What Is Berberine and What Are its Benefits?

The main benefits of berberine are to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar, facilitate weight loss and prevent heart disease. We show you some of its other benefits and side effects.
What Is Berberine and What Are its Benefits?
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Written by Daniela Andarcia

Last update: 15 November, 2023

Although berberine is related to the treatment of diabetes and the control of cholesterol levels, it has many other benefits too. It’s a chemical that can be found in various plants such as European barberry, goldenrod, goldenseal and Oregon grape.

It’s also known to help weight loss, improve cardiovascular health and reduce fat accumulation in the liver. Find out what berberine is, how it can improve health, and its possible side effects.

What is berberine and how does it work?

Berberine is a bioactive compound that belongs to the alkaloid group and is present in different plants, most notably the Berberis family of shrubs. It’s a yellow substance that has been used as a dye and has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine.

It has been shown that berberine can benefit the various biological systems of the body. This is possible because, after ingestion, absorption and transportation through the bloodstream occurs. Once in the cells, this compound binds to other molecules and changes them, just as a drug would.

Another function of this substance is to activate an enzyme found in the cells, which is called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). In general, this enzyme is found in organs such as the brain, muscles, kidneys, heart, and liver and is important in the control of metabolism.

Berberine plant.
Berberine isn’t obtained from a single plant, but other vegetables also contain the substance as an alkaloid.

Main benefits of berberine

Traditional Chinese medicine has used berberine in the treatment of many ailments. We show you what benefits science attributes to this important chemical substance.

1. It reduces blood sugar levels

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease in which the patient experiences high blood sugar levels as a result of insulin resistance or lack of it. These high values are capable of damaging tissues and organs causing serious problems.

A study published in Biochemistry and Cell Biology showed that berberine can significantly lower blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Similarly, research published in Metabolism showed that it can be as efficient as metformin.

Another study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology showed that berberine is able to decrease insulin resistance, increase glycolysis, decrease sugar production in the liver, delay the breakdown of carbohydrates in the intestine, and increase its number of good bacteria.

Finally, a study of 116 diabetic patients published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism suggested that consuming 1 gram of berberine daily on an empty stomach can reduce blood sugar by 20%. The same research showed that this substance reduces glycosylated hemoglobin by 12% and lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

2. Helps weight loss

Berberine is also linked to weight loss. A 12-week study of obese people showed that taking 500 milligrams three times a day resulted in a loss of more than 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) and 3.6% of body fat.

Similarly, another study of 37 men and women with metabolic syndrome showed that taking 300 milligrams of berberine 3 times a day reduced body mass index (BMI) from 31.5 to 27.4 in just 3 months.

For the researchers, the weight loss is the result of an improvement in the functions of fat-regulating hormones (insulin, adiponectin and leptin), as well as the inhibition of the growth of their cells at the molecular level. However, more research is still needed.

3. Reduces cholesterol and the risk of heart disease

A review of 11 studies published in Planta Medica showed that berberine can lower total cholesterol by 0.61 mmol/L, decrease bad cholesterol (LDL) by 0.65 mmol/L, reduce blood triglycerides by 0.50 mmol/L and increase good cholesterol (HDL) by 0.05 mmol/L.

It’s also capable of reducing apolipoprotein B levels by 13-15%, a substance that represents a cardiovascular risk factor. At the same time, it inhibits the PCSK9 enzyme, which generates a decrease in LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.

What other benefits does berberine provide?

The effectiveness of this compound against type 2 diabetes has been crucial to increase studies of this substance. In addition to those already mentioned, these are some of the other benefits of berberine, :

Blood sugar levels.
The best-known and most studied use of berberine is for blood glucose control.

Since the effects of berberine can last for several hours, it’s necessary to spread the recommended dosage over several intakes per day to obtain stable blood levels. The most common way is to take 3 doses of 500 milligrams, which is within the range used for scientific studies.

Side effects are limited to digestion problems such as intestinal cramps, diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, and stomach pain. In addition, if you are on medication, you should consult your doctor before starting the intake.

Berberine has multiple effects

Berberine is a bioactive compound present in different plants and widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. Its benefits include lowering cholesterol and blood sugar, facilitating weight loss and preventing the development of heart disease. In addition, those who wish to consume this substance as a supplement can ingest between 900 to 1500 mg per day.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Tillhon, M., Guamán Ortiz, L. M., Lombardi, P., & Scovassi, A. I. (2012). Berberine: new perspectives for old remedies. Biochemical pharmacology, 84(10), 1260–1267. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2012.07.018
  • Yao, J., Kong, W., & Jiang, J. (2015). Learning from berberine: Treating chronic diseases through multiple targets. Science China. Life sciences, 58(9), 854–859. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-013-4568-z
  • Lee, Y. S., Kim, W. S., Kim, K. H., Yoon, M. J., Cho, H. J., Shen, Y., Ye, J. M., Lee, C. H., Oh, W. K., Kim, C. T., Hohnen-Behrens, C., Gosby, A., Kraegen, E. W., James, D. E., & Kim, J. B. (2006). Berberine, a natural plant product, activates AMP-activated protein kinase with beneficial metabolic effects in diabetic and insulin-resistant states. Diabetes, 55(8), 2256–2264. https://doi.org/10.2337/db06-0006
  • Chang, W., Chen, L., & Hatch, G. M. (2015). Berberine as a therapy for type 2 diabetes and its complications: From mechanism of action to clinical studies. Biochemistry and cell biology = Biochimie et biologie cellulaire, 93(5), 479–486. https://doi.org/10.1139/bcb-2014-0107
  • Yin, J., Xing, H., & Ye, J. (2008). Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 57(5), 712–717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013
  • Pang, B., Zhao, L. H., Zhou, Q., Zhao, T. Y., Wang, H., Gu, C. J., & Tong, X. L. (2015). Application of berberine on treating type 2 diabetes mellitus. International journal of endocrinology, 2015, 905749. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/905749
  • Zhang, Y., Li, X., Zou, D., Liu, W., Yang, J., Zhu, N., Huo, L., Wang, M., Hong, J., Wu, P., Ren, G., & Ning, G. (2008). Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 93(7), 2559–2565. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2007-2404
  • Hu, Y., Ehli, E. A., Kittelsrud, J., Ronan, P. J., Munger, K., Downey, T., Bohlen, K., Callahan, L., Munson, V., Jahnke, M., Marshall, L. L., Nelson, K., Huizenga, P., Hansen, R., Soundy, T. J., & Davies, G. E. (2012). Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 19(10), 861–867. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2012.05.009
  • Yang, J., Yin, J., Gao, H., Xu, L., Wang, Y., Xu, L., & Li, M. (2012). Berberine improves insulin sensitivity by inhibiting fat store and adjusting adipokines profile in human preadipocytes and metabolic syndrome patients. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2012, 363845. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/363845
  • Zhou, L. B., Chen, M. D., Wang, X., Song, H. D., Yang, Y., Tang, J. F., Li, F. Y., Xu, M. Y., & Chen, J. L. (2003). Zhonghua yi xue za zhi, 83(4), 338–340.
  • Dong, H., Zhao, Y., Zhao, L., & Lu, F. (2013). The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Planta medica, 79(6), 437–446. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0032-1328321
  • Shidfar, F., Ebrahimi, S. S., Hosseini, S., Heydari, I., Shidfar, S., & Hajhassani, G. (2012). The Effects of Berberis vulgaris Fruit Extract on Serum Lipoproteins, apoB, apoA-I, Homocysteine, Glycemic Control and Total Antioxidant Capacity in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research : IJPR, 11(2), 643–652.
  • Cameron, J., Ranheim, T., Kulseth, M. A., Leren, T. P., & Berge, K. E. (2008). Berberine decreases PCSK9 expression in HepG2 cells. Atherosclerosis, 201(2), 266–273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2008.02.004
  • Kulkarni, S. K., & Dhir, A. (2008). On the mechanism of antidepressant-like action of berberine chloride. European journal of pharmacology, 589(1-3), 163–172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejphar.2008.05.043
  • Sun, Y., Xun, K., Wang, Y., & Chen, X. (2009). A systematic review of the anticancer properties of berberine, a natural product from Chinese herbs. Anti-cancer drugs, 20(9), 757–769. https://doi.org/10.1097/CAD.0b013e328330d95b
  • Li, Z., Geng, Y. N., Jiang, J. D., & Kong, W. J. (2014). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2014, 289264. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/289264
  • Cernáková, M., & Kostálová, D. (2002). Antimicrobial activity of berberine–a constituent of Mahonia aquifolium. Folia microbiologica, 47(4), 375–378. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02818693
  • Zeng, X. H., Zeng, X. J., & Li, Y. Y. (2003). Efficacy and safety of berberine for congestive heart failure secondary to ischemic or idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. The American journal of cardiology, 92(2), 173–176. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0002-9149(03)00533-2
  • Yin, J., Xing, H., & Ye, J. (2008). Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism: clinical and experimental57(5), 712–717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.