Berberine: Uses and Side Effects

Berberine: Uses and Side Effects

Berberine is a supplement that is gaining attention for its use in treating a wide variety of conditions. Today we’ll take a look at berberine’s uses and side effects.

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to treat or cure any medical condition. You should check with your doctor before including any new supplement into your diet.

What is Berberine?

Berberine is a compound obtained from the roots, stems, and bark of such plants as barberry and Oregon grape. It is a major component of the popular herb goldenseal. Berberine has a deep yellow color and has been used as a dye. It also has a long tradition of treating a wide variety of ailments dating back over 3000 years.

Uses for Berberine

Research into the possible use of Berberine in treating in a vast array of conditions is ongoing. The following list includes many of the ailments for which berberine is currently being studied. We’ll cite select studies next to some of the conditions below. Full sources are found at the bottom of this article.

  • Alzheimer’s disease – A 2007 Japanese study (Asai M, et al) concluded: “Our results indicate that berberine would be a promising candidate for the treatment of AD.”
  • Burns
  • Cancer – An April 2013 Chinese study (Cai Y, et al) reported, “the possibility that berberine may be useful as an alternative therapy for colorectal carcinoma.” 
  • Cholesterol – A 2013 Chinese study (Dong H, et al) concluded, “berberine may have beneficial effects in the control of blood lipid levels.” It also reported no serious side effects.
  • Diabetes – Believed to stimulate the update of glucose into the cells, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce glucose production in the liver. A 2008 trial (Zhang Y, et al) found new diabetics who had not yet started traditional medicine lowered blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Heart failure
  • HIV – A 2010 study (Zha W, et al) reported, “the potential application of berberine as a complimentary therapeutic agent for HIV infection.”
  • Infections (bacterial, fungal, & viral) – Berberine has been shown to kill a variety of germs, and is used internally and externally. It is commonly used to treat UTI’s. 
  • Intestinal disorders
  • Leukemia
  • Mental Health
  • Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Trachoma – This is an eye infection which can cause blindness. Berberine is sometimes included as an ingredient of eye drops. WebMD lists “insufficient evidence” for this treatment.
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Berberine Side Effects

The list below of possible side effects has been compiled from several sources. Most sources state that berberine is safe for most people, and the side effects below have not been widely reported. The most common side effects appear to be gastrointestinal-related.

  • Breathing problems
  • Chest pain
  • Constipation
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Hives or rashes
  • Hypertension
  • Liver problems (with long-term use)
  • May negatively affect fertility in men
  • Nausea
  • Unsafe for newborns, children, and pregnant or breast feeding women
  • Uterine contractions or miscarraige
  • Vomiting

Also Note: Berberine interacts with cyclosporine.

Purchasing Berberine

Berberine is widely sold by supplement vendors. The price for a bottle is typically about $13 to $30, depending on potency and quantity. Some bottles of berberine list purported benefits such as “cardiovascular support” or “immune support.” These claims, however, have not been evaluated by the FDA.

Bottom Line

Berberine is an exciting supplement which appears to have enormous potential. The long-term effects of berberine, however, have not been studied.

You should check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Your Turn

Have you used berberine to treat any condition? Let us know how it worked for you, and if there were any side effects.


Select Research

  • Asai M, Iwata N, Yoshikawa A, et al. Berberine alters the processing of Alzheimer’s amyloid precursor protein to decrease Abeta secretion. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2007 Jan 12;352(2):498-502.
  • Cai Y, Xia Q, et al. Berberine inhibits the growth of human colorectal adenocarcinoma in vitro and in vivo. J Nat Med. 2013 Apr 21.
  • Dong H, et al. The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Planta Med. 2013 Apr;79(6):437-46. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1328321. Epub 2013 Mar 19.
  • Janbaz KH, Gilani AH. Studies on preventive and curative effects of berberine on chemical-induced hepatotoxicity in rodents. Fitoterapia 2000;71:25-33.
  • Lau CW, Yao XQ, Chen ZY, et al. Cardiovascular actions of berberine. [review]. Cardiovasc Drug Rev. 2001;19(3):234-244.
  • Li H, Miyahara T, Tezuka Y, et al. Effect of berberine on bone mineral density in SAMP6 as a senile osteoporosis model.Biol Pharm Bull. 2003;26(1):110-1.
  • Moghaddam HK, et al. Berberine chloride improved synaptic plasticity in STZ induced diabetic rats. Metab Brain Dis. 2013 May 3.
  • Xiang J, Yu C, Yang F (December 2009). “Conformation-activity studies on the interaction of berberine with acetylcholinesterase: Physical chemistry approach”. Progress in Natural Science 19 (12): 1721–5.
  • Yin J, Xing H, Ye J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008 May;57(5):712-7. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013.
  • Zha W, et al. Berberine inhibits HIV protease inhibitor-induced inflammatory response by modulating ER stress signaling pathways in murine macrophages. PLoS One. 2010 Feb 9;5(2):e9069. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009069.
  • Zhang Y, et al. Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jul;93(7):2559-65. doi: 10.1210/jc.2007-2404. Epub 2008 Apr 8

Updated November 19, 2014
Originally published May 2013

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