Berberine 101: What It is, Impact on Weight Loss & Key Benefits

Berberine is a natural compound in herb plants that are linked to the treatment of diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, gut health, and obesity.

woman about to weight herself
by
Sarah Zimmer, PT, DPT
— Signos
PT, DPT
Green checkmark surrounded by green circle.

Updated by

Green checkmark surrounded by green circle.

Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
June 8, 2023
— Updated:
June 9, 2023

Table of Contents

Berberine is a compound found in many plants such as barberry, Phellodendron, Oregon grape, goldenseal, and goldthread. It has been used for centuries in  Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine practices. Berberine has become popular within the last 10 to 20 years due to its effects in treating diabetes, obesity, inflammation, heart conditions, gut health, and more. This article will cover more about what berberine is, how it can help with weight loss and overall health, and how to use it safely today.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more: </strong> <a href=green-tea-weight-loss> Drinking Green Tea: Will it Help with Weight Loss and Fat Burning?</a>.</p>

What is Berberine?

Think of berberine as the maple syrup of a Canadian tree. However, instead of tasting sweet and spiking your blood sugar, it helps to reduce it. Berberine (i.e., The “Wonder Molecule”) is an element of many plants found in wetter climates such as Washington state, California, and parts of China and India. The use of berberine for medical purposes traces back nearly 3,000 years ago in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as an over-the-counter treatment for bacterial diarrhea1. The most potent forms of berberine are found in oral supplements and drops; however, new research in 2022 supports the use of transdermal berberine to be just as effective and safe2

How Does Berberine Work?

One of the main properties of berberine is its ability to activate AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase). As your body attempts to regulate blood sugar and energy levels, the AMPK signaling pathway becomes the main driver in maintaining homeostasis. For example, if your body does not have enough energy, AMPK signals turn on energy-producing systems by promoting fat oxidation and increased glucose uptake by the cells, which in turn boosts overall metabolism. 

Berberine promotes the activation of AMPK and increases the body’s ability to reduce circulating blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and energy-burning systems. This is why scientists believe berberine supplementation to be a helpful treatment approach in conditions like diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and obesity.3,4 

Berberine for Weight Loss: What Research Says 

Berberine has many benefits, but one of the biggest reasons it is being used today is its connection to weight loss. Many researchers have spent time studying the effectiveness of berberine and found overwhelming support for its ability to lower blood sugar, inflammation, and obesity.5 A recent meta-analysis in 2020 found a significant reduction in BMI and waist circumference among the 12 studies included in the analysis. The researchers hypothesized this to be due to the activation of AMPK, a main driver of metabolism in the human body.5 

Other research studies have found berberine to help with weight loss due to its effects on insulin resistance and blood glucose levels. A study in 2010 found berberine significantly lowered blood glucose levels in patients living with type 2 diabetes due to the reduction of insulin sensitivity. These researchers also found a significant reduction in triglycerides and hemoglobin A1C without adverse effects on liver function.6 

Berberine also targets other aspects of weight loss, such as improving gut health, appetite, and heart health. Most research studies find these effects to occur when supplementing with approximately 500mg up to three times a day for at least three months.7 

4 Ways Berberine Can Help with Weight Loss 

As mentioned, berberine is very effective in helping people lose weight because it targets many aspects required for shedding pounds. Here are how berberine can help with fat loss and overall weight loss

  1. Improves insulin sensitivity: Increased sensitivity to insulin causes weight gain by promoting more fat-storing hormones to circulate in your body. Berberine has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity by keeping blood sugar levels down, especially after eating a high-carb meal.8 
  2. Reduces appetite: It is possible for our hunger cues to be off, causing unnecessary binges or moments of unmindful eating. Berberine has been shown to reduce appetite and improve feelings of satiety throughout the day.9  
  3. Positively influences intestinal bacteria: Having a healthy gut is key to improving overall health, reducing inflammation, and managing metabolism. Berberine helps by killing the bad bacteria within our gut while stimulating the growth of the good bacteria.10 
  4. Lowered fat formation: Studies have shown a reduction in fat-forming cells due to the acceleration of glucose and fat oxidation processes.11 

Is Berberine More Effective with or Without Diet and Exercise?

Berberine by itself can assist with weight loss for those with a BMI over 30; however, many individuals will experience a small change in weight loss or a plateau in weight loss if berberine is not combined with a healthy diet and exercise. 

If your goal is to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for as long as possible, then addressing your nutrition and exercise routine will further enhance the effects of berberine while also helping you keep the weight off for good.7

woman making exercise

Overall Health Benefits of Berberine 

Despite the amazing weight loss benefits of berberine, it also appears to be a “wonder molecule” for the treatment of many metabolic health conditions. 

  1. Obesity: By reducing insulin sensitivity and increasing glucose and fat metabolism, berberine supplementation has been very effective in reducing obesity within three months.7 
  2. Type 2 diabetes: Fasting glucose levels have been found to significantly decrease both during the day and directly after eating a high-carb meal in those who supplement with berberine daily.
  3. Metabolic health: Many studies have found berberine to help significantly lowers the levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL while also improving healthy gut bacteria, which all help to prevent metabolic diseases.12 
  4. Prevent heart disease: Berberine can prevent heart disease by reducing high cholesterol levels that cause blockages of arteries and increasing cardiac muscle's contractile efficiency to improve overall function. This has even been seen in patients currently struggling with heart failure.13 
  5. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): Berberine is an effective treatment approach for fatty-liver disease as it increases the metabolism of fat and glucose while reducing the formation of fat cells and triglycerides in the body.14
  6. Excessive androgens (testosterone): Berberine has become a popular treatment for conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) due to its effects on reducing high levels of free and total testosterone.15 
  7. Pregnancy and fertility: Women who struggle with PCOS have found benefits from berberine as it helps balance hormone profiles that cause infertility.16
  8. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory: A few studies have found berberine to act as an antioxidant within the gut microbiome to help reduce inflammation that causes chronic disease and metabolic syndrome.17

How Should You Take Berberine? 

The most recommended and studied dosage of berberine is 500mg, taken three times daily by ingesting a capsule or other oral supplements, such as a powder. As always, speaking with your medical provider before starting any supplement is important to make sure it will support your goals and help treat your medical conditions. This is especially true for anyone currently taking blood sugar-lowering medications. 

It is also important to read the label of the specific supplement, as not all supplements come in the same dosage amounts per capsule. Most research studies have found that a total of 1500 mg per day has positive effects with very few adverse effects. 

Berberine and Other Supplements

Berberine is safe to take with certain herbal supplements; however, there are cases in which combining berberine with another drug or supplement may be harmful. For example, supplements that increase your risk for bleeding or are natural blood thinners may be dangerous when taken in combination with berberine, as berberine has been found to slow down the process of blood clotting.18

Take caution or avoid berberine altogether if you are on chemotherapy drugs or diabetic sulfonylureas, as berberine will reduce the effects of these types of drugs.19 Consult your primary doctor before starting to ingest a berberine supplement to ensure it is safe for your specific situation. 

Berberine Dosage for Weight Loss

Most research studies have found an effective dosage for weight loss to be between 300 to 500 mg taken three times per day (or up to 1500 mg a day) to see results while avoiding adverse reactions as much as possible. Participants in these studies lost about five pounds on average and 3.6% body fat when they took berberine at this dosage for at least 12 weeks.20  

{{mid-cta}}

How Long Does Berberine Take to Work?

Research studies have found daily supplementation with berberine takes several weeks to several months before seeing significant results for weight loss and other health benefits. However, it is important to remember that fast weight loss is not sustainable or healthy, and it is better to have a gradual approach when striving for sustainable weight loss. 

How Long Does it Take for Berberine to Work for Weight Loss? 

Berberine is not necessarily a fast-acting or quick-fix for those needing to lose weight, as it takes several months for individuals to experience significant results. However, research studies find that the effects of berberine are enhanced when supplementation is combined with lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity such as walking, strength training, etc. 

How Long Does it Take for Berberine to Lower Blood Sugar?

When your body needs energy, AMPK (a protein in the body) activates to burn circulating blood glucose into ATP. Berberine is used to help lower blood sugar because it increases the effects of AMPK on fat metabolism and glucose uptake in the body. When following the recommended dosage of 500mg taken three times a day,  most individuals will start to see positive effects in about three months.21 

Side Effects of Berberine

Researchers continue to find berberine supplementation in dosages of less than 2000 mg a day to be very safe with minimal side effects; however, some adverse reactions may happen when taking any supplement or medication. Some common negative side effects of berberine include stomach pains, diarrhea, gas, and constipation. Side effects of berberine can also mimic hypoglycemia symptoms, including dizziness, confusion, irregular heartbeat, sweating, shaking, confusion, or hunger. 

Who Should Avoid Taking Berberine? 

There are just a few situations in which individuals should avoid taking berberine. For example, those on oral chemotherapies, immunosuppressants, and certain diabetes medications should avoid berberine as it may negatively impact the effects of these medications. It is also not advised to take berberine while pregnant or breastfeeding as it may lead to brain damage in babies with jaundice. 

If you are unsure if berberine is safe for you, especially in combination with your other supplements and medications, talk to your doctor before adding berberine to your routine. 

When to See a Doctor for Taking Berberine

It is important to see a doctor before or while taking berberine if you experience any adverse side effects listed above or if you are experiencing any other side effects that may be caused by an interference with berberine and your other medications. The FDA does not regulate supplements, so it is important to inform your doctor of the exact brand and dosage you are taking. 

FAQs Around Berberine and Weight Loss

1. How much weight can you lose taking berberine? 

The amount of weight loss you may experience while taking berberine will differ from other individuals depending on your genetics, co-morbidities, and lifestyle habits (i.e., diet and exercise). However, research studies have found three months of supplementation with 1500 mg a day causes an average weight loss of five pounds and 3.6% body fat.20 

woman having her measurements taken

2. Is berberine an alternative to prescription medications?

Berberine can be considered a safe alternative to prescription medications and has been shown to be as effective or more in reducing blood sugar, body fat, waist circumference, and cholesterol levels as metformin.15  

3. Does berberine have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects?

Yes, berberine has been found in research studies to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially within the gut microbiome.17 

4. Is it safe to take berberine to lose weight?

Berberine is a safe and effective supplement for weight loss and reducing obesity when taken for several months and combined with diet and exercise. However, those with a BMI more than 30 may experience weight loss effects from taking berberine alone. 

Learn More About How to Achieve Better Health Through Exercise with Signos’ Expert Advice.

If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. The Signos app provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.  

Featured Snippet: 

People Also Ask section: 

1. How much weight can you lose taking berberine?

Most studies have found individuals to lose five pounds and, on average 3.6% body fat when they took berberine daily for three months. More weight loss may occur when combined with changes in diet and exercise. 

2. Can taking berberine help you lose weight?

Yes, berberine can help with weight loss due to its effects on reducing blood sugar, improving insulin sensitivity, and reducing your appetite. 

3. How long does it take for berberine to work for weight loss?

You should anticipate, on average, three months of taking berberine daily before noticing significant weight loss results; however, everyone is different in how they respond to supplements. 

4. What are the side effects of berberine weight loss?

Common side effects of berberine include stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, and constipation. You can avoid side effects by following the labels on your supplement and not exceeding 2000 mg a day of berberine.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading: </strong> <a href=grapes-weight-loss>How to Include Grapes in Your Weight Loss Diet</a>.</p>

Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
  • Item 1
  • Item 2
  • item 3
Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Topics discussed in this article:

References

  1. Yao, J., Kong, W. & Jiang, J. Learning from berberine: Treating chronic diseases through multiple targets. Sci. China Life Sci. 58, 854–859 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-013-4568-z
  2. Buchanan, B., Meng, Q., Poulin, M. M., Zuccolo, J., Azike, C. G., Gabriele, J., & Baranowski, D. C. (2018). Comparative pharmacokinetics and safety assessment of transdermal berberine and dihydroberberine. PloS one, 13(3), e0194979. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194979
  3. Mihaylova, M. M., & Shaw, R. J. (2011). The AMPK signaling pathway coordinates cell growth, autophagy and metabolism. Nature cell biology, 13(9), 1016–1023. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncb2329
  4. Jennifer Berry and Debra Rose Wilson. (December 23, 2021). Everything you need to know about Berberine. Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325798
  5. Asbaghi, O., Ghanbari, N., Shekari, M., Reiner, Ž., Amirani, E., Hallajzadeh, J., Mirsafaei, L., & Asemi, Z. (2020). The effect of berberine supplementation on obesity parameters, inflammation and liver function enzymes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clinical nutrition ESPEN, 38, 43–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2020.04.010
  6. Hao Zhang, Jing Wei, Rong Xue, Jin-Dan Wu, Wei Zhao, Zi-Zheng Wang, Shu-Kui Wang, Zheng-Xian Zhou, Dan-Qing Song, Yue-Ming Wang, Huai-Ning Pan, Wei-Jia Kong, and Jian-Dong Jiang. (2010). Berberine lowers blood glucose in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients through increasing insulin receptor expression, Metabolism: 59 (2): 285-292. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2009.07.029
  7. Ilyas, Z., Perna, S., Al-Thawadi, S., Alalwan, T. A., Riva, A., Petrangolini, G., Gasparri, C., Infantino, V., Peroni, G., & Rondanelli, M. (2020). The effect of Berberine on weight loss in order to prevent obesity: A systematic review. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & pharmacotherapie, 127, 110137. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110137
  8. Pérez-Rubio, K. G., González-Ortiz, M., Martínez-Abundis, E., Robles-Cervantes, J. A., & Espinel-Bermúdez, M. C. (2013). Effect of berberine administration on metabolic syndrome, insulin sensitivity, and insulin secretion. Metabolic syndrome and related disorders, 11(5), 366–369. https://doi.org/10.1089/met.2012.0183
  9. Park, H. J., Jung, E., & Shim, I. (2020). Berberine for Appetite Suppressant and Prevention of Obesity. BioMed research international, 2020, 3891806. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/3891806
  10. Wang, H., Zhang, H., Gao, Z., Zhang, Q., & Gu, C. (2022). The mechanism of berberine alleviating metabolic disorder based on gut microbiome. Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology, 12, 854885. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2022.854885
  11. Ye, Y., Liu, X., Wu, N., Han, Y., Wang, J., Yu, Y., & Chen, Q. (2021). Efficacy and Safety of Berberine Alone for Several Metabolic Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Frontiers in pharmacology, 12, 653887. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.653887
  12. Och, A., Och, M., Nowak, R., Podgórska, D., & Podgórski, R. (2022). Berberine, a Herbal Metabolite in the Metabolic Syndrome: The Risk Factors, Course, and Consequences of the Disease. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 27(4), 1351. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27041351
  13. Xia, L. M., & Luo, M. H. (2016). Study progress of berberine for treating cardiovascular disease. Chronic diseases and translational medicine, 1(4), 231–235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cdtm.2015.11.006
  14. Koperska, A., Wesołek, A., Moszak, M., & Szulińska, M. (2022). Berberine in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease-A Review. Nutrients, 14(17), 3459. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14173459
  15. Mishra, N., Verma, R., & Jadaun, P. (2022). Study on the Effect of Berberine, Myoinositol, and Metformin in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Prospective Randomised Study. Cureus, 14(1), e21781. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.21781
  16. Ionescu O-M, Frincu F, Mehedintu A, Plotogea M, Cirstoiu M, Petca A, Varlas V, Mehedintu C. (2023). Berberine—A Promising Therapeutic Approach to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Infertile/Pregnant Women. Life; 13(1):125. https://doi.org/10.3390/life13010125
  17. Mombeini, M. A., Kalantar, H., Sadeghi, E., Goudarzi, M., Khalili, H., & Kalantar, M. (2022). Protective effects of berberine as a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent against nephrotoxicity induced by cyclophosphamide in mice. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg's archives of pharmacology, 395(2), 187–194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00210-021-02182-3
  18.  Wang Can, Cheng Yangyang, Zhang Yuanhui, Jin Hongtao, Zuo Zengyan, Wang Aiping, Huang Jianmei, Jiang Jiandong, Kong Weijia. (2021). Berberine and Its Main Metabolite Berberrubine Inhibit Platelet Activation Through Suppressing the Class I PI3Kβ/Rasa3/Rap1 Pathway. Frontiers in Pharmacology; 12(734603).    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2021.734603   
  19.   Singh, A., Zhao, K., Bell, C., & Shah, A. J. (2020). Effect of berberine on in vitro metabolism of sulfonylureas: A herb-drug interactions study. Rapid communications in mass spectrometry : RCM, 34 Suppl 4, e8651. https://doi.org/10.1002/rcm.8651
  20. Yueshan Hu, Erik A. Ehli, Julie Kittelsrud, Patrick J. Ronan, Karen Munger, Terry Downey, Krista Bohlen, Leah Callahan, Vicki Munson, Mike Jahnke, Lindsey L. Marshall, Kelly Nelson, Patricia Huizenga, Ryan Hansen, Timothy J. Soundy, Gareth E. Davies. (2012). Lipid-lowering effect of berberine in human subjects and rats. Phytomedicine; 19(10): 861-867. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2012.05.009.
  21. Yin, J., Xing, H., & Ye, J. (2008). Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 57(5), 712–717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013

About the author

Sarah is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017.

View Author Bio

Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

Interested in learning more about metabolic health and weight management?

Try Signos.