Over the Counter: Benefits of berberine

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

By Steve Bernardi and Dr. Gary Kracoff

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We’ve all heard the phrase “wonder drug.” It’s used to describe a seemingly miraculous new drug that does wonders for patients with a particular condition, often on a mass scale. Think aspirin for pain relief or the antibiotic penicillin. A modern-day example may be “the little blue pill,” Viagra, or the breast cancer treatment Herceptin.

While these wonder drugs typically are products of vast pharmaceutical research, others come to help us more naturally. The healing power and health benefits of our natural wonders are of great interest to pharmacists as they collaborate with patients and providers on the right course of treatment.

One substance in particular, berberine, can be beneficial in treating an amazingly wide range of conditions. Berberine may never be known as a wonder drug, given its herbal origins, but it certainly qualifies as a wonder of nature.

Berberine is an alkaloid, a naturally occurring chemical compound, extracted from the stems and roots of a variety of plants including barberry, a hardy shrub native to parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Because berberine is distinctively yellow, with a color similar to saffron, it has been deployed as a dye.

First used more than 2,500 years ago in Chinese and Ayurvedic (Hindu) traditional medicine, berberine is known for its antimicrobial qualities. It can protect the human body against bacteria, viruses, fungi and other parasites. That’s why berberine’s clinical history involves treatment of diarrhea, intestinal parasite infections and a serious eye infection called trachoma.

A growing body of research is revealing a much broader clinical applicability of berberine, with anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, sedative and anticonvulsant effects, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

This jack-of-all-trades supplement can be beneficial to health in a number of ways:

Heart function – The supplement is regularly used to regulate blood pressure. A 2001 study published in Cardiovascular Drug Reviews found that berberine can dilate blood vessels, and patients who were on an eight-week regimen showed improved heart function. The therapeutic effect of berberine helps lower cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease.

Diabetes – In a study published by the Endocrine Society, berberine was found to be a beneficial treatment of type 2 diabetes because of its ability to lower blood-sugar levels.

Intestinal issues – Another recent study, published in the Chinese Journal of Gastroenterology, founded that berberine can have a “protective effect” on intestinal damage associated with NSAIDs, the “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs” that people commonly take for pain relief.

It’s also worth noting, and remembering, that berberine may even improve memory. A recent study has demonstrated that berberine can prevent diabetes-related impairment of brain and memory function over time.

Berberine is available over the counter as a stand-alone nutritional supplement or in combination with other supplement products. Keep in mind, there are several health safety warnings, side effects and potential interactions with prescription medications associated with berberine. For example, berberine should not be given to newborns or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As with all medical treatments, you should consult your primary care physician before taking berberine.

Natural supplements such as berberine can help support the general health of the body, from strong heart function to a productive digestive system. Is it any wonder that berberine is making a name for itself?


Steve Bernardi is a compounding pharmacist and Dr. Gary Kracoff is a registered pharmacist and a naturopathic doctor at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center ( in Waltham, Massachusetts. Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications or health in general can email