Berberine Q&A: What You Need to Know

08/28/2023 | 4 min. read

Written by:

Berberine is trending. Since this supplement went viral on social media, interest has soared.

It’s great that more people are aware of berberine, which is one of my favorite natural compounds. What isn’t so great is that it is being positioned as a magic bullet for weight loss.

Although clinical trials involving individuals with metabolic disorders have demonstrated that berberine can promote modest improvements in weight (BMI and waist circumference), it is no weight loss miracle. There is no such thing—natural or prescription.

I’m also concerned that this misdirected emphasis on weight loss alone steers attention away from the area in which berberine really shines: managing blood sugar. Studies have found that this supplement can lower blood sugar levels as effectively as some diabetes drugs! Berberine has also been shown to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, liver enzymes, and inflammation.

Because of this recent surge in popularity, I’ve had a lot of questions about berberine. Here are my answers to some of the most common queries.

How Long Should I Take Berberine, and How Long Does It Take for Berberine to Work?

Improvements have been reported beginning as early as four weeks of taking berberine, but the greatest benefits are seen when berberine is taken for at least three months, which is the duration of most of the clinical trials. The three-month mark is a good time to monitor your progress by retesting levels of blood sugar, blood lipids, weight, inflammation, etc.

Is Berberine Safe to Take Long Term?

Some of the studies have lasted as long as two years, with no reports of toxicity or safety concerns. I usually recommend that my patients who are concerned about blood sugar, insulin resistance, or other aspects of metabolic syndrome take berberine over the long term with periodic monitoring of blood sugar and blood lipids to ensure it’s working for them.

What Time of Day Should I Take Berberine?

For best results, berberine should be taken daily before or with meals. Like many supplements, it is better tolerated when taken with food rather than on an empty stomach.

In addition, berberine’s effects include reducing the absorption of glucose in the gut and the spike in blood sugar that occurs after meals, so it’s helpful to take berberine with meals.

Berberine also positively modulates the diversity and balance of the gut microbiome—the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that affect digestion, metabolism, inflammation, immune response, weight, and more.

Can I Take Berberine with Metformin?

Yes. Several clinical trials have tested the combination of berberine plus metformin or other oral diabetes drugs against berberine or metformin alone—and the combination proved more effective. That said, it’s always best to make your healthcare provider aware that you are taking berberine or other supplements and make sure to monitor your blood sugar levels in case you need to adjust the dosage of any medication you’re taking.

Does Berberine Affect the Kidneys or Liver?

One of the best things about berberine is its great safety profile. Berberine has not been linked to any adverse effects on the liver or kidneys. In fact, data from clinical studies shows that berberine may enhance liver and kidney health in individuals who need support in these areas. However, if you have liver or kidney disease, I do recommend discussing the use of berberine with your healthcare provider.

Does Berberine Make You Tired?

While I’ve seen a handful of reports from people suggesting berberine makes them feel tired, this is not a side effect that’s emerged in any of the scientific research. In fact, having more stable blood sugar levels should help balance energy throughout the day.

So, Does Berberine Help with Weight Loss or Not?

As I said earlier, berberine is no magic bullet for weight loss. Nevertheless, studies consistently find modest improvements in weight with this supplement. A 2020 meta-analysis of 12 clinical trials found a significant reduction of body weight (average loss of 4.5 pounds), BMI, waist circumference, and CRP (C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation linked with obesity and other metabolic disorders).

Berberine Recap

The CDC reports that more than 37 million Americans (11.3% of our population) have diabetes and 96 million (1 in 3 adults) have prediabetes. Nearly three-quarters of US adults are overweight and 42% are obese—a disorder that goes hand in hand with type 2 diabetes.

Berberine is a safe, well-tolerated, inexpensive supplement that has the potential to provide benefit for some of these metabolic conditions. For these reasons and more, I encourage you to explore the many benefits of berberine.

Dr. Drew Sinatra

Meet Dr. Drew Sinatra

Dr. Drew Sinatra is a board-certified naturopathic doctor and self-described “health detective” with a passion for promoting natural healing, wellness, and improving quality of life by addressing the root cause of illness in patients of all ages. His vibrant practice focuses on treating the whole person (mind, body, and spirit) and finding missed connections between symptoms and health issues that are often overlooked by conventional medicine.

More About Dr. Drew Sinatra