Berberine has become a very popular supplement due to its potential health-promoting properties. Many have successfully used berberine for weight loss, improve blood sugar health, heart health support, and more. And the evidence is very promising, not to mention, berberine is a much cheaper option than certain medications that it’s often compared to.
So, does it live up to the hype or not? Well, we’ve collected as much information about berberine as we could, and the short answer is yes. But is it for everyone? Not necessarily. Learn more about this ingredient and how it could be just what you need in your daily supplement regime.
What is Berberine? Benefits For Weight Loss
Berberine is considered an alkaloid that’s extracted from a variety of plants that includes Berberis, hence the name ‘berberine’. For many years, it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for diabetes, infertility, and diarrhea, and as an antimicrobial, and up to this point, it’s still being used to treat ailments, and for good reason.
Berberine is known to activate an enzyme called Adenosine Monophosphate-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK) and inhibit Protein-Tyrosine Phosphatase 1B (PTP1B), resulting in improved insulin resistance (we’ll talk more about this process shortly).
But how does it contribute to weight loss, improve Type 2 diabetes, and factors of heart health? Keep reading…
Berberine for Weight Loss
Many studies have shown berberine to improve insulin function (read the next section for more information on how it helps with Type 2 diabetes), which is a key component when it comes to the body’s ability to utilize body fat as energy. When insulin cannot do what it’s supposed too, the body is more susceptible to accumulating and storing body fat (1).
So, this is definitely a good thing for those who are suffering from Type 2 diabetes and experiencing difficulty losing weight.
Berberine has shown in studies to inhibit the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which allows the body to store fat. And it may also reduce levels of leptin, a hormone found in the adipose tissue of fat cells. Leptin plays a role in inhibiting hunger, and regulating energy balance so that the body is not constantly asking for food when it doesn’t need it.
In one pilot study of humans and rats, obese human subjects were given 500mg of berberine three times per day over a 12-week period, while the rats were also tested for the potential anti-obesity effects (2).
The humans lost a modest 5 lbs over the span of 12 weeks, plus they experienced significantly reduced blood lipid levels, which included a 23% decrease of triglyceride and 12.2% decrease in cholesterol levels. The rats saw similar results with a 34.7% decrease in triglyceride and 9% decrease in cholesterol levels.
The heart health benefits were a welcome outcome in addition to the moderate weight loss. In fact, the positive effects on lipid metabolism is a good sign as Hyperlipidemia is a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Also, the five pounds of weight loss may not be much over a 12-week period, however, with physical activity and a strict, energy-restricted diet, the results could be even greater.
It’s also important to note that researchers found there to be an increase in calcitriol levels as well. Therefore, it was concluded that in addition to the previously-mentioned benefits, berberine may also be a viable option for improving Osteoporosis (a form of bone disease).
In another study involving 37 men and women suffering from metabolic syndrome, 300mg of Berberine taken three times daily resulted in an improvement in Body Mass Index (BMI) (BMI) levels (31.5 to 27.4) (3).
And not surprisingly, glucose and lipid metabolism improved as well.
Gut health and other factors that contribute to weight loss
A scientific review published in 2020 also looked at the potential effects of Berberine in vitro, human, and animal studies to determine its efficacy in treating obesity and the metabolic consequences as a result (4).
Results concluded that berberine has a significant effect in preventing obesity via several mechanisms that include “modulation of gut microbiota, gene regulation, intestinal permeability, and Hepatic Gluconeogenesis“.
In short, healthy gut function is very important for maintaining a healthy weight, in addition to many other factors. And the effects of berberine on obesity also translate to better overall health, preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Berberine for weight loss in those with PCOS
Short for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that negatively affects certain bodily functions in women. PCOS can affect weight due to compromised appetite regulation, plus it can increase insulin resistance and other factors that contribute to weight gain.
But there is promising research regarding the effects of Berberine on PCOS. (5)
In a review of 5 studies involving 1078 (a high number) women participants that was published in 2020, authors found very similar effects between Berberine and Metformin including a reduction of visceral adipose tissue in the absence of weight loss, and improved insulin sensitivity (6).
The review also mentioned that based on testing, Berberine was effective on fertility and live birth rates, and it was safe to use in premenopausal women who desired to get pregnant.
Benefits for Blood Sugar/Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Health
You might have heard people talk about berberine as a potential replacement or option that can be taken in combination with metformin, a popular diabetes drug. Well, it’s certainly worth discussing as there’s some pretty convincing research available on this subject.
Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly more prevalent among the population both young and old every year due to poor nutritional choices, obesity, a lack of activity, excessive stress, age, etc. But what actually happens in the body that causes someone to develop Type 2 diabetes?
Well, it all starts with a lack of the body’s ability to effectively utilize insulin.
Insulin’s role in the body
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that plays an essential role in managing glucose, the body’s primary energy source that is created from the foods we eat. After a meal, glucose levels rise, causing the pancreas to release insulin which controls glucose or blood sugar levels.
When the body becomes resistant to insulin, cannot produce enough of it, or cannot use it as effectively, too much sugar accumulates in the blood, and problems ensue. This is most commonly caused by the lifestyle factors mentioned above.
One pilot study from 2008 set out to determine if berberine is a safe and effective treatment option for patients with Type 2 diabetes (7).
Study A involved 36 newly-diagnosed patients who were assigned to supplement with either berberine or metformin (0.5 g t.i.d.) for three months. In study B, 48 adults with Type 2 diabetes supplemented with berberine for three months.
The studies found that berberine offered similar benefits to metformin for reducing glucose levels, and had modest effects on lipid metabolism or cholesterol levels. But it was concluded that more studies were needed in larger subject populations.
A meta-analysis from 2014 that included 2569 patients and extensive research comparing and combining berberine with different variables showed promising outcomes (11).
Below are details from the meta-analysis to give you a better idea of how berberine was tested.
“There are seven subgroups in our meta-analysis: berberine versus placebo or berberine with intensive lifestyle intervention versus intensive lifestyle intervention alone; berberine combined with oral hypoglycemic versus hypoglycemic alone; berberine versus oral hypoglycemic; berberine combined with oral lipid lowering drugs versus lipid lowering drugs alone; berberine versus oral lipid lowering drugs; berberine combined with oral hypotensor versus hypotensive medications; berberine versus oral hypotensive medications.”
Not only did research determine that berberine in combination w/ lifestyle modifications was more effective for those with Type 2 diabetes than intensive lifestyle intervention alone or placebo, but combined with anti-diabetic medication, the effects were even greater, which is to be expected.
Not to mention, it was concluded that berberine has similar effects on hyperlipidemia and hypertension as it does for Type 2 diabetes, with no notable side effects. And when compared to lipid-lowering drugs, berberine was shown to be better for reducing total cholesterol (TC), LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Although, there was no statistical significance between berberine and lipid-lowering compounds in reducing the level of TC and LDL-C (12).
It was also determined in this review that better quality and larger controlled studies need to be carried out to come to a better conclusion about the possible therapeutic use of berberine.
But one piece of literature from an authority source described the mechanisms by which berberine appears to exert its health-promoting effects. These include:
“improving insulin resistance, promoting insulin secretion, inhibiting gluconeogenesis in liver, stimulating glycolysis in peripheral tissue cells, modulating gut microbiota, reducing intestinal absorption of glucose, and regulating lipid metabolism.”
There’s sufficient evidence to support the efficacy of berberine for not only those with Type 2 diabetes but there’s promising research that shows positive effects on heart health as well.
Other Potential Health Benefits of Berberine
Based on how Berberine works in the body, and the research available, it’s a no-brainer that it could have additional health-promoting benefits.
With that being said, research does mention that Berberine has anticancer properties that can be explained via several different potential mechanisms. One explanation is that it can slow down and inhibit the reproduction of cancer cells and viruses (13, 14).
Berberine may also prevent liver disease by preventing fatty acid build-up in the liver (15).
A commonly recommended dose of Berberine is 500mg, three times daily, which is a similar dose to Metformin. But you should consult with a medical professional before taking it to determine an appropriate dose, especially if you are taking other medications.
You might want to start out with a smaller dose at first and then gradually increase it until you’re taking 1,500mg a day. But this will depend on the individual. However, it has a half-life of a few hours so spreading out your intake is likely to elicit the most desirable results possible.
It’s also important to note that there’s more information regarding different doses of Berberine for specific uses. However, the above-mentioned dose should cover all bases unless advised otherwise.
Does Berberine Have Side Effects?
According to research, Berberine is safe when taken in the recommended dosages.
However, it’s not uncommon for users to experience gastrointestinal discomfort. It doesn’t happen in everyone who takes it of course, but several studies have found it to affect a percentage of users. Constipation may also occur in some users too, although, side effects are more likely when taken in higher doses (18).
Because Berberine does lower blood sugar, taking medications for this purpose could result in low blood sugar which could be dangerous.
If you do experience severe side effects, stop taking Berberine immediately, and consult with a doctor.
Who Should Not Take Berberine
While this is ultimately up to you and your doctor, there are a few instances where it’s better to avoid supplementing with certain products.
Individuals who we recommend not supplement with Berberine are pregnant and lactating women, children, and anyone who currently has medical conditions and/or that are taking prescription medications.
How To Maximize Weight Loss While Taking Berberine
It’s simple, to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit. While Berberine may contribute to dropping a few pounds via a few different mechanisms as previously discussed, you won’t achieve your weight loss goals by only taking Berberine and not making lifestyle changes.
This means opting for healthier foods, exercising more, and eating fewer calories than what you normally do to maintain your current body weight if you’re not getting enough daily exercise. The goal is to tap into those fat stores and to prevent fat gain.
Taking Berberine can certainly help to improve physiological factors that are essential for being able to maintain a healthy weight. But don’t think for a minute that you can sit back and let Berberine give you the body of your dreams (ain’t happenin’).
Well, Should I Take Berberine For Weight Loss?
If you were considering taking Berberine for weight loss, then we have good news… the research and real-world reports are promising. But remember, no supplement can replace a solid diet and exercise regime. Berberine is not a magic ingredient but rather, a potentially beneficial aid in combination with your weight loss efforts. Research has shown Berberine to have similar effects when compared to Metformin and the fact that it’s safe in recommended doses and affordable makes it that much more appealing.
If you have any questions or comments about Berberine or anything that you read in this article, feel free to leave them down below and we’d be happy to get back to you. Also, check out our review on the best Elderberry Supplements reviewed for 2021!