Berberine is a compound found naturally in many plants. Some research suggests that it may help promote weight loss, enhance blood sugar control, and protect against several chronic conditions.
Berberine is a supplement that has been associated with several potential health benefits.
In particular, berberine has been shown to lower blood sugar, increase weight loss, and improve heart health.
It may also be linked to other benefits and could aid in the treatment of conditions like depression or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
This article takes an in-depth look at berberine, how it works, and how it can impact your health.
Berberine is a bioactive compound that can be extracted from several different plants, including a group of shrubs called Berberis (
Technically, it belongs to a class of compounds called alkaloids. It has a yellow color, and has often been used as a dye.
Berberine has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, where it was used to treat various ailments (
Now, modern science has confirmed that it has impressive benefits for several different health problems (
Berberine is a compound that can be extracted from several different plants. It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Berberine has now been tested in hundreds of different studies.
One of the main actions of berberine is to activate an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), according to some animal studies (
This enzyme plays a key role in regulating metabolism and energy levels and is found in the cells throughout the body (
Berberine also affects various other molecules inside cells, and may even affect which genes are turned on or off, which could help protect against many chronic conditions (
Berberine has a variety of functions inside cells. One of the main functions is activating an important enzyme called AMPK, which regulates metabolism.
Many studies show that berberine can significantly reduce blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes (
It seems to work via multiple different mechanisms and may help (
- decrease insulin resistance, making the blood sugar lowering hormone insulin more effective
- increase glycolysis, helping the body break down sugars inside cells
- decrease sugar production in the liver
- slow the breakdown of carbohydrates in the gut
- increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut
In a 2008 study of 116 people with diabetes, taking 1 gram of berberine per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 20% (
It also lowered hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker of long-term blood sugar control, by 12% and improved blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides (
According to an older review of 14 studies, berberine may be as effective as certain oral diabetes drugs, including metformin, glipizide, and rosiglitazone (
It works very well with lifestyle modifications, and also has additive effects when administered with other blood sugar lowering drugs (
Berberine has been shown to help lower blood sugar and HbA1c. It may be as effective as some pharmaceutical drugs.
Berberine may also be effective as a weight loss supplement.
In one older 12-week study in people with obesity, taking 500 milligrams (mg) of berberine three times per day caused about 5 pounds of weight loss, on average. The participants also lost 3.6% of their body fat (14).
Another review of 12 studies found that supplementing with berberine led to significant reductions in body weight, body mass index, and belly fat. It also decreased levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation (
Berberine also appears to inhibit the growth of fat cells at the molecular level, which could help promote weight loss (
However, more research is needed on the weight loss effects of berberine.
Some studies have shown that berberine can cause significant weight loss, while improving all sorts of other health markers at the same time.
Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death around the globe (
Many factors that can be measured in the blood are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
As it turns out, berberine has been shown to improve many of these factors.
According to a review of 16 studies, it could help (
- lower total cholesterol
- lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
- lower blood triglycerides
- increase HDL (good) cholesterol
It has also been shown to lower apolipoprotein B by 13-15% in some older studies, which is an important risk factor for heart disease (
According to some research, berberine works by inhibiting an enzyme called PCSK9. This leads to more LDL cholesterol being removed from the bloodstream (
Keep in mind that diabetes, high blood sugar levels, and obesity are also major risk factors for heart disease, all of which seem to be improved with this supplement (
Given the beneficial effects on all these risk factors, it seems likely that berberine could reduce the risk of heart disease, though more research is needed.
Studies show that berberine reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. While more research is needed, it may lower the risk of heart disease long-term.
Berberine may also have numerous other health benefits:
- Depression: Animal studies suggest that it may help improve symptoms of depression (
- Cancer: Test-tube and animal studies have shown that it can reduce the growth and spread of various types of cancer (
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory: It has been shown to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in some test-tube and animal studies (
25, 26, 27).
- Infections: Test-tube studies show that it can reduce the growth of harmful microorganisms, including certain types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi (
28, 29, 30).
- Fatty liver: It may reduce fat build-up in the liver, which could theoretically help protect against NAFLD (
- Heart failure: One older study showed that it improved symptoms and reduced risk of death in people with heart failure (
Many of these benefits need more research before firm recommendations can be made, but the current evidence is very promising.
Preliminary studies show that berberine may have benefits against depression, cancer, infections, fatty liver, and heart failure. It also has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
Many of the studies cited in the article used dosages in the range of 500–1500 mg per day.
It is common to take 500 mg three times per day before meals, for a total of 1500 mg per day.
If you have a medical condition or are taking any medications, it is recommended that you speak to a doctor before taking berberine.
This is especially important if you are currently taking blood sugar lowering medications.
Overall, berberine has an outstanding safety profile. The main side effects are related to digestion, and there are some reports of diarrhea, constipation, and bloating (
A common dosage recommendation is 500 mg, three times per day, half an hour before meals. Berberine may cause digestive side effects in some people.
Berberine is a compound that has been associated with several benefits, including decreased blood sugar levels, increased weight loss, and better heart health.
If you want to try a berberine supplement, there are a variety of options available online.
However, be sure to talk to a healthcare professional before adding it to your routine and use only as directed.