Alternative medicine is gaining popularity because most people believe food substances are natural and have fewer side effects. Berberine has been used to treat infections, inflammation, and chronic diseases, especially in China and India. Berberine is currently available to everyone — with many supplement options on the market. Let’s learn possible health benefits and side effects of berberine.
Berberine is a substance found in some plants such as tree turmeric, Oregon grape, and Chinese goldthread.
In traditional Chinese medicine, berberine is used to treat infection, inflammation, and chronic diseases. Now, berberine supplements are widely available due to their health benefits.
Berberine has been shown to lower blood glucose and lipid levels. It also has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Berberine has gastrointestinal side effects and interactions with medications. Consult your doctor before taking berberine supplements.
How berberine can benefit your health
Berberine is a nutraceutical found in different plant parts, leaves, stem bark, root, and fruit. Tree turmeric, Oregon grape, and Chinese goldthread are just a few plants containing berberine.
Berberine has been used as a traditional medicine in China and India. Plants that contain berberine are used to treat infections, inflammation, diabetes, and digestive disorders.
Ease gastrointestinal symptoms
Most people have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Berberine can ease these symptoms. Microbes, digestive problems, medications, water, and food can cause diarrhea. Berberine can show anti-diarrheal effects by reducing gastrointestinal motility and water secretion.
Infections can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Microbes need to adhere to a tissue to infect the body. Substances that prevent microbe adherence to tissues can prevent infection. Berberine has been shown to decrease bacterial adherence to the surface of tissues.
Lower blood pressure
Cardiovascular diseases are the top cause of death worldwide. One of the major risk factors is hypertension. Hypertension can cause serious problems such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. Berberine is thought to be beneficial if used as an adjacent therapy to diabetes and hypertension medications.
Berberine supplementation alongside amlodipine (a medication used to lower blood pressure) did not show a significant difference in lowering blood pressure when compared with the use of medication only. The study concluded that evidence is not sufficient to support berberine supplementation to treat hypertension.
Inflammation is a life-saving response to pathogens unless it becomes chronic. Inflammation should disappear after your body resolves the problem caused by irritants such as pathogens, injuries, and chemicals.
Persistent inflammation is associated with chronic diseases inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. To support your body, you can add anti-oxidant foods to your diet to help eliminate inflammation. Berberine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation.
A meta-analysis showed the effects of berberine supplementation on inflammatory blood markers, including C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6). These biomarkers are commonly elevated in chronic conditions such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. The analysis showed that berberine supplementation significantly lowered inflammatory markers.
Metabolic effects of berberine
The proper functioning of the body requires the efficient use of energy from the metabolism of foods. Alterations in metabolic processes can produce abnormal blood parameters, such as high glucose and lipid levels. These abnormalities in blood glucose and lipids can cause chronic conditions such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and liver diseases.
- Hyperlipidemia. Characterized by high total cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels and low HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Berberine supplementation has been shown to reduce total blood cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), and triglyceride levels while increasing HDL levels.
- Hyperglycemia. Also known as high blood sugar, it is associated with glucose intolerance and diabetes. If not treated, hyperglycemia and diabetes can damage blood vessels, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. A meta-analysis showed that berberine supplementation lowered fasting blood glucose and HOMA-IR, which is a biomarker to assess insulin resistance.
Anti-microbial effects of berberine
Traditionally, berberine has been used to treat infections and antibiotic resistance. An in vitro (test-tube) study showed that berberine is moderately effective against some bacteria, yeast, and fungi.
Berberine can help treat infections by improving the antibacterial effects of antibiotics. Berberine can prevent bacteria adherence to tissues, which disturbs the stability of the bacterial community. Therefore, allowing antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
Side effects of berberine
Contrary to popular belief, products composed of natural sources can also have side effects. Berberine is no exception.
The side effects of berberine can include:
- Abdominal discomfort
Berberine is a therapeutic substance found in various plants. It is associated with health benefits such as lowering blood glucose, cholesterol, and inflammation levels within the body. However, its dosage and length of use for specific conditions need to be better established.
Berberine can interact with drugs, including diabetes, hypertension, and sedative medications. It is best to consult your healthcare provider before using a berberine supplement.
- Frontiers in Pharmacology. Efficacy and safety of berberine alone for several metabolic disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials.
- Clinical Microbiology: Open Access. Berberine: a medicinal compound for the treatment of bacterial infections.
- The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. Effects of berberine in the gastrointestinal tract — a review of actions and therapeutic implications.
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Berberine for the treatment of hypertension: A systematic review.
- Inflammopharmacology. The effects of berberine on inflammatory markers in Chinese patients with metabolic syndrome and related disorders: a meta‑analysis of randomized controlled trials.