Berberine: The Supplement with Many Surprises
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

Berberine: The Supplement with Many Surprises

by DK Kara MD on May 10, 2022

If you’ve ever mined for gold, you know you have to sift through sand and other elements in order to find what you’re looking for.

And while gold may be small, it’s still worth quite a bit.

The same principle applies to today’s topic: Berberine.

An extract that’s pulled from many plants, this supplement has many surprises in store.

What’s so special about this natural compound? This article describes what berberine is, its many health benefits, risks, and dosing instructions.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is a bioactive compound that can be found in many different plants. It’s extracted from plants like the Berberis shrub, goldenseal, Oregon grape, European barberry, phellodendron, goldthread, and tree turmeric (1).

This powerful but bitter-tasting extract belongs to a group of compounds called alkaloids. These are typically yellow in color, and can be used as dyes.

Ancient Chinese medicine has used berberine for centuries, and modern medicine is now discovering its impressive benefits.

Now, berberine is being used as a supplement to ease different health concerns and improve quality of life.

Berberine supplements can come in powder or capsule form.

Benefits

Berberine seems to work on a cellular level, which is where it can offer the most transformation.

One of the key players here is an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK. This enzyme acts like a switch, turning certain cellular actions on or off (2).

What does berberine do for the body? It’s an ingredient that’s been added to many different supplements, each targeting a specific problem.

  • Helps heal canker sores: Small, shallow ulcers that appear on the inside of the cheek, lips can be painful, not to mention embarrassing. A clinical trial was conducted to see if berberine would help. 84 people received a gel application 4x a day for 5 days. The results were small sores and reduced pain sensations (5)
  • Aids in weight loss: Those looking for weight loss support are in for a nice surprise. Different studies show that berberine seems to tell your cells to absorb cholesterol differently, making it harder to hang on to fat (3). It also helps regulate fat-burning hormones like leptin and adiponectin. This can make your efforts more rewarding as you work towards your fitness goals.
  • Blood sugar control: A pilot study was done to see how effective berberine was in regulating blood sugars. 36 newly diagnosed diabetics took berberine daily for 12 weeks. While 34.5% of them experienced some unpleasant GI side effects, all experienced a decrease in blood sugars and total cholesterol levels (4).
  • Lessens PCOS symptoms: Because berberine helps balance blood sugars, it can also help with insulin resistance issues. PCOS is a complex issue that affects many hormonal areas, but studies show that berberine can improve insulin resistance in theca cells (6). It also seems to improve ovulation during cycles, increasing fertility percentages among those trying to get pregnant.
  • Reduces swelling: Berberine is noted to have anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties. One study noted how it helps reduce swelling in the feet, as well as inflammatory cells from getting through (7).
  • Antibacterial: Some studies suggest that berberine helps break down bacterial cell structures, aiding in their death. This seems true especially with the Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria strains (3).
  • Can improve heart health: While heart disease is a complicated issue, research shows taking berberine can help prevent congestive heart failure (8).

Other potential benefits: Studies also show berberine makes a positive difference in areas like depression, cancer, fatty liver, and fungal or parasitic infections (9,10,11,12).

Risks

What are the side effects of berberine? Taking more than the recommended dose could result in stomach upset, gas, constipation or diarrhea.

Topical applications of berberine seem to pose little risk and are considered safe.

It’s not recommended to take berberine if you’re pregnant , as it may cause neurological damage in the growing child (13). Nursing mothers should also stay away from berberine until their child is weaned.

Can children take berberine? There isn’t enough research to say, so extreme caution is advised.

Interactions

It also has the potential to interact with certain medications (14), such as:

  • Blood thinners
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Cholesterol medication
  • Steroids
  • Diabetic medication
  • Sleep aids/sedatives

Dosage

To date, berberine seems safe when taken in doses of between 900 - 1500mg per day (1).

It’s important to note that berberine has a half-life of several hours, so spacing your doses out can help maximize its benefits. Most people take 500mg 3 times a day, before meals.

If adding to eye drops or applying topically, follow the directions on the manufacturer's label or speak with your doctor for specific instructions.

In Summary

Plants can offer a variety of health benefits. Some are sweeter in taste and can be consumed raw.

Others, such as berberine extract, are bitter and need to go through a few steps before you can reap the benefits.

Berberine has become a supplement that offers many surprises. It contains anti-inflammatory properties that may aid in supporting heart health. It’s also been shown to help you lose weight, balance blood sugars, and regulate hormones.

While mostly safe to take, precautions are necessary if you fit within the criteria of pregnancy, nursing, or taking certain medications. Always talk with your doctor to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Which berberine health benefit is your favorite? Let us know by reaching out to us!

References

(1) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/berberine-powerful-supplement#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2

(2) https://diabetesjournals.org/diabetes/article/55/8/2256/12348/Berberine-a-Natural-Plant-Product-Activates-AMP

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4503092/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2410097/

(5) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23246229/

(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7028834/

(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27832398/

(8) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12860219/

(9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18585703/

(10) https://journals.lww.com/anti-cancerdrugs/Abstract/2009/10000/A_systematic_review_of_the_anticancer_properties.1.aspx

(11) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/308134/

(12) https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0104554

(13) http://www.promedics.ca/site/downloads/Berberine%20Containing%20Herbs%20-%20Pregnancy.pdf

(14) https://www.rxlist.com/berberine/supplements.htm

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author