Berberine is a compound found naturally in many plants. Some research suggests that it may help promote weight loss, enhance blood sugar regulation, and protect against several chronic conditions.

Berberine is a supplement that has been associated with several potential health benefits.

In particular, berberine has been shown to lower blood sugar, increase weight loss, and improve heart health.

It may also be linked to other benefits and could aid in the treatment of conditions such as depression and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This article takes an in-depth look at berberine, how it works, and how it can affect your health.

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What is berberine?

Berberine is a bioactive compound that can be extracted from several plants, including a group of shrubs called Berberis (1Trusted Source).

Technically, it belongs to a class of compounds called alkaloids. It’s yellow and is often used as a dye.

Berberine has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, where it has been used to treat various ailments (1Trusted Source).

Now, modern science suggests that it has impressive benefits for many health concerns (2Trusted Source).

SUMMARYBerberine is a compound that can be extracted from several plants. It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.

How does it work?

Berberine has been tested in hundreds of studies.

One of the main actions of berberine is to activate an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), according to some animal studies (3Trusted Source4Trusted Source).

AMPK plays a key role in regulating metabolism and energy levels and is found in cells throughout your body (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

Berberine also affects other molecules inside cells and may even affect which genes are turned on or off. This could help protect against many chronic health conditions (7Trusted Source).

SUMMARYBerberine has a variety of functions inside cells. One of the main functions is activating an important enzyme called AMPK, which regulates metabolism.

It lowers blood sugar levels

Many studies show that berberine can significantly lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes (8Trusted Source).

It seems to work via multiple mechanisms and may help (9Trusted Source10Trusted Source):

  • decrease insulin resistance, making the blood sugar-lowering hormone insulin more effective
  • increase glycolysis, helping your body break down sugars inside cells
  • decrease sugar production in your liver
  • slow the breakdown of carbohydrates in your gut
  • increase the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut

In a 2008 study of 116 people with diabetes, taking 1 gram of berberine per day lowered fasting blood sugar by 20% (11Trusted Source).

It also lowered hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker of long-term blood sugar regulation, by 12% and improved levels of blood lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides (11Trusted Source).

According to an older review of 14 studies, berberine may be as effective as certain oral diabetes drugs, including metformin, glipizide, and rosiglitazone (12Trusted Source).

It works very well in combination with lifestyle changes and has additive effects when used with other blood sugar-lowering drugs (13Trusted Source).

SUMMARYBerberine has been shown to help lower blood sugar and HbA1c. It may be as effective as some diabetes medications.

Berberine may help you lose weight

Berberine may also be effective as a weight loss supplement.

In one older 12-week study in people with obesity, taking 500 milligrams (mg) of berberine three times per day caused about 5 pounds of weight loss, on average. The participants also lost 3.6% of their body fat (14).

Additionally, a review of 12 studies found that supplementing with berberine led to significant reductions in body weight, body mass index, and belly fat. It also decreased levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation (15Trusted Source).

Berberine also appears to inhibit the growth of fat cells at the molecular level, which could help promote weight loss (16Trusted Source).

However, more research is needed on the potential weight loss effects of berberine.

SUMMARYSome studies suggest that berberine can contribute to significant weight loss while improving many other health markers.

It lowers cholesterol and may reduce your risk of heart disease

Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death around the globe (17Trusted Source).

Many factors that can be measured in your blood are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

As it turns out, berberine has been shown to improve many of these factors.

According to a review of 16 studies, it could help (18Trusted Source):

  • decrease total cholesterol
  • decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • decrease blood triglycerides
  • increase HDL (good) cholesterol

It has also been shown to lower apolipoprotein B by 13–15% in some older studies, which is an important risk factor for heart disease (19Trusted Source20Trusted Source).

According to some research, berberine works by inhibiting an enzyme called PCSK9. This leads to more LDL cholesterol being removed from your bloodstream (21Trusted Source).

Diabetes, high blood sugar levels, and obesity are also major risk factors for heart disease, and this supplement seems to help improve all of these conditions (7Trusted Source).

Given the beneficial effects on all these risk factors, it seems likely that berberine could reduce the risk of heart disease, though more research is needed.

SUMMARYStudies suggest that berberine reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. While more research is needed, it may lower the risk of heart disease in the long term.

Other health benefits

Berberine may have numerous other health benefits:

More research on many of these benefits is necessary before firm recommendations can be made, but the current evidence is promising.

SUMMARYPreliminary studies suggest that berberine may have benefits against depression, cancer, infections, fatty liver, and heart failure. It also has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Dosage and side effects

Many of the studies cited in the article used dosages in the range of 500–1,500 mg per day.

It is common to take 500 mg three times per day before meals, for a total of 1,500 mg per day.

Berberine can interact with some medications. Do not take it with cyclosporine (33).

If you have a medical condition or are taking any medications, speak with a healthcare professional before taking berberine. This is especially important if you are currently taking blood sugar-lowering medication.

Overall, berberine has an outstanding safety profile. The main side effects are related to digestion, and there are some reports of diarrhea, constipation, and bloating (34Trusted Source).

SUMMARYA common dosage recommendation is 500 mg three times per day, half an hour before meals. Berberine may cause digestive side effects in some people.

The bottom line

Berberine is a compound that has been associated with several benefits, including decreased blood sugar levels, increased weight loss, and better heart health.

If you want to try a berberine supplement, there are a variety of options available online.

However, be sure to talk with a healthcare professional before adding it to your routine and to use it only as directed.