Last modified on September 7th, 2023
Is berberine bad for kidneys?
Berberine is one of the most talked about supplements, with many describing it as a natural Ozempic alternative.
Berberine has a lot of health benefits, and the research does indicate it can act in many of the same ways as prescription drugs.
At the same time, supplements aren’t regulated in the U.S., making safety a concern for most consumers.
Many supplements can harm the kidneys and liver, but is that true for berberine? Is berberine bad for kidneys?
The Basics of Berberine
Berberine, also known as nature’s Ozempic, is a chemical found in plants like goldenseal, Oregon grape, and European barberry. The chemical has a bright yellow color. It’s a bioactive compound, and it’s considered an alkaloid.
Alkaloids are a class of plant compounds.
With an extensive history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, berberine has a good amount of modern research highlighting its potential health benefits.
There are hundreds of studies showing how it works.
One of the primary actions of this alkaloid is its ability to activate AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK, an enzyme located within cells. AMPK plays a role in many essential functions, including metabolism and energy regulation. AMPK is found in most of our body’s cells.
Berberine is thought to affect other molecules within cells. It may even play a role in turning genes on or off, potentially protecting against many chronic health disorders.
Before going into more detail to answer “is berberine bad for kidneys,” some of the potential benefits include:
- It can lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes—research shows these effects can be significant and may be comparable to diabetes drugs like metformin.
- Berberine can help with weight loss and may lead to reductions in belly fat and body mass index. It appears to reduce inflammation and prevent fat cells from growing at a molecular level.
- The compound can improve heart health and reduce markers that put you at a greater risk of heart disease. For example it may play a role in decreasing LDL cholesterol, known as bad cholesterol.
- In animal studies, berberine has shown benefits in reducing depression symptoms.
- In test-tube and animal studies, the compound reduced the growth and also the spread of many types of cancer.
- Taking it as a supplement could reduce the fat buildup in the liver, potentially reversing or preventing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- As an alkaloid, it is a strong antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory effects.
- In one study, berberine improved the symptoms of heart failure in people with the condition and reduced the risk of death.
Berberine Safety and Side Effects
Overall, berberine is a safe supplement for most people with minimal side effects, especially if you take the recommended dosage.
Potential side effects are usually mild and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Upset stomach
If you take any of the following medicines, you should be aware that they can interact with berberine in potentially harmful ways:
- Bosutinib, which is an oral chemotherapy. Taking berberine along with this medicine could affect the drug concentrations in your system.
- If you take immunosuppressants like cyclosporin or tacrolimus, berberine could increase the blood levels of the drugs and lead to kidney toxicity.
- Taking sulfonylureas with berberine at the same time could impact the metabolism of one or both.
- If you take CYP2D6, 3A4, or 2C9 drugs, berberine could decrease effectiveness.
- If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid berberine because it could make jaundice worse in an infant or cause something more severe, leading to brain disorders.
How Your Kidneys Work
Before answering, “is berberine bad for your kidneys,” it’s a good idea to understand how these organs work.
Your kidneys are organs that remove waste and extra bodily fluid through urine. This helps maintain the stability and balance of body chemicals. Your kidneys regulate salt, potassium, and acid, for example.
Kidneys also produce hormones that affect the functionality of other organs.
For example, there’s a hormone your kidneys produce that stimulates red blood cell production.
Specifically, the role of the kidneys includes:
- Controlling calcium metabolism
- Blood pressure regulation
- Removing waste from your body
- Eliminating drugs from your body
- Keeping your fluids in check
- Releasing hormones to control blood pressure
- Producing an active type of vitamin D important for strong bones
- Controlling your production of red blood cells
Many drugs and toxic substances, including over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medicines, pesticides, and illegal drugs, can negatively affect your kidneys.
So, Is Berberine Bad for Kidneys?
High doses of some supplements and even vitamins can be dangerous for kidney health, especially if you already have kidney disease.
- For example, taking big doses of vitamin C can increase the risk of kidney stones because the nutrient is converted into oxalate. Oxalate can combine with calcium, leading to the formation of kidney stones.
- Iron supplements can damage the kidneys because they filter and regulate iron levels, and you may overload them.
- Creatine supplements in high doses can raise the risk of kidney stones and damage because it increases waste production in the body.
- Herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort and ephedra are linked to kidney damage and even kidney failure.
- Protein supplements can increase the workload on your kidneys, causing damage over time.
With those concerns, it’s normal to wonder is berberine bad for kidneys.
Is Berberine Bad for Kidneys If Combined with Prescription Medicines?
First, as mentioned above, if you were to take certain immunosuppressants with berberine, it could cause kidney toxicity.
This wouldn’t be directly due to the berberine’s effects—it would more likely be due to the berberine increasing levels of the drug in the blood, which would cause the damage.
Under other circumstances, berberine would be unlikely to damage the kidneys, and it may even benefit kidney health.
Benefits of Berberine for Kidney Health
Generally, the answer to is berberine bad for kidneys is no and it may even have benefits.
In studies, berberine benefits for kidney health have included:
- The potential to improve chronic kidney disease through its actions on the gut-kidney axis. Healthy gut bacteria levels are a potential target to control or correct chronic kidney disease, and berberine may alter the gut microbiota to promote kidney health.
- In another study, berberine had protective effects on the liver and kidneys related to iron overload, acting as an iron chelator.
- In one study, berberine improved kidney damage related to type 2 diabetes. It regulated kidney function, decreasing creatine and BUN levels.
Is Berberine Bad for Kidneys—Final Thoughts
Berberine is considered a safe long-term supplement in most cases, and while some supplements can harm the kidneys, overall, berberine isn’t one of those. Berberine may benefit kidney health in certain situations, but remember, this isn’t medical advice, and everyone’s situation is unique. Speak with your doctor about any questions you may have.