For hundreds of years, Chinese health practitioners have used berberine — a chemical compound found in several plants, such as goldenseal. Its benefits include aiding weight loss, promoting normal blood sugar levels, and balancing cholesterol.
Native Americans also used berberine as a mouthwash and topical ointment, mostly for oral health issues such as canker sores. This powerful plant compound deters harmful organisms, soothes inflammation, and has antioxidant properties. But did you know you can still use it today?
What Is Berberine?
These plants grow wild around the world, though many people also plant them as ornamentals. Due to its vibrant yellow color, people traditionally ground up roots and stems to make dye — as well as natural medicine.
Its antioxidant and antibacterial properties make it a popular — and effective — health supplement. Berberine supplements are found as capsules, liquid extract, or topical gel.
Berberine is an "alkaloid," a compound made from carbon and nitrogen with important physiological impacts on the body. Its incredible benefits have stood the test of time.
Top 12 Berberine Benefits
Below you'll find some of the most common uses of berberine.
1. Aids Weight Loss
If you have extra pounds to shed, berberine may help. While there's no substitute for having a healthy diet and getting exercise, berberine may actually rev up your metabolism.
Berberine not only boosts metabolism but also increases weight loss. Obese individuals who took berberine three times a day for 12 weeks lost weight — about five pounds each. While that’s not a huge amount of weight, it was also accompanied by a reduction in their body mass index (BMI).
Consuming berberine can shrink fat cells — for good — even when your diet works against you. If you have a healthier diet, you may have even better results!
2. Supports Normal Blood Sugar Levels
Berberine may promote normal blood sugar levels in the body. Maintaining a steady blood glucose level is best for good health, stable energy, and a healthy weight. This is not just true for the millions of Americans who experience Type 2 diabetes, but for all people.
Taking berberine three times a day for three months may help balance blood sugar. And berberine has low toxicity and few if any side effects.
3. Boosts Your Immune System
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have long used berberine to help infections, particularly gastrointestinal ones.
Researchers found that the compound stopped certain harmful bacteria from creating a biofilm, a sticky substance that protects them. It takes up to 24 hours for bacteria to produce biofilms, so taking berberine every day can help your immune system ward off these harmful organisms.
4. Helps Canker Sores & Oral Health
Historically, Native Americans used goldenseal — which contains berberine compounds — to help with irritation inside the mouth and nose.
Today, people still use berberine for oral health, including for canker sores, which can make it uncomfortable to eat or drink.
5. Counters Free Radicals With Antioxidant Properties
When free radicals damage your cells, it leads to aging and disease. The process is similar to what happens to a freshly-cut apple after it gets exposed to air: The oxygen makes it turn brown.
Berberine activates an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK slows down the production of free fatty acids — a type of free radical — thus slowing down oxidative stress in your body.
6. Soothes Inflammation
Berberine has anti-inflammatory properties, which means it reduces redness and swelling throughout the body.
Gut conditions like colitis and Crohn's disease cause a lot of inflammation. In autoimmune diseases like these, your body attacks its own cells. Berberine may lower your body’s release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This reduces redness and swelling and boosts the immune system.
7. Balances Cholesterol & Helps Heart Health
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of berberine can boost heart health.
Keeping your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check reduces your risk of heart disease. Researchers were so impressed with berberine's powers, they hailed it as a breakthrough herbal medicine.
Berberine may also reduce high blood pressure.
8. Soothes PCOS
PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome is an uncomfortable condition that affects many women. In people with PCOS, hormone imbalances lead to ovarian cysts.
Women with PCOS and infertility who took berberine for three months ended up with better-balanced hormone levels. On top of that, berberine helped balance their blood sugar and even improved pregnancy outcomes. That’s promising.
9. Helps Anxiety & Depression
This herb has a positive effect on mood. Not only does it lift your spirits, it may also help you feel calmer, happier, and less withdrawn. 
10. Boosts Memory & Learning
As we age, our memory and learning abilities can change, but taking supplements like berberine may promote normal brain aging processes. In other words, it has nootropic effects.
Berberine can boost memory and recall skills. Some evidence also suggests it can protect the brain from neurodegenerative conditions.[13, 14] One of the ways that berberine helps your nervous system stay healthy is by promoting healthy, normal levels of inflammation.
11. Provides Liver Protection
It’s not just for your heart, gut, and brain. Berberine may also protect your liver.
By promoting normal fat levels in the blood, berberine keeps fat from accumulating in the liver. It appears to help people with both alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, known causes of fat buildup in the liver.[2, 15]
Berberine seems to influence genes that control liver metabolism, helping it function more effectively.
12. Supports Gut Health
From minor concerns to leaky gut, your gastrointestinal health has a significant impact on your overall wellness. In fact, your gut microbiota has a tremendous influence on how you feel mentally and physically.
For instance, berberine can help with diarrhea by fighting certain stomach infections caused by E. coli. When people took 150 mg of berberine HCL three times per day, it helped reduce their diarrhea.
Points to Remember
Berberine is a natural compound found in plants of the genus Berberis, including goldenseal and Oregon grape. Berberine supplements are usually sold as capsules, but you can also find topical forms. Berberine is generally safe for adults.[2, 7]
For centuries, traditional Chinese healers have used berberine for a variety of health conditions, mainly inflammation and digestive woes.
Berberine has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. It may help with weight loss, diabetes, infections, canker sores, and PCOS. Not only that, it may promote normal triglyceride and blood sugar levels, boosting your liver, brain, and gut health. Berberine not only may deter anxiety or depression but also may boost memory and learning.
- Cai Z, et al. Role of berberine in Alzheimer's disease. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016;12:2509-2520.
- Berberine. MedlinePlus, US National Library of Medicine. Updated 15 Aug 2018. Accessed 30 Jan 2019.
- Hu Y, et al. Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats. Phytomedicine. 2012;19(10):861-867.
- Xu JH, et al. Berberine protects against diet-induced obesity through regulating metabolic endotoxemia and gut hormone levels. Mol Med Rep. 2017;15(5):2765-2787.
- Wang H, et al. Metformin and berberine, two versatile drugs in treatment of common metabolic diseases. Oncotarget. 2017;9(11):10135-10146.
- Zan Y, et al. Berberine ameliorates diabetic neuropathy: TRPV1 modulation by PKC pathway. Am J Chin Med. 2017;45(8):1709-1723.
- Yin J, et al. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008;57(5):712-717.
- Chu M, et al. Role of berberine in the treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections. Sci Rep. 2016;6:24748.
- Goldenseal. Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan. Updated 4 Apr 2015. Accessed 30 Jan 2019.
- Li Z, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of berberine in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:289264.
- Kong W, et al. Berberine is a novel cholesterol-lowering drug working through a unique mechanism distinct from statins. Nat Med. 2004;10(12):1344-1351.
- An Y, et al. The use of berberine for women with polycystic ovary syndrome undergoing IVF treatment. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2014 Mar;80(3):425-431.
- Lee B, et al. Effect of berberine on depression- and anxiety-like behaviors and activation of the noradrenergic system induced by development of morphine dependence in rats. Korean J Physiol Pharmacol. 2012;16(6):379-386.
- De Oliveira JS, et al. Berberine protects against memory impairment and anxiogenic-like behavior in rats submitted to sporadic Alzheimer's-like dementia: Involvement of acetylcholinesterase and cell death. Neurotoxicology. 2016 Dec;57:241-250.
- Yuan X, et al. Berberine ameliorates nonalcoholic fatty liver disease by a global modulation of hepatic mRNA and lncRNA expression profiles. J Transl Med. 2015;13:24.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.