Berberine

Last Updated: August 7, 2023

Berberine is a plant alkaloid with a long history of use in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for the management of various health conditions. Its seemingly potent ability to reduce blood sugar rivals that of some anti-diabetic drugs.

Berberine is most often used for

What is berberine?

Berberine is an alkaloid found in the barks, leaves, twigs, rhizomes, roots, and/or stems of various plants, such as barberry, Oregon grape, and tree turmeric. Traditionally, berberine has been used as an antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, and antidiarrheal agent in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.[1][2][3] Most research in humans has examined berberine’s effects on markers of glycemic control, blood lipids, markers of liver function, and anthropometric parameters in people with metabolic disorders.

What are berberine’s main benefits?

Evidence from clinical trials conducted in people with type 2 diabetes (T2D) suggests that berberine’s glucose-lowering effect may be on par with some anti-diabetic drugs or standards of care.[4][5] In people with metabolic disorders, limited research suggests that berberine may improve blood lipids and liver enzymes, and reduce body weight and fat mass.[6] However, most of the available trials examining the effects of berberine on the aforementioned outcomes are of poor methodological quality.[7] The best-quality clinical evidence on berberine’s effects to date are related to improvements in hormonal health in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and to immune system response. Even these studies, however, warrant interpretation with a degree of caution due to the imprecision and inconsistency of their results.[7] In those with PCOS, the evidence suggests that berberine may improve hormonal outcomes.[4] In those with a variety of metabolic conditions (T2D, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease), berberine may be able to lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker of inflammation.[8] Finally, in those with a history of colorectal cancer, it was found that berberine could potentially reduce the recurrence rates of colorectal polyps.[9]

What are berberine’s main drawbacks?

Although berberine appears to be generally safe, more long-term safety research is needed. Supplementation with berberine (especially in doses above 300 mg/day) has been reported to cause gastrointestinal side effects in some people, including diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, and stomach pain.[10] Due to its ability to reduce blood sugar, berberine may increase the risk for hypoglycemia in high doses. Additionally, berberine inhibits several enzymes involved in drug metabolism, so there’s a risk of serious drug interactions when taken alongside other medications or supplements.[11]

How does berberine work?

Berberine seems to produce most of its benefits through acting on high-level controllers of energy homeostasis, including the enzymes adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), protein kinase c (PKC), and sirtuin 1 (SIRT 1), all of which regulate biological processes related to metabolism, immunity, and inflammation.[12]

What are other names for Berberine?
Berberine should not be confused with:
  • Piperine (Black Pepper extract)
  • Berberol (Brand name)
  • Berberrubine (Metabolite)
Dosage information

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.

Too much berberine at once can result in stomach upset, cramping, and diarrhea.

Examine Database: Berberine