Berberine is among many compounds in supplements that are touted for its potential health benefits, including weight loss and improvement of blood sugar levels.
Not all over-the-counter supplements are backed by research, but berberine has quite an impressive resume in terms of its performance in aspects like blood sugar and lipid metabolism.
And berberine might also help you lose weight. Let’s look at what some of the studies on berberine say.
What is berberine?
Berberine is a chemical found in some plant-based foods such as European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, Phellodendron, and tree turmeric.
Berberine is extracted from the plants to create concentrated supplements which have been associated with potential health benefits. The extract listed as the active ingredient in most berberine supplements is berberine HCI.
In supplement form, berberine is usually in capsules in doses from 400-1000 milligrams. The typical recommended doses of berberine range between 400-1500 milligrams daily, sometimes up to 2000 milligrams daily.
Because the United States Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements, there are no official recommendations for maximum or daily doses.
Can berberine help you lose weight?
Several studies have shown that berberine may promote weight loss. Let’s look at a few of those studies:
Body weight, BMI, and weight circumference
A meta-analysis of 12 studies concluded that berberine “moderately but significantly” reduced the body weight of participants, as well as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, without increasing liver enzymes (which can be a sign of the liver being stressed from metabolizing certain medications and supplements).
The average weight loss in that meta-analysis was around 2.1 kilograms (~4.5 pounds).
Beneficial gut bacteria
Another study broke down some potential ways berberine can promote weight loss. Berberine appears to diversify the beneficial bacteria in the gut at doses of 500 milligrams per day, which can play a role in your weight.
Berberine slowed the rate of weight gain in animal studies and also appears to help lower cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.
A 2020 study looked at the impacts of berberine on the weight and appetite of rats fed a high-fat diet. Rats injected with berberine consumed less food and had lower body weights compared to those without berberine.
Another part of the study injected rats with neuropeptide Y, which stimulates appetite. Rats injected with neuropeptide Y and berberine had lower food intake compared to those only injected with neuropeptide.
Levels of glucose, lipids (fat), and leptin (a hormone positively correlated with fat mass) were also lower in rats who received berberine.
According to a small study on people with metabolic syndrome (a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes), berberine improved insulin sensitivity and reduced participants’ waist circumference. Improving insulin sensitivity can help promote weight loss in many instances.
Berberine might even be as effective as some prescription medications in combating insulin resistance, which is associated with overweight and obesity and leads to type 2 diabetes.
A pilot study compared berberine and metformin (a popular first-line medication for diabetes) for their ability to help treat symptoms of type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that berberine produced identical results as metformin in terms of improving blood glucose metabolism.
Berberine and heart health
Though it’s not associated with weight loss, berberine might help reduce your risk of heart disease. An animal study noted that 500 milligrams of berberine twice daily reduced LDL cholesterol. In humans, elevated LDL cholesterol is one of many risk factors for developing heart disease.
How berberine helps with weight loss
Berberine appears to help with weight loss in several ways:
Improving insulin sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that helps lower your blood sugar. It is also a fat-storage hormone. Insulin resistance occurs when your body doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should, so your body pumps out more insulin to try to keep blood sugars in balance.
High insulin levels can lead to weight gain and make it harder to lose weight. By improving insulin sensitivity, you’ll likely be better able to shed some pounds.
If you see berberine touted as a “carb blocker,” it’s likely because it can help lower blood sugar levels after eating carbs by improving insulin sensitivity.
As mentioned in the animal study referenced earlier, berberine appears to impact appetite regulation. If you feel less hungry, you’ll likely consume fewer calories and lose weight.
Positively impacting gut bacteria
Berberine appears to benefit the gut flora, the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Altered gut metabolism can negatively impact weight metabolism and cause other health issues.
Might impact appetite hormones
GLP-1 receptor agonist drugs are medications that increase the levels of the hormone GLP-1, a hormone that helps boost satiety and can reduce appetite. These drugs are becoming increasingly popular for their ability to promote weight loss. One study showed that berberine promoted the secretion of GLP-1.
Reducing fat formation
A study concluded that berberine can “inhibit fat-forming and lipogenic genes of fat,” which can lead to lower body weight and reduced waist circumference.
How to use berberine for weight loss
What is the recommended dosage of berberine for weight loss?
The typical dosage range for berberine is between 400-1500 milligrams daily. There isn’t a maximum dose cutoff because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements.
When to take berberine for weight loss
You can take berberine at any time of the day. Aim to keep it consistent, so you don’t forget to take it.
Manufacturers of berberine supplements suggest dosages such as taking 1-2 capsules twice daily or one capsule before three meals a day.
Taking berberine with meals may reduce the risk of any side effects such as stomach upset.
How long does it take for berberine to cause weight loss?
Many studies that showed berberine causes weight loss occurred over several months, so you’ll probably need to practice patience as you await the potential results of berberine.
The amount of weight loss from taking berberine might be modest, which could be further boosted by making healthy lifestyle changes.
In general, you should give a new supplement around three months before deciding if it’s providing the results you want. A study on berberine’s beneficial effects strengthens this recommendation with their observation that benefits are greatly increased beyond three months of supplementation.
Does berberine have side effects?
Some people taking berberine have reported side effects such as:
- Flatulence (gas)
- Stomach pain
It isn’t recommended to take berberine if you’re pregnant or nursing. You should also avoid taking berberine if you’re taking blood thinners since berberine might have an anticoagulant effect.
If you’re taking diabetes medications, berberine might increase your risk of developing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
Some signs of hypoglycemia include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Irritability or confusion
Other tips for weight loss
Avoid fad diets
Countless diets have gained popularity and then later faded into the background over the years. Fad diets might be tempting because they promise fast, significant weight loss. The problem with fad diets is that they aren’t sustainable long-term for most people.
Ultra-restrictive diets tend to cause rebound weight loss and yo-yo dieting, which isn’t good for your health.
Instead of following a specific diet, try to work on sustainable habit changes that accumulate over time. Changing your long-term behavior is likely to pay much greater dividends than a strict diet that you only follow for a few months.
Focus on protein
Eating protein with meals and snacks can help boost satiety and promote weight loss. Protein-rich foods keep your blood sugar and energy levels more stable, which can prevent energy crashes and hunger cravings.
Studies associate high-protein diets with losing weight and maintaining weight loss. Protein also causes your body to burn more energy to digest compared to carbohydrates and fat, which is another way it helps to promote weight loss.
Opt for high-quality protein from sources such as:
- Lean red meat
- Nuts and seeds
- Dairy products (Greek yogurt, cheese, milk)
- Soybeans/soy products (tofu, edamame, etc.)
- Beans and lentils
Be mindful of your added sugar consumption
Berberine can help you lose weight by improving your insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is a common condition that can lead to extra fat accumulation. Insulin resistance can also make it harder for you to lose weight.
Eating large amounts of added sugar can worsen insulin resistance and lead to weight gain. Added sugars are metabolized into blood glucose quickly, which causes your pancreas to release a large amount of insulin to compensate. If you’re already resistant to insulin, this increase in insulin levels can prevent weight loss.
Eating a diet low in added sugar can help your body become more sensitive to insulin. Cutting back on added sugar can also lower your caloric intake, which can promote weight loss as well.
Berberine is a compound found in different types of plants. Berberine extract is isolated and used in supplements, typically in capsule form. The usual dose of berberine is between 500-1500 milligrams daily.
Studies have shown that berberine effectively promotes healthy cholesterol levels, improves blood sugar metabolism, promotes weight loss, and reduces fat loss/waist circumference/BMI.
Berberine promotes weight loss in several ways, including improving insulin sensitivity, reducing fat formation, reducing appetite, and positively impacting gut bacteria. It might also boost levels of hormones that promote satiety.
Taking berberine is likely a safe alternative to prescription medications as long as you aren’t pregnant, nursing, or taking medications that are contraindicated by your pharmacist.