Berberine is a powerful compound found in a variety of plants. It is especially beneficial for people with diabetes or high cholesterol. Check out this comprehensive post on how berberine might help you.

What is Berberine?

Where Does it Come From and How is it Used?

Berberine is a compound found in several different plants, including Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and Chinese goldthread (Coptis chinensis) Berberine has a 3000-year history of use in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine [1, 1].

It has many proven and potentially beneficial effects on health, especially for people with diabetes or cholesterol issues.

Health Benefits of Berberine

1) Helps Fight Diabetes

A meta-analysis determined that berberine is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes [2].

In one study, berberine (0.5 g, 3x/day for 3 months) performed similarly to metformin (a diabetes medication). It reduced hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels, fasting blood glucose, blood glucose following a meal, and triglycerides levels in 36 patients with type 2 diabetes. In the other half of the study, 48 patients with type 2 diabetes treated with berberine had similar results and also reduced plasma insulin. Total cholesterol and LDL decreased as well [3].

In another study, 1 g/day berberine reduced fasting and post-meal blood glucose and HbA1c, triglyceride, total cholesterol, and LDL levels (116 patients with type 2 diabetes) [4].

In rat studies, berberine increased insulin expression, beta cell regeneration (the cells that make insulin), antioxidant activity, and decreased lipid peroxidation [5, 6].

Berberine can potentially help with diabetes in a number of different ways:

  • Directly increasing AMPK, which stimulates glucose uptake in muscle cells and helps balance high blood sugar (rat and cell studies) [7, 8, 9]
  • Delay the breakdown of carbohydrates into simple sugars (rat study) [10]
  • Enhancing glucagon secretion (rat study) [11]
  • Mimics insulin action by increasing the ability of the body to take up glucose (cell study) [12]
  • Decreasing glucose transport through the intestinal lining (cell study) [13]
  • Increasing adiponectin, a protein which helps regulate blood sugar levels (through AMPK) (cell study) [14]
  • Activating the blood sugar transport activity of glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1) (cell study) [15]
  • Activating the fatty acid receptor GPR40 (cell study) [16]
  • Protecting the beta-cells of the pancreas against cell death (cell study) [17]
  • Inhibiting production of glucose in the liver (rat study) [18]
  • Improving the gut microbiota (rat study) [19]
  • Inhibiting NF-kappaB (NF-kB) (cell study) [20]
  • Increasing insulin receptor expression (cell study) [21]

2) Improves Cholesterol Levels

Both berberine and a berberine supplement (berberine, policosanol, red yeast extract, folic acid, and astaxanthin) given daily for 4 weeks significantly reduced total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides and increased HDL (40 subjects with moderate cholesterol issues). Another study with 32 patients with high cholesterol, demonstrated that berberine supplementation for 3 months greatly reduced cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL-cholesterol [22, 23].

A supplement containing berberine (500 mg berberine, 10 mg policosanol, 200 mg red yeast rice, 0.2 mg folic acid, 2.0 mg coenzyme Q10, and 0.5 mg astaxanthin) lowered total cholesterol, LDL, and insulin resistance but didn’t affect HDL levels (SB-RCT with 80 patients with cholesterol issues) [24, 25, 26].

This cholesterol-lowering effect was also seen in mice [27].

The ability of Berberine to lower LDL is via:

3) Can Aid Weight Loss

Berberine (500 mg, 3/day for 12 weeks) resulted in an average weight loss of 5 lbs, as well as an improvement of triglyceride and cholesterol stats in obese patients [31].

Berberine (0.3 g/day for 12 weeks) reduced BMI and leptin levels (a hormone involved in hunger) in patients with metabolic syndrome (study with 37 patients) [32].

Berberine inhibited the production of body fat cells through up-regulation of C/EBP inhibitors, CHOP and DEC2 (cell study) [33].

4) May Benefit Heart Disease

Berberine (1.2 – 2.0 g/day) combined with several conventional therapies increased the quality of life (exercise capacity and reduced fatigue) and decreased death rates (156 patients with chronic congestive heart failure) [34].

Berberine shows potential in multiple aspects of cardiovascular health, including arrhythmias and heart rate in rat studies [35, 36].

Berberine also demonstrates a protective effect on heart muscle cells injured by the return of blood flow after blood flow restriction (such as after a stroke) in rats [37].

5) Has Anti-Parasitic Effects

Berberine combined with malaria medication (pyrimethamine) was more effective against getting rid of the infection than other combinations of drugs (pyrimethamine and tetracycline or pyrimethamine and cotrimoxazole) (215 patients) [38].

Berberine shows anti-parasitic effects on anaerobic protozoa (Giardia lamblia, Trichomonas vaginalis, and Entamoeba histolytica) as well as dog roundworm (Toxocara canis) in cell studies [39, 40, 41].

6) Heals Canker Sores

A topical application of Berberine gelatin (5 mg/g) may be an effective treatment for canker sores (84 participants) [42].

Animal Studies:

The following effects were seen in animal studies.

7) May Help With Gut Issues

Berberine was able to inhibit secretions of toxins produced by intestinal bacteria (E. coli and Vibrio cholerae) in animal models, which might explain its use as an anti-diarrhea agent in Chinese and Indian medicine [43].

Berberine reduces “leaky gut” (intestinal epithelial tight junction damage) in a mouse model of endotoxemia [44].

It also preferentially increased short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) producing bacteria in rat guts. Its normalizing effect on gut bacteria was able to improve symptoms of fatty liver disease in mice, in another study [45, 46].

Berberine also reduces the damaging effects of TNF-alpha inflammation on the intestinal lining [47].

It also inhibits particular human intestinal bacteria [48].

8) May Reduce Inflammation

Berberine has anti-inflammatory activity [49].

It also reduced inflammation of the airways caused by inhalation of cigarette smoke and from dust mite allergens in two mouse studies [50, 51].

Inflammation of the blood vessels was improved by berberine [52].

It also reduced inflammation of the liver and of the fat tissues in an animal model of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [53].

9) May Help With Arthritis

Berberine helps with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in animal models [54, 55, 56].

10) May Help Improve Learning & Memory

Berberine improved learning and memory caused by diabetes in rat studies [57, 58].

Berberine was thought to improve memory by:

  • stimulating cholinergic enzyme activity and reducing inflammation [59].
  • preventing the cell death of neurons with reduced blood flow (low oxygen) to the brain [60].

11) May Protect the Liver

Berberine protected against toxin-induced liver damage in rats via antioxidant effects [61].

It also protected against infection-related liver damage in mice [62].

12) May Help With Colitis

In rats with ulcerative colitis, berberine reduced inflammation but also killed the commensal (good) bacteria in the gut. In another study, berberine reduced inflammation in the gut of mice with colitis and intestinal damage [63, 64].

Some of the methods by which it might do this are by inhibiting lipid peroxidation, intestinal bacterial growth, and NF-κB inflammation [65].

13) May Help With Diabetic Complications

Berberine can relieve injury to the kidneys in diabetic rats with kidney issues [66, 67].

Berberine works by inhibiting NF-κB and by inhibiting aldose reductase and oxidative stress in kidney cells of rats [68, 69].

14) May Help Lower Blood Pressure

Berberis vulgaris fruit extract lowered blood pressure and dilated blood vessels in rats, making it a good potential candidate as a treatment for high blood pressure [70].

15) May Reduce Depression

Berberine acts as an antidepressant by increasing levels of key neurotransmitters in the hippocampus and frontal cortex of the brain [71].

A rat study suggested that berberine may be useful for alleviating the depression and anxiety that often follow morphine addictions [72].

16) May Protect Brain Cells

Berberine reduced brain cell death in rats that were given strokes via reduced blood flow to the brain [73].

In a cell study, berberine increased levels of enzymes associated with regulation of inflammation of brain cells [74].

17) May Improve Mitochondrial Function

Berberine creates new mitochondria by increasing SIRT1 and the NAD+/NADH ratio in rats [75].

Cellular Studies:

The following effects were seen in vitro.

18) Is a Potential Anti-Cancer Agent

Berberine shows promise as a general anti-cancer agent, killing cancer cells and blocking proliferation in many cell studies [76, 77].

Berberine can also work synergistically with conventional cancer drug doxorubicin in cell studies [78].

  1. Brain Cancer: Berberine induces cell death in human brain cancer (glioblastoma) cells. It had a potent anti-tumor effect on glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), which is the most common type of malignant brain cancer and known to be a grim diagnosis [79, 80].
  2. Breast Cancer: Coptis extracts (which contain berberine) enhance the anticancer effect of estrogen receptor antagonists on human breast cancer cells. The effect of Berberine on the growth of anoikis-resistant breast cancer cells was greater than treatment with doxorubicin, a drug commonly used to treat breast cancer [81, 82].
  3. Cervical Cancer: Berberine-induced cell death in human cervical cancer cells [83, 84].
  4. Colon Cancer: Berberine-induced cell death in colon tumor cells (through activation of an apoptosis-inducing factor). Derivatives of berberine are even stronger against colon cancer than the original compound [85, 86].
  5. Liver Cancer: Berberine-induced cell death in liver cancer cells. Berberine also inhibited Aspergillus flavus, a common fungal infection that produces cancer-causing compounds in the liver [87, 88].
  6. Lymphoma: Berberine is a potential anti-tumor agent for primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), which is a type of cancer associated with AIDS [89].
  7. Oral Cancer: Berberine-induced cell death in human oral cancer cells [90, 91].
  8. Thyroid Cancer: Berberine reduced thyroid cancer cell growth [92, 93].

19) Is Antibacterial and Antifungal

Berberine shows effectiveness against a variety of microbes in a cell study [94]:

  • S. aureus
  • P. aeruginosa
  • E. coli
  • Candida albicans

And also: S. cerevisiae, A. pullulans, T. viride, M. gypseum, B. subtilis, Z. ramigera, A. niger, F. nivale, P. chrysogenum and T. viride [94].

20) Has Potential Antiviral Effects

Berberine may be useful for the treatment of infections with influenza A virus [95].

Berberine had antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus [96].

Berberine had antiviral activity against HIV [97].

21) May Potentially Benefit Alzheimer’s Disease

Berberine inhibits proteins (beta-amyloid and amyloid-beta peptide) involved in Alzheimer’s disease in cell studies [98, 99].


Drug Interactions

Repeated doses of berberine inhibit cytochromes P450 in humans, altering the normal breakdown of drugs [100].

Side Effects of Berberine

Mild adverse digestive effects were observed among a few subjects in studies, such as abdominal discomfort (nausea, distension, diarrhea). Constipation was ameliorated by reducing the dose of berberine [101].

Berberine Reviews

Several people commented that berberine supplementation helped them with their blood sugar levels.

A few people commented that berberine is great.

One person lost a significant amount of weight from taking it but another user said there was no change in their weight.

One user said they didn’t see any changes in their health.

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