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What is berberine used for?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on July 29, 2022.

Official answer

by Drugs.com
  • Berberine has been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat infections, diarrhea, diabetes, HIV, heart failure, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • It has also been researched for treatment of certain cancers, with breast and colon cancers showing the most promise. It may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity and promote cell death (apoptotic activity) in some cancers.
  • Berberine is an alkaloid derivative and is found in the roots, rhizomes, bark and stems of barberry, goldenseal and other medicinal plants.

Berberine is not approved by the FDA for any prescription use. It is available over-the-counter (OTC) in the US and is considered an herbal dietary supplement.

Does berberine have any other name?

Synonyms for berberine include:

  • Berberina
  • Berberine alkaloid
  • Berberine
  • Umbellatine
  • Berberine Chloride Hydrate
  • Berberine Sulfate Hydrate
  • Neutral berberine sulfate
  • Berberine Tannate

Where does berberine come from?

Berberine is an alkaloid derivative and was first isolated in 1917 from goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), also called yellowroot. Goldenseal is an herb of the buttercup family and found in North America. However, when people take goldenseal by mouth very little berberine is absorbed into the bloodstream so study results on berberine may not apply to goldenseal, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Berberine is found in other plants, such as barberry (Berberis vulgaris L.) and the Amur cork tree (in East Asia). It has a bitter taste and bright yellow color.

Is berberine safe to take?

Berberine appears to have low toxicity at normal doses with stomach effects being the most common complaint; however studies are limited and doses are not well-defined.

  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, gas and nausea / vomiting have been reported. Berberine has a bitter taste.
  • Other side effects may include dizziness, fainting, headache, and muscle aches.
  • Effects on the heart like low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and abnormal heart rhythms may occur with higher doses.
  • Allergic reactions have also been reported with berberine use.

According to NCCIH, berberine may cause or worsen jaundice in newborn infants and could lead to a life-threatening problem called kernicterus (a type of brain damage). Do not use this medicine in children unless recommended by your pediatrician.

Talk to your healthcare provider before you use berberine if you are on insulin, have diabetes or have low blood sugar. If you are pregnant or nursing, have a serious medical condition like cancer, or use any other medicines, do not use berberine unless recommended by your doctor.

Does berberine have drug interactions?

Berberine is known to be a weak inhibitor of several cytochrome 450 (CYP450) enzymes (such as 2D6, 3A4, and 2C9). These enzymes are found in the liver and may lead to drug interactions with other prescription or OTC medicines or supplements. Inhibition of liver enzymes may increase levels of medicine in your bloodstream and cause side effects, some of which may be serious.

Berberine may have side effects with medicines used to treat diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, blood thinners like warfarin or medicines that cause drowsiness or sedation.

Caution is warranted with coadministration of potentially toxic medicines such as cyclosporine.

If you choose to use berberine, ask your doctor or pharmacist to review for drug interactions with any medicines you may be taking.

This is not a complete list of all possible drug interactions with berberine.

Where can I buy berberine?

In the US, berberine may be found in pharmacies and specialty nutrition retail outlets. It is an OTC product does not require a prescription. It is also widely available online; however, you should use caution when purchasing any medicinal products online due to the risk of fraudulent websites and unsafe products.

In the US, berberine usually comes in an oral capsule form. Common OTC strengths include 400 mg and 500 mg, with a recommended labeled dose of one capsule by mouth 1 to 3 times daily at mealtime. Also ask a qualified healthcare professional for a dose recommendation.

Is Berberine available in other countries?

Berberine (with foreign names in parentheses) may be found in other countries such as:

  • China (name: Si Na Ge)
  • France (name: berberine)
  • Germany (name: berberin)
  • Japan (name: berberine sulfate)
  • Spain (name: berberina)
  • Taiwan (names: berberin, berbeneol, berberin, Oriental, Berin, Furaberin, Hoberinol, Kyoberin)

Products may not be safe when sourced in foreign countries. Some products may have been discontinued by foreign manufacturers, and this list of products may be incomplete.

This is not all the information you need to know about berberine for safe and effective use and does not take the place of your doctor’s directions. Review the full berberine information and discuss its use with your health care provider before you take it. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product.

References
  • Och A, Podgórski R, Nowak R. Biological Activity of Berberine-A Summary Update. Toxins (Basel). 2020 Nov 12;12(11):713. doi: 10.3390/toxins12110713
  • Barberry. Natural Products (Pro). Accessed July 29, 2022 at https://www.drugs.com/npp/barberry.html
  • Imenshahidi M, Hosseinzadeh H. Berberine and barberry (Berberis vulgaris): A clinical review. Phytother Res. 2019 Mar;33(3):504-523. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6252. (abstract).
  • Goldenseal. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Accessed July 29, 2022 at https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/goldenseal
  • How Herbal Supplements Sent One Woman to the ER. News. May 17, 2022. Drugs.com. Accessed July 29, 2022.
  • Berberine. International Nonproprietary Names. Drugs.com. Accessed July 29, 2022.

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