Berberine is an alkaloid compound that has been used for over a thousand years as part of traditional Chinese medicine for its positive effects on lowering blood sugar, weight loss, and improved heart health (1).
It’s one of the only supplements that can be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs. Modern berberine is extracted from various plants, including goldenseal, European barberry, and tree turmeric. Current research has confirmed many of the traditional uses of berberine are relevant today. Studies have shown that berberine is an effective treatment for high blood pressure (2).
It can also reduce total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol, helping prevent a range of cardiovascular problems. Berberine is also effective when used to treat type 2 diabetes. It helps regulate insulin in the body, lowering elevated blood sugar. It can also break down sugar, preventing excess blood sugar levels (3).
Berberine can help with weight management as well, with studies showing significant drops in total body fat after 3 months of daily berberine use. Berberine also reduces blood sugar levels, so it should not be used with other medications that lower blood sugar. Although berberine is generally considered safe, there are a few commonly reported minor side effects. However, the long term effects (more than 12 months) of berberine consumption are yet to be studied.
1Berberine can help lower blood sugar levels. Research has indicated that berberine may be an effective natural treatment for type 2 diabetes (4).
Type 2 diabetes is a medical condition where the body cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is less effective, so sugar is not broken down. High blood sugar levels can cause severe organ damage, increasing the risk of heart disease and kidney failure. Diabetes can also cause damage to vision. Supplementation with berberine led to a significant reduction in blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes (5).
It appears to work in many different ways. It helps increase the body’s response to insulin, which is the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. Berberine also appears to speed up glycolysis, the process where the body breaks down sugars.
2Berberine can help with weight loss. Many of the properties that make berberine effective for type 2 diabetes are also useful for losing weight. Studies have shown the berberine can cause weight loss and a reduction in total body fat with few notable side effects. Obese people were given 300 mg of berberine three times a day. They showed significant changes in body mass index after just three months. Most patients moved from being obese to being overweight (6).
It’s believed that berberine helps regulate molecules that control fat production and fat burning in the body, such as insulin. It may also prevent the growth of fat cells and regulate the metabolism of sugar. The insulin regulating properties of berberine mean that it may be able to help keep weight off once it’s lost.
Berberine also has significantly fewer side effects than other treatments for weight loss, including bariatric surgery.
3Berberine can help fight depression. Berberine may also be a useful treatment in some cases of depression. It also has fewer side effects than standard antidepressants, making it a less risky natural alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals. Research conducted on rats has shown that berberine is a natural antidepressant, increasing activity levels, and decreasing fatigue (7).
The exact role of berberine in depression is still largely unknown. Early research indicates that berberine can reduce inflammation in the brain. There are studies linking brain inflammation to depression, so this may be why berberine is sometimes effective for treating the condition.
As these studies were conducted in rats, more research is needed to understand the effects of berberine on depressed humans.
4Berberine may be able to reduce the likelihood of heart failure. Heart failure can lead to sudden death, as the body no longer receives a sufficient amount of blood. Berberine may be effective for some patients with heart failure, helping prevent sudden death. Patients who were given berberine had greater exercise capacity, less fatigue, and a lower frequency of sudden cardiac events. This research indicates that berberine can significantly improve the quality of life in people with heart failure (8).
5Berberine can help to reduce cholesterol levels. Berberine has long been used to reduce cholesterol and improve circulatory health. Studies have confirmed the role that berberine plays in regulating cholesterol levels. Berberine acts by lowering levels of total cholesterol, as well as LDL, which is the “bad” form of cholesterol (9).
Lower cholesterol can reduce the risk of developing heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases. Berberine also helps regulate blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes, which can significantly increase the risk of getting heart disease. For people with high cholesterol and diabetes, berberine acts through multiple different mechanisms to protect the heart.
6Berberine may help slow the progression of cancer cells. Berberine may also be a useful supplement for slowing the growth of certain cancers (10).
Studies have shown that it has anti-tumor properties and that it can prevent some types of cancer cells from spreading. Note that berberine has not been shown to be effective as a primary treatment for any form of cancer. It should never be used as a first-line treatment, but should only be combined with other medication. If you are considering using berberine as a supplementary treatment for cancer, speak to your doctor.
7Berberine may have neuroprotective effects. Dementia and other neurological diseases are widespread, burdening millions of people and significantly lowering quality of life in older age. Berberine may be able to help prevent certain types of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases (11).
Studies indicate that berberine has neuroprotective effects, helping keep brain cells healthy. It seems to promote neuroprotective factors, as well as prevent neurodegeneration (12)
This research is still early, and berberine likely isn’t effective for treating any neurological illnesses. However, it may be useful when used as a preventative agent.
8Berberine can help treat small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition where excess bacteria are found in the digestive tract. This can disturb regular digestion, and lead to diarrhea, as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms. The standard treatment for SIBO is an oral course of antibiotics. However, antibiotics often have additional gastrointestinal side effects, and they can disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut. Berberine is an effective natural alternative to antibiotics when used to treat SIBO.
Patients with SIBO were given either antibiotics or an herbal treatment containing berberine. The patients who were given the herbal treatment recovered just as quickly as those who were given antibiotics (13).
9Berberine can help reduce lung inflammation. Smoking can cause inflammation in the lungs, leading to coughing, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. Berberine has natural anti-inflammatory properties and may help prevent damage to the lungs from smoke. Mice that were given berberine before exposure to cigarette smoke showed significantly lower levels of lung injury and inflammation. (14).
More research is needed to understand if these effects are also seen in humans.
10Berberine may be able to prevent kidney damage. Diabetes can damage the kidneys, and potentially lead to renal failure. Berberine, in addition to helping regulate blood sugar levels, may also directly protect the kidneys. Studies in rats indicate that berberine helps prevent kidney damage due to insulin sensitivity. Rats were given a diet designed to harm their kidneys, as well as high doses of berberine. Researchers found that the rats given berberine had much healthier kidneys (15).
11Berberine can help the body fight off infections. Berberine has natural antimicrobial properties, killing certain types of bacteria. This may make it an effective way of treating some infections. It has also been shown to fight fungal growth, which could make it effective for slowing the spread of fungal skin conditions (16).
Although berberine may have antimicrobial properties, it should not be used as a replacement for antibiotics.
12Berberine helps to prevent fat deposits on the liver. Liver function can be impacted when excess fat is deposited. Berberine has been shown to help the body regulate blood sugar and fat formation, and may be able to prevent fat deposits on the liver. Berberine has been shown to reduce the amount of fat deposited on the liver, improving function, and helping to prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (17).
13Berberine can help reduce the severity of diarrhea. Berberine has natural antibacterial properties and is also anti-inflammatory. These properties make it useful for treating certain cases of diarrhea (18)
It can kill bacteria that cause gastrointestinal distress, as well as reduce inflammation throughout the digestive tract.
Berberine should not be used as a replacement for antibiotics in cases of severe bacterial infections of the digestive tract. However, it’s a safe and effective alternative to antibiotics when used for milder infections or cases of gastrointestinal discomfort.
14Berberine may help heal canker sores. A 2013 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial showed that a gel containing 5mg/g Berberine applied daily for 6 days was able to reduce the size and pain associated with canker sores (19).
1Berberine can interact with other medications. This may result in unexpected complications if you have certain medical conditions. If you are taking medication that lowers blood sugar levels, you should consult with your doctor before taking berberine. Research has shown that berberine can regulate blood sugar levels. However, if you are already on medicine that drops blood sugar levels, berberine could cause a further decrease, pushing blood sugar to a dangerously low level.
2Berberine can cause IBS like symptoms. Some users also report that routine use of berberine can cause a range of digestive side effects, including cramps, upset stomach, constipation, and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually minor and often pass once the body adjusts to the supplement (20).
3The long term effects of berberine are unknown. There is little research on the long term effects of berberine, with most studies lasting no longer than 12 months. Although berberine is likely safe when taken for prolonged periods, more studies are needed to understand its long term effects on the body.
4Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctor before using berberine. There is little research on the safety of the supplement in pregnant women, so take extra caution. Children should also avoid berberine unless instructed to take it by a doctor.
Berberine does not have a standard recommended dose, with amounts varying widely depending on the specific medical condition it’s used for. You should check the strength of the berberine you buy, as it can vary widely by the producer.
People taking berberine for weight loss saw significant results when supplementing with 300 mg three times a day.
Studies, where berberine was used to treat high blood pressure, used a dose of 1500 mg, split into three doses of 500 mg taken throughout the day.
Other studies that have used berberine to regulate blood sugar levels used a dose of around 1000 mg, split into two or three doses.
Most studies with berberine have used a dose of around 500 to 2000 mg, although there has been some research using higher doses without any major side effects.
Higher doses of berberine show few side effects and are likely safe. However, there may be some gastrointestinal discomfort when supplementing with high doses. To minimize side effects, start with a low amount, and slowly work your way up to the target dose. Taking berberine with food may also reduce the risk of stomach pain or digestive issues.
Is berberine safe? Yes, studies using berberine to treat a wide range of medical conditions found few side effects associated with the use of the supplement.
The side effects that are seen with berberine tend to be minor and include stomach discomfort, cramps, diarrhea, and constipation. Many of these side effects go away as the body gets used to berberine.
Can you take berberine with other medications? In most cases, yes. Berberine does not interact strongly with most medications. However, if you are taking medication that lowers blood sugar, you should speak to your doctor before using berberine. It can also reduce blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous in combination with medication that also affects blood sugar.
Can berberine be taken long term? Berberine shows few side effects when taken for up to 12 months. However, there is little research on the long term effects of berberine. It’s likely safe, but more research is needed to understand what berberine does to the body when taken for prolonged periods. If you plan on taking berberine long term for a specific medical condition, you should speak to your doctor first. It could interact with some other medications, which could have more serious complications when taken for prolonged periods.
What time of day should you take berberine? Berberine is broken down quickly by the body. That means that you’ll have to take it throughout the day to ensure that it’s always in your system. Take berberine in the morning, preferably with food. You should then take another dose around midday or in the afternoon, and then a third dose in the evening. Most berberine supplements come as capsules, but you can also find powder formulations.
When will you start seeing effects from berberine? It can take a while for berberine to have an impact on the body. Some patients using berberine to reduce cholesterol saw effects within a few weeks, but it took months for it to have a substantial impact. For weight loss, berberine showed significant results in around 3 months. If you are using berberine to regulate blood sugar levels, you will likely see positive short-term results, but it can take weeks for it to reach its maximum efficacy.
Can berberine be used alongside statins, such as metformin? Yes, berberine can indeed be used alongside statins like metformin. Studies have used berberine with statins without any noticeable side effects. Berberine may actually increase the effectiveness of many statins, working together to reduce high blood pressure. If you are planning on using berberine with statins, you should still speak to your doctor, as it may affect their treatment plan.
How is berberine taken? Berberine is a compound found in a number of plants and is extracted to produce more potent supplements. In most cases, berberine is taken orally, usually as a powder in a capsule.
Is berberine useful for treating arthritis? There is no research that shows berberine is effective for arthritis. Some studies have shown that berberine has anti-inflammatory properties. Since arthritis is caused by increased inflammation, many people have wondered if berberine would be useful for treating arthritis.
Does berberine kill good bacteria? Early but promising evidence suggests that berberine can boost intestinal health by balancing out your microbiome, the collective bacteria living in your gut.
Is berberine good for the liver? Berberine also has an improvement effect on NAFLD patients’ insulin resistance and fatty liver condition. However, more long term studies are needed.
Is berberine better than metformin? Both berberine and metformin increase the cellular uptake of energy compounds and break down energy storage. Berberine has been shown to decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, while metformin has been shown to decrease fatty acids, triglyceride, and LDL cholesterol.
Can berberine be taken with probiotics? Probiotic supplements contain bacteria that are thought to be beneficial to health. Berberine might kill certain probiotic strains. If taken together, berberine might reduce how well probiotic supplements work.
How much berberine should I take? The standard dose of berberine is 900-2,000mg a day, divided into three to four doses. Berberine should be taken with a meal, or shortly after, to take advantage of the blood glucose and lipid spike associated with eating.
Is berberine the same as barberry? Barberry and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) are often used for similar medicinal purposes because both herbs contain the chemical berberine. Berberine has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria in test tubes and may help the immune system function better.
What plants contain berberine? Berberine is a quaternary ammonium salt from the protoberberine group of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids. It is found in plants such as Berberis, Mahonia aquifolium, Hydrastis canadensis, Xanthorhiza simplicissima, Phellodendron amurense, Coptis chinensis, Tinospora cordifolia, Argemone mexicana, and Eschscholzia californica. Berberine is usually found in the roots, rhizomes, stems, and bark.
Is berberine used as a dye? Due to berberine’s strong yellow color, Berberis species were used to dye wool, leather, and wood. Wool is still dyed with berberine today in northern India. As a natural dye, berberine has a color index of 75160.
When is the first recorded use of berberine? Berberine was supposedly used in China as folk medicine by Shennong around 3000 BC. This first recorded use of berberine is described in the ancient Chinese medical book The Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic.
Should you take multiple doses or berberine per day or just one big one? Berberine has a half-life of several hours, so it is necessary to spread your dosage to several times per day to achieve stable blood levels.
Berberine is an herbal supplement that has been shown to be effective for treating a wide range of medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and SIBO. It has few side effects and is generally safe when used with other medications.
Studies have shown that berberine is effective for lowering both total cholesterol and LDL, helping to improve cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease. It can also help regulate blood sugar levels and help treat type 2 diabetes, as well as lower high blood pressure (21).
Additionally, berberine may have neuroprotective effects. Studies show that it boosts neuroprotective factors, helping prevent dementia and movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease (22).
Berberine is safe, with few major side effects or severe interactions with medication. It can cause mild stomach discomfort, as well as constipation, diarrhea, and cramps. If you are taking medication that reduces blood sugar, speak with your doctor before using berberine, as it could drop blood sugar levels below healthy levels.