity and diabetes.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
A person with PCOS may have high blood pressure.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) occurs when a female has high levels of certain male hormones. The syndrome is a hormonal and metabolic imbalance that can lead to infertility and other health issues.
PCOS is linked with many issues that berberine may help address. For example, a person with PCOS may also have:
high levels of insulin, diabetes, or both
high blood pressure
more body weight
Doctors sometimes prescribe metformin, a diabetes drug, to treat PCOS. As berberine appears to have similar effects to metformin, it may also be a good treatment option for PCOS.
A meta-analysis and systematic review found that berberine has promise as a treatment for PCOS with insulin resistance. However, the authors state that confirming these effects will require further studies.
Berberine can create changes within the molecules of cells, and this could have another potential benefit: fighting cancer.
One review concludes that berberine has “clear inhibitory effects” on the following cancers:
Another study states that berberine helps treat cancer by interfering with its progression and its typical life cycle. It may also play a role in killing cancer cells.
Based on this evidence, the authors state, berberine is “highly expected to be effective, safe, and affordable” as a cancer fighting agent.
However, it is important to remember that researchers have only studied berberine’s effects on cancer cells in a laboratory, not in people.
How to use berberine
Berberine supplements are available in capsule form.
Berberine is available in capsule form. Though there is no set dosage, most of the studies used a dosage of 1,000–1,500 mg per day.
Berberine can cause some side effects, which we will cover in more detail below. A person may wish to start with a lower dosage, watch for side effects, and gradually increase the dosage up to 1,500 mg per day.
A person can break this into separate doses, by taking 500 mg three times per day, for example, to maintain a steady level of the extract in their body.
Most studies have found no serious side effects of berberine. However, it may cause digestive side effects, such as an upset stomach, constipation, or nausea. Berberine can also cause a rash or headache in some people.
A pregnant or breastfeeding woman should not use berberine without the approval of a healthcare provider. Although studies have not shown that berberine is harmful to a developing fetus or breastfeeding baby, definitively proving that it is safe will require further studies.
Research suggests that berberine could be a promising treatment for several conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Berberine is a natural remedy that could be as powerful as some prescription drugs. As such, people should use it with care and speak with a doctor before taking it.