Berberine - what is it and how is it used?

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Berberine - what is it and how is it used?

What is Berberine and how is it used?

Berberine is an alkaloid molecule we use regularly in the clinic with an array of applications including to help treat metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and PCOS amongst others.

  • What is it?
  • Why is it so valuable?
  • What is it used for?
  • Are there any cautions?
  • Some further reading


What is it?

Berberine is a plant alkaloid compound found in bark and roots of a variety of plants including Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). It is characterised by its bright yellow colour. These plants are native to the UK and US, however we do not use Goldenseal in our practice as it is highly endangered and considered at risk by United Plant Savers. 

Why is it so valuable? 

Berberine has been used for many years within traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as a natural antibiotic, antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal. Modern research is currently being carried out to confirm its use for a number of issues, most notably its role in treating the Metabolic Syndrome. We regularly use this herb to treat a variety of conditions in the clinic.

Metabolic Syndrome (also known as Syndrome X) is a condition whereby the body’s cells become resistant to insulin, resulting in increased insulin levels in the body. Insulin is responsible for the breakdown of fat, protein and glucose within the body, therefore when there is too much insulin the body is unable to breakdown these substances. Metabolic Syndrome can be a causative factor in a number of more serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, cancer and PCOS.

Berberine has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti diabetic, anti sclerotic and neuroprotective actions. Berberine can help in decreasing insulin resistance and stimulate glycolysis (the process of breaking down glucose to use as energy). It has also been shown to help increase fertility rates by stimulating ovulation. Research is also underway to confirm the role Berberine has in stimulating the process of apoptosis in certain cancer cells.

What can it be used for?

Metabolic Syndrome: As mentioned above, this is a condition in which the body becomes resistant to insulin, resulting in higher blood glucose levels as the body cannot break down fats or proteins in the body. The increase of glucose uptake in the body results in decreased insulin. Berberine stimulates the enzyme AMPK which is responsible for the uptake of glucose. Berberine can increase insulin sensitivity

PCOS: Some women with PCOS may also have metabolic syndrome (see above). Berberine has been shown to help reduce symptoms of PCOS such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and issues with conception. It can help reduce symptoms associated with PCOS and pregnancy such as miscarriage, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Studies have confirmed that berberine can also increase ovulation by 25%, and lower testosterone levels in women.

Type 2 diabetes: Berberine had anti-diabetic and antihyperglycemic properties and has been shown to an effective substitute for the drug metformin in helping to treat high blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes.

High cholesterol: Berberine has been shown to reduce LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood by stimulating LDL receptors in the liver. Research has also confirmed the anti sclerotic properties of berberine.

Weight Loss: Berberine can help to reduce fat by helping to inhibit the development of new fat storage cells. It is also a cholagogue, so it stimulates the release of bile which can help to increase the digestion of fats. 

Digestive Issues: Berberine has antimicrobial effects and can help to stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria such as Lactobaccili whilst reducing harmful gut bacteria like E coli. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and as such can also be to treat inflammatory gut issues.

Mental Health: Berberine has been shown to have neuroprotective actions, it can help to regulate neurotramsmitters such as seratonin and dopamine in the brain. Berberine can help with mood disorders and help to reduce inflammation in the brain which is often associated with depression. 

Cardiotonic: Berberine has been shown to regulate irregular heartbeats, increase vasodilation and coronary circulation. This can play a role in preventing heart disease. 

Infections: Berberine is a potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral. It has been shown to be effective in treating staphylococcus infections amongst other viral infections. 

Are there any cautions?

Berberine should be avoided during pregnancy. 

Further reading

Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus:

PCOS and berberine: what women should know:

6 potential benefits of berberine you should know about:

Berberine: its potential for a metabolic makeover:

Goldenseal: Hydrastic canadensis:

Current knowledge and pharmacological profile of berberine: an update:

Pharmacological effects of berberine on mood disorders:

Berberine - the gift that keeps on giving: