The supplements industry is rife with all sorts of compounds, touted for their outstanding health effects. Sadly, most are ineffective and have little to no scientific backing.
But every once in a while, we come across a compound that shows promise, so researchers study it. With each experiment, scientists find new benefits and uses of the compound.
One such supplement from recent years is berberine. Despite its seemingly simple appearance, berberine is potent and has many uses in human health.
Without further ado, let’s discuss nine of its impressive health effects:
1. Lowers Insulin Levels
Insulin is a hormone produced and released by the pancreas in response to eating. The hormone plays the essential role of transporting nutrients (primarily glucose) to cells inside the body (1). Thanks to its effects, we maintain normal blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of metabolic issues, such as type 2 diabetes.
Luckily for us, berberine is a compound that helps control our blood sugar much more effectively, reducing the need for large amounts of insulin. It appears that berberine achieves this effect in a few ways (2):
- Reduced sugar production in the liver
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Improved glycolysis (breakdown of sugars)
2. Lowers ‘Bad’ Cholesterol
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death today. An estimated 659,000 Americans die of heart disease each year (4).
The primary issue with heart disease is that the condition develops slowly over several decades, so most people ignore it until it’s too late. One factor that predicts heart disease are elevated levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol (5). The fatty substance builds up inside our coronary arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart.
Luckily for us, berberine appears to play an essential role in preventing this from happening. The supplement inhibits an enzyme called PCSK9, allowing us to remove more LDL from the bloodstream (6, 7).
3. Benefits Your Heart
Our heart is an incredible organ that beats an average of two billion times in a 70-year life span, pumping oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.
Maintaining our heart health is essential because, as we saw in the previous point, nearly 700,000 Americans die of heart-related problems each year (4).
Aside from lowering LDL cholesterol, berberine appears to have other positive effects on the heart (6, 7). For instance, berberine reduces the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which increase the risk of heart disease and failure (2, 8, 9). Because of that, it isn’t a stretch to assume that berberine can reduce the risk of heart disease in the long run.
4. May Improve Gut Health
The microbiota refers to the diversity of microorganisms found inside the gut. The mixture of microorganisms includes bacteria (beneficial and harmful), viruses, fungi, and more. A favorable gut environment is linked to improved mental health, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and improved metabolic functions (10, 11).
Interestingly, berberine might play a role in gut health. The supplement appears to promote the growth and proliferation of healthy bacteria inside the gut.
It’s worth noting that research so far has been done in-vitro (12). We need human trials before concluding, but preliminary findings have been promising.
5. Promotes Weight Loss
In one paper, obese subjects took 1.5 grams of berberine daily, split into three equal doses (13). Aside from lowering blood triglyceride levels in subjects, berberine also led to some weight loss, an average of five pounds per subject. The folks in the study also lost 3.6 percent of their body fat and achieved an average BMI of 27.4.
6. Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infections, injuries, and open wounds. It prevents bacteria from entering the body (such as from an open wound) and can immobilize part of the body to prevent further damage from movement.
The issue is, chronic inflammation, which works in the background, increasing the risk of health issues (15). Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include excessive fatigue, body aches, depression, and unexpected weight gain or loss.
The good news is that berberine appears to have anti-inflammatory effects inside the body (16). As a result, supplementing with the compound can reduce the risk of various health issues down the road.
7. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Cancer is a debilitating disease that kills millions of people each year. In 2019 alone, cancer was responsible for nearly 600,000 deaths in the US (17). The problem with cancer is that countless variations can occur in many parts of the body. Plus, cancer is often diagnosed late, which further exacerbates the issue.
The best thing we can do is lead a healthy lifestyle, eat well, and manage our stress. Certain compounds, such as berberine, can also help. Some preliminary findings suggest that berberine can slow down the growth of various tumors (18, 19).
8. Heals Burns
Aside from berberine’s internal benefits, the supplement also appears to have topical applications. Specifically, the compound seems to heal burns.
Some early research suggests that applying lotion that contains berberine can treat burns as effectively as traditional creams (20). Researchers speculate that these effects might be partially thanks to berberine’s antimicrobial properties.
9. Normalizes Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often called the silent killer. The reason is that many people never realize they are at risk until it’s too late.
The problem with high blood pressure is that it works 24/7, causing excessive pressure inside our arteries. When left untreated, the stress damages blood vessels and organs. Hypertension also increases the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke (21). Aside from maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly, berberine appears to be another effective way to normalize our blood pressure. According to research, berberine can reduce blood pressure by increasing intracellular calcium levels and causing vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) (22).