Is Berberine Good for Your Heart?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on April 13, 2024
4 min read

Berberine is a compound found in many plants, including European barberry, phellodendron, Oregon grape, goldenseal, and goldthread. These plants have historically served as treatments for a wide range of ailments, from infection to sores.

The earliest records of the medicinal use of berberine date back more than 3000 years, when people in China and South Asia cultivated the barberry plant and its relatives. People used the plant's stems, leaves, and bark in various ways.

Evidence also shows the use of berberine-containing plants in South America, the Middle East, and Europe to treat different conditions. Today, researchers are investigating the compound as a treatment for diabetes, high cholesterol, and even polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Berberine's possible health benefits stem from its effect on enzymes in the body. It binds to enzymes and parts of cells and changes how they work. It seems to affect several enzymes and even DNA and RNA.

Berberine is being studied to see if it may help with:

Lowering cholesterol

Taking berberine supplements regularly appears to lower total cholesterol, “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol. It works differently from today’s standard cholesterol medications, so it may help treat people who are resistant to other cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Heart health

People with heart disease often have fatigue and irregular heartbeats. Studies show that taking a berberine supplement combined with standard heart disease treatments eases these symptoms, lowering the chance of death without apparent side effects.

Blood sugar control

Berberine may also lower glucose levels in people with diabetes. Studies show that it helps your body respond better to insulin and prevents your liver from creating more glucose. As a result, people with diabetes may find berberine helpful in lowering their blood sugar levels.

Lowering blood pressure

High blood pressure is linked to heart disease and strokes. Taking berberine may help lower your diastolic and systolic blood pressure (the bottom and top numbers of your blood pressure reading).

Berberine for PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can cause problems such as high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and trouble losing weight. In some studies, berberine helped women with PCOS control their cholesterol, lower their waist-to-hip ratio, and increase their insulin response. 

Berberine weight loss

While berberine is not a magic weight-loss pill, it may help people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 lose weight. Two studies have shown that taking a supplement for 3 months results in significant weight loss. This may be because berberine helps control insulin and other hormones that regulate your fat cells.

Berberine supplements may be helpful and safe for many people, but they can have occasional side effects. The potential side effects of berberine include:

Digestive complications. One study done with berberine found that it can lead to digestion problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, and flatulence, in some people. However, these symptoms typically clear up within 4 weeks.

Low blood pressure. Berberine’s blood pressure-lowering effects are helpful if you have high blood pressure. But for some people, this effect could cause blood pressure to drop too low, which can be dangerous.

Is berberine bad for your kidneys?

A recent study found that berberine could have a positive effect on people with kidney problems. It works by affecting the bacteria in your gut and stopping the production of harmful gut substances that can worsen kidney disease.

Can berberine damage the liver?

The compound could lower your chances of certain liver injuries and is usually safe for the liver. Its impact on metabolism might enhance liver health, lower inflammation in the liver, and potentially treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

As with any health supplement, it’s best to consult your doctor before you start taking berberine.

Berberine-rich foods

You'll find berberine in high concentrations in plants, including:

  • Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal)
  • Coptis chinensis (coptis or goldenthread)
  • Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape)
  • Berberis vulgaris (barberry)
  • Berberis aristata (tree turmeric)

Berberine supplements

Berberine is available over the counter as a dietary supplement, either alone or combined with other herbs and nutritional substances.

Berberine dosage

The suggested dose of berberine is 250 mg or 500 mg two or three times a day. Talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement program to make sure it's suitable for your specific needs and health status.

Berberine, a compound found in various plants, such as European barberry and Oregon grape, has a long history of medicinal use dating back over 3000 years. It has potential benefits in treating conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and PCOS. But it may cause digestive issues and low blood pressure in some people.