Berberine: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects | Guide to a Natural Supplement

Written by Salma Younas | Last updated on August 4, 2023

Berberine is a natural nutrient with significant attention and many health benefits.

Its origins meet with traditional Chinese medicine—used for centuries in healing practices. Recent studies suggest berberine's potential to address conditions like metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and gastrointestinal disorders [1].

Whether you're new to Berberine or simply looking to expand your knowledge, we've got you covered.  

You will discover the uses of berberine and various health benefits, from digestive health and blood sugar management to cardiovascular support and weight loss. 

In this article, we’ll also cover the potential benefits of berberine, backed by scientific evidence while addressing possible side effects.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is an alkaloid, bioactive compound yellow in color extracted from various plants' bark, leaves, twigs, rhizomes, roots, or stems, such as Berberis aristata, Coptis chinensis, Berberis vulgaris, Xanthorhiza simplicissima, Eschscholzia californica, etc [2].

Alkaloids are a group of organic substances found in plants, mostly made up of basic nitrogen atoms. Eating them can significantly affect our bodies, especially circulatory and metabolic health [3].

For many years the use of berberine has been common in Chinese and Indian traditional herbal medicine, where this chemical was used to treat different health conditions.

New scientific studies also confirmed the benefits of Berberine in many health issues [2].

Berberine is an anti-tumor, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory, fighting against parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It is strong enough to reduce antibiotic resistance and give long-term benefits. It also relieves flu and colds caused by bacterial infection [4]. 

Uses of Berberine

Berberine has been traditionally used for various purposes, and modern research is uncovering its potential in several areas. 

Traditional uses

In 3000 years, most formulations of berberine were used in different traditional medicine systems, including Chinese medicine and traditional Ayurveda.

Plants containing berberine cure infectious diseases, pain, inflammation, constipation, and other pathological conditions. Old evidence also proved that barberry fruit could purify the blood [5]. 

In Ayurveda, these plants work as an antidote and are commonly used to treat [6]:

  • Snake bites

  • Wound healing

  • Scorpion sting

  • Ear and eye infection

Puree of Indian barberry and honey was also used to treat jaundice.

Health Benefits of Berberine

Berberine has a variety of health benefits [7, 8, 9]:

Works as an Antidepressant

Using berberine is very beneficial for patients with depression issues like loss of interest in daily activities, depressed mood, and anxiety.

Antidepressants are commonly used in this condition, but berberine has the same effect as antidepressants and can alleviate the signs of depression.

Delays Alzheimer’s disease

Berberine delays the process of Alzheimer’s disease and risk factors like metabolic syndrome linked with this condition. This disease destroys mental health and lower brain functions, causing hypertension and memory loss.

Manages Blood Sugar Levels

Berberine is also used in diabetes patients; it improves insulin secretion and controls high blood sugar. In type 2 diabetes patients, it maintains the blood glucose level except for some gastrointestinal discomfort.

Studies have revealed that berberine enhances insulin sensitivity, thus allowing pancreatic cells to respond better to insulin.

It also improves glucose uptake and reduces fasting blood glucose levels with improved glycemic control. Berberine activates an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) which ultimately regulates glucose metabolism.

Support Cardiovascular Health

The use of berberine possesses many cardiovascular benefits. It is evidenced from research that berberine lowers LDL (low-density lipoprotein or also known as bad cholesterol) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

It increases HDL (High-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol) cholesterol levels. 

Antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and lipid-lowering effects make berberine an incredible supplement for heart health. Berberine may also maintain healthy blood pressure levels.

Promotes Weight Loss

Berberine may manage weight by enhancing fat burning through fast metabolism. It also reduces fat storage by inhibiting the growth of fat cells (adipocyte differentiation). 

Berberine regulates appetite, reduces cravings, and controls calorie intake. These combined effects make berberine a miracle supplement for individuals seeking natural weight loss techniques.

Addresses Gut Health

Berberine maintains microbial flora inside the gut. It works as an antimicrobial and kills harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

It also kills parasites and certain fungi. The combined effect helps to alleviate certain digestive issues.  

It has been studied that Berberine can also manage inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease because it also possesses anti-inflammatory properties [10].

Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects

Berberine works as an anti-inflammatory by reducing the production of inflammatory markers. Chronic inflammation arises due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Berberine also acts as an antioxidant. It helps neutralize harmful free radicals and saves cells from oxidative damage. Berberine becomes a valuable compound due to its dual action.

Possible Side Effects of Berberine

Berberine is generally safe for short-term use. It has been noticed that it may also cause some side effects in certain individuals. Common side effects of berberine can include [11, 12]:

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating or gas

These are usually mild and temporary side effects. They resolve when the body adjusts or gets used to the supplement. 

Interactions and Contraindications of Berberine

Berberine may interact with various medications and health conditions. 

It has been reported that Berberine enhances the anticoagulant effects of certain medicines and can potentially increase the risk of bleeding.

So, if you are on blood thinners, use them with caution and consult your healthcare provider before taking berberine supplements [12].

As Berberine can also lowers blood sugar levels, if you take antidiabetic medications, you must monitor blood glucose levels and consult your physician [13]. 

Berberine also helps manage cholesterol levels, so if you take statins to control your fat levels, you must take caution to reduce the risk of muscle pain or damage [14].

Berberine is excreted via the liver and bile. It is advisable to exercise caution if you are experiencing any liver malfunction or disease. 

Berberine somehow affects kidneys as well, so take caution before using berberine.

It has been noticed that berberine can cross the placenta, so pregnant or breastfeeding women should use berberine with the advice of a healthcare professional.

Interaction with Plant Sources

Berberine can interact with certain plants. It can stop the platelets from sticking together, increasing the chances of bleeding.

Interaction can be seen with plants like ginger, clove, garlic,  ginkgo, angelica, and biloba [15].

Recommended Dosage

The dosage of berberine varies and depends on individual health needs. Commonly recommended dosage range from 500-1500 milligrams per day

The doses are divided into two to three doses. 

To gain optimal results, it is important to take a lower dosage. The increase in dosage should be gradual so that the body adjusts naturally. High doses of berberine can cause gastrointestinal side effects [16, 17]. 

Sources of Berberine

Berberine is found in many plants [18, 19]:


The botanical name of Barberry is Berberis vulgaris. It is a shrub found in Europe, India, and Siberia. Parts of the barberry plant containing berberine are bark, roots, and berries.


Goldenseal is also known as Hydrastis canadensis. It is a herb found in North America. The root is the main part where berberine is in high content.

Oregon Grape

Oregon grape’s other name is Mahonia aquifolium, a shrub found easily in western North America. The roots and bark of the plant are rich sources of berberine.

Chinese Skullcap

Chinese skullcap is a flowering herb. It is a traditional Chinese medicine with berberine in its roots.

Similar Supplements to Berberine

Other supplements similar to berberine are [20]:


Curcumin is found in turmeric. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It supports bone health, brain function, etc.

Milk Thistle

The seeds of the Milk thistle plant contain milk thistle. It is extracted from the plant and enhances liver health by protecting the liver from further damage. An active compound known as silymarin is found in this plant and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.


Resveratrol is found in fruits such as grapes and certain berries. It is also found in red wine and has anti-aging and cardiovascular benefits due to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Green Tea Extract

It is obtained from the extract of leaves called the Camellia sinensis plant. Bioactive catechins in the extract can help manage management, cardiovascular health, etc.


Metformin is also used to treat type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, and it drops blood sugar by improving how the body uses insulin. Metformin is also sometimes used to treat the signs of PCOS, just like berberine.

Gymnema Sylvestre

Like berberine, Gymnemagymnema sylvestre also has anti-diabetic properties that can help lower blood sugar and the chance of heart disease by increasing insulin production and regenerating insulin-secreting islet cells.


Inositol is another compound that works in the same manner as berberine.

It helps the cells take in glucose from the blood. Whichwhich lowers blood sugar levels. It also raises the number of sperm, their ability to move, and the health of the oocytes and embryos.

What to Look For in Berberine Supplements

The following things should take into consideration before buying Berberine supplements [21]:

Quality and Purity 

Pick a brand that has got some reputation in the market. Check reviews and comments of past customers to ensure the product's quality and purity.

Look for supplements in Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) that contain no contaminants.

Standardized Extract

Check a standardized extract of berberine. Ensure that the product is consistent and has mentioned amount of berberine for accurate dosing.


Berberine’s bioavailability is low when taken orally. It means it will not be absorbed easily and lesser amounts will be available in the blood.

Search for a supplement that is combined with absorption-enhancing piperine or liposomal formulations [22].

Additional Ingredients

Some berberine supplements may contain additional ingredients to enhance their effects or address specific health concerns.

Consider whether you prefer a standalone berberine supplement or one that combines berberine with other beneficial compounds.

Third-party Testing

Look for companies with third-party test results and certificates of analysis to ensure accurate dosage and original ingredients.


The general recommended dosage is between 900 mg and 1500 mg per day. It can also be taken in 500 mg capsules thrice daily. Look for supplements that come under this dosage bracket.

Manufacturer reputation

Searching for manufacturers with good reputations is crucial. Look for a company that adheres to good production practices (GMP) to ensure the safety and quality of the product.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a downside to taking Berberine?

Higher doses of Berberine may cause diarrhea or abdominal discomfort. It also has interactions with medications and other existing medical conditions.

Consider taking advice from a doctor or nutritionist before starting berberine supplementation.

What does Berberine do for weight loss?

Berberine can enhance metabolism and reduce fat storage by regulating appetite. It burns fat, reduces cravings, and controls calorie intake, resulting in weight loss.

Lifestyle patterns vary from person to person, so weight loss varies accordingly. 

Is Berberine just as good as metformin?

Berberine has similar effects to metformin (it is used to manage blood sugar levels in diabetic patients).

Berberine increases insulin sensitivity, lowers blood glucose, and offers other health benefits. 

A choice between Berberine and metformin depends on the health condition and should be made according to the healthcare professional’s advice.

Which foods contain Berberine?

Berberine is a natural dietary supplement and is present in various plants; barberry, goldenseal, Oregon grape, etc. We can not take these plants as a whole, so berberine supplements are available in the market. 

Why is Berberine not for long-term use?

Long-term safety data is limited, so Berberine should be used for the short term.

Long-term use poses liver and kidney damage risks.

Prolonged or excessive use of berberine may pose risks, especially for liver and kidney function. It is advisable to follow recommended doses and adhere to the healthcare professional's guidance on use duration.

Is Berberine hard on the kidneys?

Berberine may negatively affect individuals whose kidney functions are already compromised.

Also, there is limited evidence is available, so people with impaired kidney functions should exercise caution and consult their healthcare provider to assess berberine supplementation's potential risks and benefits.


Berberine offers many potential health benefits, from blood sugar management to cardiovascular support, weight loss, and more. It is quite safe and effective when used appropriately. 

However, certain factors, including possible side effects, interactions, and individual health conditions, should be considered before starting this supplement. 

Try to take personalized advice from your healthcare provider, ensuring Berberine's safe and optimal use. 


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About the author 

Salma is an experienced community pharmacist who's worked at multiple well-known pharmaceutical companies including Dynatis Limited and Medipak Limited

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