Herb of the Month: Berberine

A bitter-tasting, yellow-pigmented compound berberine has gained much attention in recent years. It is found in the roots, rhizomes, stems, and barks of plants like goldenseal, Oregon grape, and European barberry. It is known as a cationic alkaloid and was first isolated in 1917 from goldenseal.

Although berberine is still new to many people, and without a large number of human studies yet done, some of the first uses of berberine as a medicine date back over 3,000 years. There are records of it being used for many health conditions in the Middle East, and in parts of Europe. It has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years. This is a time-tested herb that is still being learned about today, and having to prove itself to naysayers. 

Researchers are working to determine how berberine affects blood sugar, hypertension, weight management, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular health, and cholesterol reduction. Berberine is a potent oral hypoglycemic agent with modest effect on lipid metabolism. It may serve as a new drug candidate in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, although larger population studies are needed (1).

Metabolic disorders are out of control today, and with health conditions like diabetes and blood sugar disorders, it is promising that berberine may offer a natural approach. It is considered safe, and the cost of treatment by berberine is low.

Berberine also may be an effective antimicrobial agent, and research in 2016 showed that berberine helped inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus (2).

Although berberine appears to be safe and causes very few side effects, as with many herbal alternatives, speaking with a medical practitioner before use is recommended. Berberine is considered to be unsafe to take by mouth for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as it may be transferred to the infant through breast milk, and it might cause harm. There is also not enough research on safety for children or infants.

Berberine supplements are available at health food stores and are commonly in 500-mg doses. Many consumers use up to 1,500mg daily, taken throughout the day. Results using berberine for blood sugar support and weight control usually take two to three months.