What is Berberine?

What is Berberine?

Berberine is a plant dye and ancient herbal remedy that’s been used for thousands of years. While it’s actually a chemical found in a range of plants, it’s a powerful supplement that’s been proven effective for treating a range of medical conditions. If you’re interested in what this supplement can do for you in terms of conditions like IBS, type-2 diabetes, weight gain and even some types of cancer, we cover all those uses, and more in our complete guide below. We’ll explain what berberine is, the medical-backed uses for the supplement and some cautions that you should consider when using the medication. Keep these things in mind, to make the most of this supplement over time.

What is Berberine?

Berberine, or berberine hydrochloride as it’s often called in supplement form, is a chemical compound (its formula is C20H18NO4) that can be taken from a range of plants; including goldenseal, European barberry, oregon grape, tree turmeric, phellodendron and others. The plant dye has a strong yellow color and is extracted to make medications in tablet or capsule form. It’s been used as a medication, in one form or another, for thousands of years. It’s also been used to dye wool, leather and wood in the past, and is still used for wool in Northern India today.

It began as a medication to treat stomach issues such as diarrhea, but today it’s used for a wide range of illnesses and conditions. There are dozens of recorded benefits of berberine, which is exactly why so many scientists are studying the compound for additional benefits. It’s been studied for decades, and there’s still a great deal to learn about the compound. Below we break down supplementation with berberine, reactions to be aware of, and what berberine can be used for medically.

What is Berberine Good For?

Berberine is known around the world for its many benefits. Many people only know about one use for the substance, but there are actually many Berberine benefits that are good to know about. We’ll cover some of the most significant benefits below, giving everyone a good overview of what uses Berberine is best for, specifically berberine as a supplement.

Berberine for Weight Loss: The Data is Impressive!

According to this study, along with several others, berberine is a powerful tool for weight loss and fat regulation in the human body. These studies showed taking berberine regularly slowed the creation of new fat cells and also helped to burn up fat held within both brown and white fat cells. The end result of regular berberine supplementation is lower fat levels overall, and an easier time keeping weight off as well. Many studies were performed on mice, but there were some human trials that had the same results.

Using Berberine for Diabetes Treatment

Berberine has been tested for potential benefits for type 2 diabetic patients with good results. According to this study berberine supplements can offer similar benefits to Metformin the diabetic medication in terms of decreasing blood sugar levels before and after eating.  During the study, 36 adults were given a daily dose of berberine for three months and blood sugar levels dropped by as much as 3.7 mmol/L while fasting, and 8.7 mmol/L after eating, on average.

Some gastrointestinal issues were experienced by patients during the trial, but minimal additional complications were observed during the three month trial. Berberine could be a viable alternative to Metformin for some diabetics for this reason, and could help reduce symptoms that patients are dealing with, as well while still reducing blood sugar levels effectively.

Berberine is an Anti-Tumor Medication

Anyone curious about what berberine is used for will be surprised to hear that it’s being tested, more and more, as a therapy for different cancers. There are more than 600 different references concerning berberine and cancer on PubMed to date. Countless studies are being performed that show one of the berberine health benefits is on the compounds ability to reduce the growth and spread of tumors, in a range of different cancers. It’s been shown to slow the rate of cancer development, or to reduce the severity of breast, gastric, liver and certain skin cancer cases, by either stopping the spread of cells, or killing off cells that are already present through tumors.

Berberine isn’t a cure for any form of cancer, but berberine supplements can be used to help alleviate symptoms, or to slow progression.

Berberine Can Alleviate IBS-D Symptoms

Patients suffering with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) may be able to find relief from their symptoms with help from berberine supplements according to a study put out in the Phytotherapy Research journal back in 2015. The study tested 196 patients over a 4-week period by giving half a placebo, and the other half two 400mg berberine supplements on a daily basis.

After the full month testing phase, the patients taking the berberine supplement experienced fewer symptoms, and saw a rise in their overall quality of life. Taking the supplement reduced issues with diarrhea and the urgent need for defecation, and also helped to reduce issues with anxiety and depression.

There’s a clear trend toward reduced symptoms and enhanced life quality through berberine if you’re suffering with IBS, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since berberine has been used to treat diarrhea for thousands of years through herbal supplementation by the Chinese, and other civilizations.

Berberine has many more uses than the ones outlined above, but if you rely on the supplement for any of the above conditions you should get good reliable results. It’s not a miracle cure, but is a dependable supplement that’s used alongside proscribed medications such as Metformin with similar results.

How to Take Berberine

It’s no good knowing about all the benefits of taking berberine without knowing the proper berberine dosage that most people take. Berberine supplements come in different strengths and it helps to know the dose you want to take daily when deciding on a supplement size. Berberine 500mg capsules are common, and that’s because the common dose daily is between 900mg and 2,000mg split into three or four doses. The 500mg capsules would work well for anyone interested in taking between 1,500mg and 2,000mg daily.

It’s best to try different sized berberine capsules until you find the amount that works best for you. Most people start with a dose of 400-500mg and adjust it accordingly.

Take it with a Meal

In order to make the most of the glucose-lowering benefits that berberine has to offer, it’s best to take the supplement during or shortly after consuming a meal. That’s why three doses throughout the day works well for most people. Take care not to take too much berberine at any one time, or stomach discomfort, diarrhea and cramping can result.

Different Forms of Berberine

Berberine is offered for purchase in three different forms. Interested customers can purchase the supplement as a capsule, as a tablet and in powder form. All three options work the same way, the powder just requires a glass of water to take during consumption. The powder is also more difficult to measure than the tablets or capsules are.

Berberine comes as a capsule most of the time, but tablets and powder can both be found with a bit of searching. No matter what option you select, make sure that you get a dose that’s going to work well for you. This is especially important when buying capsules.

Tablets can easily be cut down for lower dosing. Powder can be taken at any dose that you desire by measuring out different amounts. Capsules are more difficult to break down and should be purchased at the right dose for you ideally.

Berberine Complications

Like many other serious supplements, berberine comes with several potential complications you should be aware of. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take berberine without experiencing at least one symptom, which is why we’ve taken the time to compile the most common symptoms and interactions that are possible while on the supplement.

Oral Side Effects of Berberine

Most patients take berberine orally and this is always the way that berberine is tested to show benefits. Taking berberine as an oral supplement can lead to some side-effects, which is part of the reason that it’s only recommended as a short-term supplement.

The following side-effects can occur when taking berberine orally:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Gas

Topical Side Effects of Berberine

Berberine is also used by some people for treating sores and other skin conditions on occasion, even though it hasn’t been proven effective for many of these uses. Fortunately there are few, if any, recorded side-effects reported when using berberine topically.

Do Not Give to Children or Infants

There haven’t been enough studies to prove that berberine is safe to give to children, and it should be strictly avoided for infants at all costs. If infants are given berberine, the medication can lead to a buildup of bilirubin in the bloodstream, severe jaundice and potential brain damage through kernicterus. That’s why it’s best to make sure infants don’t take in any of the supplement, which is why women who are breastfeeding, or pregnant, need to hold off on taking the supplement.

Berberine Can Interfere with Testosterone and Estrogen Production

It’s important to be careful about taking berberine supplements over an extended period of time, especially as an adolescent, because research suggests the compound can interfere with the creation of testosterone in men and estrogen in women.

By looking at extensive studies in mice, scientists noticed that long-term berberine exposure can lead to a lack of testosterone in male mice and estrogen in female mice. This can lead to health concerns, and can possibly lead to men looking more like women, and women with more male features, if exposed to the supplement over the long term.

Of course, more long-term studies on humans need to be conducted to come up with any conclusive results about how berberine interferes with the sex hormones, but the findings are a cause for concern. Berberine is being considered as a therapy for men with prostate cancer for precisely this reason, which shows there are some real medical grounds for concern in healthy individuals that aren’t battling prostate cancer.

Do Not Take While Breastfeeding or Pregnant

Berberine is likely unsafe to take as a woman that’s breastfeeding or pregnant. That’s because the medication can be passed on to the infant and could cause harm to the child.

Berberine Can be Dangerous to Diabetics without Care

Berberine has been shown to lower blood sugar levels, which is normally good for diabetics. There is cause for worry though because the supplement can cause blood sugar levels to get to dangerously low levels in some individuals theoretically. That’s why it’s recommended to be taken with meals for diabetics. Before taking berberine talk with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you, and be careful to monitor blood sugar levels when taking the medication.

Make sure to watch for symptoms of low blood sugar including:

  • Pale skin
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Odd heart rhythms

Berberine Can Cause Dangerously Low Blood Pressure Levels

One of the reasons people take berberine is to lower their blood pressure to healthy levels. There’s a chance that the supplement can make blood pressure levels too low, when taken by individuals that have low levels already. If your blood pressure levels are already low, avoid taking this supplement.

Berberine Drug Interactions to Consider

Berberine interacts with some medications making it potentially dangerous when taken without care. It’s especially problematic when used alongside medicines that must be processed by the liver. Below are common drug interactions that are well-known for berberine, but you should always exercise caution, and talk with your doctor before taking the supplement.

Avoid Cyclosporine While Using Berberine

Berberine should be avoided while on cyclosporine, or vice versa. When taking cyclosporine the body normally breaks it down rapidly, keeping the dose in the body at a reasonable level. When taking berberine alongside the medication the body breaks down cyclosporine at a slower rate. This can lead to a buildup of the medication within the body, and some nasty complications and side-effects.

Medications Altered by the Liver Naturally

Many medications taken by people today are processed and changed by the liver over time. This keeps their levels in check. Cyclosporine (as mentioned above) is just one of those many medications. Make sure you ask your doctor about any medications you take regularly if you’re going to be taking berberine. Berberine can slow these liver processes, and lead to medication buildup.

Some medications that should be avoided include:

  • Clarithromycin
  • Lovastatin
  • Indinavir
  • Triazolam
  • Sildenafil

There are many others to be aware of though. Find out from your doctor if you can expect any interactions with your medication.


Berberine is a powerful supplement that must be used with care. It’s more of a short-term solution for issues like high blood pressure, excessive blood sugar levels and some cancers than it is a long-term therapy. You should talk with your doctor before taking the supplement in any form, and make sure you know what sort of side-effects you can expect if you start taking it. When care is taken to use berberine properly, the supplement is a powerful tool to live a healthier lifestyle and to stave off, or alleviate, some pretty serious conditions.


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.