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Everything you need to know about berberine

Alles was Du über Berberin wissen musst

Berberine can be extracted from a number of plant species, many of which grow in parts of Asia such as China and India. These plants include turmeric, barberry, mahonia and green barberry.

Although isolated berberine is effective, it may be beneficial for supplements to contain a crude extract, as other compounds in the parent plant may interact well with berberine.

Berberine has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Scientific research suggests that berberine may help treat diabetes, obesity and inflammation, among other conditions.

Berberine appears to act in several ways in the body and is able to bring about changes within the body's cells. Scientific research suggests that berberine works at multiple targets in the body and can alleviate certain conditions while causing minimal side effects (1).

Numerous studies suggest that berberine can treat various metabolic disorders including diabetes, obesity and heart problems.

However, although berberine appears to be safe and harmless with few side effects, as with any supplement, it should be discussed with a doctor to be on the safe side, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medication.

The following sections provide an overview of the most important potential health benefits and their scientific basis.

Potential health benefits of berberine

According to scientific studies, berberine may help treat the following health problems.

Berberine may be helpful for bacterial infections

Berberine appears to be an effective antimicrobial agent. A laboratory study found that berberine can inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (2). These bacteria can lead to numerous health problems including sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis and a range of skin diseases.

Another study concluded that berberine has the ability to damage the DNA and proteins of certain bacteria, which may explain its antibacterial effect (3).

Berberine has anti-inflammatory effects

Inflammation is a key factor in many serious diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Some research suggests that berberine has anti-inflammatory effects, which means it could be used to treat diabetes and other health problems associated with inflammation (4).

Berberine may be suitable for the treatment of diabetes

Scientific research suggests that berberine could be used to treat diabetes. Studies have shown that berberine can have positive effects on blood glucose levels, blood triglyceride levels and insulin levels.

A meta-analysis suggests that berberine showed a stronger effect than a placebo when it comes to reducing blood glucose levels (5). The same analysis concluded that a combination of berberine and blood glucose-lowering drugs is more effective than the drugs alone.

According to other studies, berberine is a promising agent for the treatment of diabetes, especially for those who cannot take anti-diabetes medication due to problems such as heart disease, liver failure or kidney problems (6).

Another meta-analysis found that berberine combined with lifestyle changes was better at lowering blood sugar levels than lifestyle changes alone (7).

Berberine appears to activate AMP-activated protein kinase, which can help regulate how the body uses blood sugar. Scientists believe this activation may help treat diabetes and related health problems such as obesity and high cholesterol (8).

However, further, larger double-blind studies are needed to fully determine the safety and efficacy of berberine.

Diabetics should discuss the use of berberine as an adjunctive treatment for their disease with their treating physician, as berberine may interact with other medications.

Berberine could lower cholesterol levels

High LDL cholesterol levels and high triglyceride levels can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Some studies suggest that berberine may help lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

According to one study review, both animal and human studies suggest that berberine has cholesterol-lowering effects (9). Berberine may help lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.

A meta-analysis found that berberine in combination with lifestyle changes works better than lifestyle changes alone when it comes to treating high cholesterol levels (10).

In addition, in a study conducted with hamsters, it was observed that berberine helps to transport excess cholesterol to the liver where it can be processed and excreted (11). This, in turn, helps to lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Scientists believe that the effects of berberine are similar to the effects of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels, although berberine does not have the same side effects as these drugs (12).

Berberine could lower high blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease. A meta-analysis concluded that berberine in combination with antihypertensive drugs is more effective than these drugs alone (13).

Results from a study conducted in rats also suggest that berberine could delay the development of high blood pressure and lower existing high blood pressure (14).

Berberine could help against obesity

Obesity is a common condition that can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

A study review reported that people who took 750 mg of barberry twice daily over a 3-month period were able to achieve a significant reduction in body weight (15). Barberry is a plant that contains high amounts of berberine.

A double-blind study also concluded that subjects suffering from metabolic syndrome who took 200 mg of barberry three times a day experienced a reduction in their body mass index (BMI) (16).

The team that conducted another study observed that berberine could activate brown adipose tissue. This tissue helps the body burn food to generate heat, and increased activation of this tissue could help treat obesity and metabolic syndrome (17).

Some research suggests that berberine may work in a similar way to the drug metformin, which is often prescribed by doctors to treat type 2 diabetes (18). It is also believed that berberine may have the ability to alter gut flora, which could help treat obesity and diabetes.

Berberine may be suitable for the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome

A person suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome may also have high blood pressure. Polycystic ovary syndrome occurs when women have too high levels of certain male hormones. This syndrome represents a hormonal and metabolic imbalance that can lead to infertility and other health problems.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is associated with many health problems that could be treated with the help of berberine. For example, a person suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome may also suffer from the following:

  • High insulin levels, diabetes or both
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Increased body weight

Doctors sometimes prescribe the diabetes drug metformin to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. As berberine appears to have similar effects to metformin, it could be a good option for treating polycystic ovary syndrome.

A meta-analysis concluded that berberine could be a promising treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome with insulin resistance (19). However, the authors of the analysis also say that further studies are needed to confirm these effects.

Berberine appears to have anti-cancer effects

Berberine can induce changes within the molecules of cells and this could help fight cancer. A study review concluded that berberine has "significant inhibitory effects" on the following types of cancer (20):

  • Colorectal cancer
  • lung cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • liver cancer
  • Cervical cancer

Another study concluded that berberine may help in the treatment of cancer by interfering with the progression of cancer and its typical life cycle (21). It may also play a role in killing cancer cells.

Based on the research results, the authors of the study were very confident that berberine could be an effective and safe agent for cancer treatment. However, it is important to keep in mind that the scientists studied the effect of berberine on isolated cancer cells and not on humans.

The correct use of berberine

Berberine supplements are available in capsule and powder form. Although there is no clear dosage recommendation, most studies used dosages in the range of 1,000 to 1,500 mg per day.

Berberine can cause some side effects, which we will discuss below. It may therefore be advisable to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it over time to minimize side effects and determine individual tolerance

The daily dose can also be divided into several single doses, e.g. 500 mg three times a day, in order to maintain an even level of the extract in the body.

Side effects of berberine

Most studies have not observed any serious side effects with berberine. However, berberine can cause digestive problems such as stomach upset, constipation or nausea. Some people may also experience skin rashes or headaches.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should only use berberine in consultation with their doctor. Although studies have not shown that berberine could have harmful effects on a developing fetus or breastfed baby, more studies are needed to definitively prove the safety and harmlessness of berberine for pregnant and breastfeeding women (22).


Scientific research suggests that berberine may be a promising treatment for various conditions including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Berberine is a natural compound that may be as effective as some prescription drugs for some conditions.




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