Berberine, or berberine hydrochloride, 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 upset stomach and nausea.
Berberine has been a part of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It works in the body in multiple ways and is able to make changes within the body’s cells.
A 2014 review suggests that berberine has a “harmonious distribution” into several targets in the body, which allows it to fight certain conditions while causing minimal side effects.
Although berberine appears to be safe and 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 could be an effective antimicrobial agent. A
S. aureus can cause many health problems, including:
Some 2014 research suggests that berberine has anti-inflammatory properties, which means 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:
The same analysis found that a combination of berberine and blood-sugar-lowering drugs is more effective than the drugs alone.
According to 2014 research, berberine shows promise as a potential diabetes treatment, especially for those who cannot take existing anti-diabetic drugs due to heart disease, liver failure, or kidney problems.
Another literature review 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 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.
Some evidence suggests that berberine could help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. According to
It may help reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and increase high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol.
A literature review found that berberine combined with lifestyle changes works better than lifestyle changes alone in treating high cholesterol.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease.
A literature review found that berberine combined with a blood-pressure-lowering drug was more effective than the drug alone.
Also, results of a study of rats indicate that berberine could delay the onset of high blood pressure and, when it does develop, help reduce its severity.
Obesity is a common condition that can increase the risk of:
- type 2 diabetes
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
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.
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Polycystic ovary syndrome
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
- high cholesterol
- 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.
Berberine can create changes within the molecules of cells, and this could have another potential benefit: fighting cancer.
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.
If berberine can help treat cancer, inflammation, diabetes, and other conditions, it may be because of a beneficial effect on gut microbiota, according to some research published in 2020. Scientists have found links between the gut microbiome — colonies of bacteria in the gut — and these conditions.
Berberine has an antibacterial action that seems to remove the harmful bacteria in the gut, and thus enhance the growth of healthy bacteria.
While studies in humans and rodents have suggested this could be true,
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) notes that berberine supplements are available as supplements or capsules.
They add that many studies suggest taking 900–1,500 mg per day, but most people take 500 mg three times per day. However, the AANP urges people to speak with a doctor before taking berberine to check that it is safe to use and how much they can take.
If a doctor agrees that berberine is safe to use, the AANP says people should also check the product label for third-party certification, for example, from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or NSF International.
The authors of a
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements. There is no guarantee of the safety or effectiveness of a supplement, and it is not always possible to verify the quality of the product.
However, if a person’s doctor has prescribed metformin, they should not consider berberine as an alternative without first discussing it with their doctor.
A doctor will prescribe the correct amount of metformin for an individual, based on clinical research. It is not possible to know how a supplement will match that amount.
Berberine can interact with metformin and affect blood sugar levels, making them harder to manage. In one study, taking berberine and metformin together led to a
One day, berberine may become a suitable alternative to metformin for managing blood sugar levels, but more research is necessary.
Berberine can cause digestive side effects, such as:
- upset stomach
It can also cause a rash or headache in some people.
In animal studies, scientists have noticed the following effects, depending on the type of animal, how much they consumed, and for how long:
- muscle tremor
- gastric ulcers
- liver and kidney enlargement
- a reduction in white blood cells
It is essential to speak with a doctor before taking berberine or other supplements, as they may not be safe or suitable for everyone to use. Anyone who develops an allergic reaction to any herbal product should stop using it at once.
People should speak with their doctor before taking products containing berberine.
Here are some possible risks, according to the NCCIH:
- Berberine may interfere with other medications, such as metformin.
- It is not always clear how much of an active ingredient is present in a supplement, which could lead to taking the wrong dose.
- Adverse effects can occur if people take too much or if a person is susceptible.
- There is not enough scientific information to prove that goldenseal and other berberine products are safe for long-term use.
- Taking berberine during pregnancy or while breastfeeding could have a negative impact on the fetus or newborn.
Research suggests that berberine could be a promising treatment for several conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. However, more research is needed to show that it is safe to use as a treatment option.
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.