Last modified on October 20th, 2023
Are there side effects of berberine you should be aware of?
Overall, berberine is a safe, well-studied, and highly effective supplement, but we’ll talk more about the possible side effects below and everything you should know before trying it.
An Overview of Berberine
Berberine is a compound often described as one of the most effective nutraceuticals, herbal medicines, and dietary supplements on the market. Berberine can affect your body at the molecular level, giving it an impressive range of health benefits. You’ll hear it called by other names, including berberis aristata and tree turmeric.
For thousands of years, berberine has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
Berberine has a bright yellow color, and it’s categorized as an alkaloid, which can be extracted from several types of plants.
When someone takes it, it is transported into your bloodstream, where it then travels into your cells. Once berberine is inside your cells, it binds to molecular targets, changing their function, similar to how pharmaceutical drugs work.
One of the main actions of the compound is the activation of AMPK, which is also referred to as the metabolic master switch. The action of berberine even has the potential to affect which genes are turned on and off.
Berberine can positively affect blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, LDL cholesterol levels, coronary syndrome, and it has antiproliferative activity in several types of cancer.
Benefits of the compound include:
Helps with Bacterial Infections
Berberine may have antimicrobial properties. For example, in one study in 2016, the compound helped inhibit the growth of a strain of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus can cause health problems like meningitis, pneumonia, and sepsis.
In another study, the compound helped damage the protein and DNA of some strains of bacteria.
The alkaloid may fight other harmful microorganisms in addition to having antimicrobial activity, including having inhibitory effects on fungi, viruses, and parasites.
Berberine is likely an effective weight loss supplement. Two studies, in particular, have found positive effects of berberine for weight loss.
In a 12-week study of obese participants, participants lost 3.6% of their body fat when taking 500 mg of berberine three times a day.
In another study of people with metabolic syndrome, participants taking 300 mg of berberine three times a day reduced their BMI on average from 31.5 to 27.4
There are likely a couple of ways berberine helps with weight loss. First, it can prevent the growth of fat cells at the molecular level. Berberine also appears to improve the function of hormones that regulate fat, including adiponectin, leptin, and insulin.
Blood Sugar Lowering
Type 2 diabetes has become an increasingly pervasive health issue in the past few decades, causing millions of deaths a year. When you have type 2 diabetes, you experience high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes can be caused by a lack of insulin or insulin resistance.
Berberine has been shown in many studies to significantly lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The effectiveness is often compared to metformin, a prescription diabetes medication.
There appear to be several pathways through which berberine lowers blood sugar.
For example, it can decrease insulin resistance so that insulin is more effective. Insulin is a hormone that lowers blood sugar.
Berberine may increase glycolysis so that your body can break down the sugar inside the cells, and it can decrease the liver’s production of sugar.
The plant compound also seems to slow the breakdown of carbs in the gut.
In one study of people with diabetes, taking a gram of berberine a day lowered their fasting blood sugar by 20%, bringing them from diabetic to normal levels. Berberine also lowered A1c by 12%.
Anticancer Effects and Antitumor Activity
Berberine has shown an ability to suppress the metastasis of cancerous tumors.
Berberine may also help reverse drug resistance in certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.
The compound of berberine has potential different pathways through which it can help people with cancer. Berberine may create changes in the molecules of cells that can help fight cancer, including colorectal, lung, ovarian, prostate, liver, and cervical cancers.
Berberine might interfere with the progression of cancer and its lifecycle and also play a role in killing cancerous cells.
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a condition where females have abnormally high levels of male hormones. The condition is a metabolic and hormonal imbalance leading to health complications and infertility.
Berberine may help manage many of the symptoms of PCOS, including body weight and obesity, high insulin levels, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Other Berberine Benefits
Some of the other potential benefits of the actions of berberine, many of which are widely studied, include:
- In animal studies, it helps fight depression.
- Berberine is a powerful antioxidant and also has anti-inflammatory effects.
- Reduces oxidative stress.
- May help with non-alcoholic fatty liver.
- In one study, berberine significantly improved symptoms in congestive heart failure patients and reduced the risk of death.
What Are the Side Effects of Berberine?
With so many benefits, you may be wondering what the side effects of berberine and more about the safety of berberine are.
Overall, berberine is considered a very safe supplement with beneficial effects, according to many clinical studies.
Berberine is considered safe for most adults, and doses of 1.5 grams daily for six months have been used in studies.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, taking berberine by mouth is unlikely to cause adverse effects for adults in the short term.
Common side effects of berberine can include:
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal pain
In one study, around 34.5% of people experienced gastrointestinal side effects when taking berberine, but they were mild, and they should go away after a few days or a week of taking berberine.
In animal studies, there have been instances of gastric ulcers, liver and kidney enlargement, and a reduction in white blood cells, but this hasn’t been seen in human studies so far.
If you are taking a medication to lower blood sugar, talk to your doctor before taking berberine. For example, if you’re taking metformin and you add berberine to your routine, it could drop your blood sugar too low.
Medications that could interact with berberine include:
- Warfarin is one of several blood-thinning medications available under brand names Coumadin and Jantoven
- Diabetes medication
- Cyclosporine is for people who have received an organ transplant. Berberine could delay the breakdown of the medication in the body.
- Sedative medications
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid berberine. Berberine could harm a fetus if taken while pregnant. There’s a type of brain damage called kernicterus that can occur if an infant is exposed to berberine via breast milk.
If you take a berberine supplement, follow the dosage instructions carefully.
You might want to start by taking a 500 mg dose just once a day. Then, as your body gets used to it, you could increase it to 1000 mg. Then as you adjust from there, you could work toward a maximum dose of 1500 mg a day, taken in three divided doses.
Final Thoughts—Side Effects of Berberine
The side effects of berberine are minimal based on research studies. Berberine is a very well-studied supplement, and it’s considered to have an excellent safety profile. You should speak to your doctor about any concerns you have, especially if you’re taking any prescription medications.