The newest supplement available in the Sunshine Store is berberine. We chose to add this product based on the evidence available on its usefulness. As you will learn from this article, berberine may be useful for a variety of health-related conditions. It is one of the few herbal supplements that can have similar effects on the body as prescription medications.
Berberine has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. This yellow, bitter alkaloid is found in the roots, bark, and rhizomes of plants such as Oregon grape, goldenseal, European barberry, and tree turmeric, among others.
What is berberine used for?
Is it safe?
Are there drug interactions?
As mentioned above, berberine has a variety of uses. Some of the most popular are listed below.
Berberine for Diabetes
Berberine has been shown to have a positive effect on diabetes in several studies.
Some of these effects are listed below.
Taking 500mg of berberine twice daily for three months in patients with type 2 diabetes may reduce glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), post-prandial glucose (PPG), and fasting plasma glucose (FPG).1
Taking berberine 500mg two to three times daily for two to three months works as well as metformin two to three times a day or rosiglitazone 4mg daily in the regulation of glucose metabolism in type 2 diabetics.
Berberine for Hypertension
Hypertension is a growing problem. Approximately one million visits to emergency departments listed hypertension as the primary diagnosis in 2016.
This condition often does not have symptoms associated with it and can go unnoticed for years.
Hypertension can damage your arteries, heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain. It may lead to stroke, dementia, kidney failure, and blindness.
A meta-analysis showed that combining berberine with amlodipine is more effective at reducing blood pressure than taking amlodipine alone.
Berberine for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
There have been studies examining the use of berberine in women with PCOS who were attempting to become pregnant. Although there are mixed results, one study showed that 500mg of oral berberine taken three times daily for three months before IVF increased pregnancy and live birth rate. These results were similar to those obtained when taking oral metformin 500mg three times daily for three months before IVF.
Berberine for Hyperlipidemia
Berberine may also be useful for the following conditions, although less quality evidence is available to support its use for these.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) – May reduce premature ventricular contractions and lower mortality.
Burns – As an ointment in combination with beta-sitosterol.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) – See hyperlipidemia above.
Diarrhea – May be effective for diarrhea caused by E. coli.
Glaucoma – As eyedrops in combination with tetrahydrozoline.
Hepatitis B and C – Berberine decreases triglycerides and blood glucose. It also reduces markers of liver damage, including aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT).
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – May reduce the frequency of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and defecation frequency when compared to placebo.
Symptoms of menopause – When taking berberine along with soy isoflavones, vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women may be decreased when compared to calcium plus vitamin D administration.
Obesity – Berberine has been shown to decrease weight by 2.3 kg (~5 lbs) in obese patients compared with a control group when ingested for twelve weeks.
Berberine interactions with Drugs:
Drugs used to treat diabetes – Do not use berberine with antidiabetic medications. There is substantial clinical evidence suggesting this combination increases the risk of hypoglycemia. Berberine should not be used with any drug that lowers blood sugar.
This includes insulin as well as other oral and injectable diabetes medications.
Amlodipine and other drugs for high blood pressure – Combining berberine with amlodipine may result in a decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
This effect may also occur with other antihypertensive medications.
Anticoagulants – Since berberine may inhibit platelet aggregation, caution should be used when combining it with antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications.
The risk of bleeding may be increased.
Cyclosporine – Do not combine berberine with cyclosporine. This combination may result in an increased level and increased adverse effects of cyclosporine.
Drugs that may cause sedation – Use caution when combining berberine with medications that produce sedation.
This combination may lead to an increase in sedative effects. Some examples of sedative agents include.
- Sedating antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and hydroxyzine
There are other sedating medications, please contact your physician or pharmacist or send me a message to me for clarification.
Medications metabolized by Cytochrome P450 – There are several agents in this category. Below is a shortlist but again, if you have questions about what you are taking, please consult a physician or pharmacist, or simply shoot me an email.
Ibuprofen (Motrin) – May increase ibuprofen levels.
Losartan (Cozaar) – May decrease therapeutic effects of losartan.
Dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM, Delsym, others) – May increase dextromethorphan levels leading to drowsiness, irritability, and confusion.
Lovastatin (Mevacor) – May increase lovastatin levels.
Sildenafil (Viagra) – May increase sildenafil levels.
Tacrolimus – There has been at least one case report of berberine, causing an increased serum creatinine and tacrolimus level in a 16-year-old patient with idiopathic nephrotic syndrome.
Patients who take berberine along with tacrolimus should have drug levels checked as tacrolimus dose adjustment may be necessary.
Safety of Berberine in Pregnancy and Lactation
Berberine should NOT be used in pregnant or lactating women. Berberine is believed to cross the placenta and may cause kernicterus and harm the fetus. Berberine may also be secreted into breast milk when taken orally, so it should not be used by breastfeeding mothers.
Side Effects of Berberine
Although berberine is generally well tolerated, the following side effects were the most commonly reported during research studies.
- abdominal pain
- abdominal distention
Berberine is a substance that has been used in other countries for its health benefits for thousands of years. I became interested in it while reading a book I recently purchased on nutraceutical preparation. This herbal product has the best evidence for its use in diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and polycystic ovary syndrome. It can also be effective for several other ailments described above.
Berberine should never be used in children or pregnant or breast-feeding mothers. There is some evidence that it may be harmful to the fetus as well as small children. As a pharmacist, I believe in using herbs and medications in pregnancy or children only when absolutely necessary. The risk is just too substantial.
Berberine, along with turmeric and ashwagandha, has effects on the body that can rival prescription medications. It can be beneficial for those who have diabetes, PCOS, or obesity. It is generally well-tolerated and is now available in the Sunshine Store for purchase.
Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Always remember to take care of yourself, eat whole foods, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get adequate sleep. These can significantly help in your quest for happiness.
Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP
Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.
Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.