Traditional Chinese medicine has been used to treat ailments and enhance performance for thousands of years, but modern research has verified only a certain group of these compounds. Berberine is an alkaloid, which is most useful (and studied) for anti-diabetic effects. In fact, these effects are so strong they rival some prescription drugs .
For cognitive enhancement, there is evidence that berberine crosses the blood brain barrier effectively, then exerts neuroprotective benefits , improves BDNF (fertilizer for growing new brain cells) , and improves learning ability in animal models . In addition, berberine can reduce symptoms of depression and does so synergistically with other depression medications .
Also Known As
Umbellatine, Berberis, Benzylisoquinoline
Editors’ Thoughts on Berberine
Berberine seems to have a host of health benefits for overall health, but also cognition. Kurtis Frank, one of the Examine researchers, warns against considering this to be a “wonder drug”, though. I would agree. Even though the benefits seem powerful, there are contraindications and some potential for interaction / side effects.
Either way, taking this for a very specific purpose is probably useful. Considering berberine is part of traditional Chinese medicine, it is something we have used (as a species) for hundreds of years. While “natural” does not mean “good” per se, it does give us some understanding of how we will react to the substance with historical accounts.
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Editor
Benefits of Berberine
The main benefits of berberine are anti-diabetes effects, which can reduce liver production of glucose in addition to altering cholesterol . While this is generally useful (given that almost 65% of Americans are considered obese), it doesn’t help understand the cognitive benefits.
Berberine can up-regulate a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which acts as fertilizer for the brain to develop new neurological connections . Not only does BDNF help increase learning ability and general cognitive abilities, but also reduces the effects of depression as well. The same study increased stressors on animals and found the berberine could reduce cortisol (a hormone associated with stress).
A 2015 study in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior showed berberine could protect the brain against oxidative stress and toxins in particular . The modern world provides many opportunities to consume toxins whether it is from airborne pollution, foods we eat, or simply accidental injury. The studies suggest berberine can help to retain memories even in the presence of toxins within the brain.
Some of the evidence showing berberine benefits focuses on the brain from a diabetic’s perspective. In one such 2013 study, scientists found that diabetes reduced synaptic plasticity (learning ability) in the hippocampus. This is the region most known for storing memories. The study found that not only did diabetes impair memory in this region, but berberine could help avoid this side effect altogether .
It is hard to say what the benefits of berberine might be for a completely healthy adult, but the evidence suggests berberine could be an effective tool for anyone who is overweight. Other berberine benefits include antidepressive , reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease , and even modulation of telomere length, which is a major indicator of aging .
What is Berberine?
Berberine is an alkaloid compound, which is extracted from numerous herbs across the globe. Used first in traditional Chinese medicine, the alkaloid is now extracted and supplemented for many of the above mentioned benefits.
Unlike some other compounds (such as black seed oil where the main psychoactive ingredient is thymoquinone), berberine is the psychoactive ingredient.
Berberine Side Effects
Some of the major berberine side effects include interaction with other drugs. As an alkaloid that interacts with certain enzymes, it can alter how our body handles other compounds. There are risks of interaction with antibiotics, which can cause heart toxicity.
There are numerous contraindications of berberine, but one important rule is to simply avoid using the compound during pregnancy. Some of the other drugs contraindicated include:
- Cyclosporin A
If you are taking any of these, don’t consume berberine as well.
Aside from the contraindications, some studies (and anecdotal reports) find berberine side effects include gastrointestinal distress. A meta-analysis of 14 trials found that berberine was associated with higher gastrointestinal discomfort than placebo .
The same study found that reducing the berberine dosage or spreading out the use of the drug could have a beneficial result on the outcome.
Finally, there is some evidence to suggest the increase in AMPK from berberine will reduce muscle cell hypertrophy (growth).
The standard berberine dosage to start is 900 – 2000 mg per day divided into 3 – 4 doses.
Our recommendation is to use a berberine dosage of the following to test whether or not you should continue using the substance:
- Day 1: 100 mg once
- Day 2: 100 – 150 mg twice (total 2 – 300 mg)
- Day 3: 200 mg three times (total 600 mg)
Only after this three day usage should you start going for the higher dosing. This is a system similar to the Shulgin method, which allows you to understand whether the drug causes you distress before taking large doses.
How and Where to Buy Berberine
Due to the long history of berberine, there are many sources where you can buy the alkaloid. It is particularly easy to buy berberine online compared to a local health food store. Many of the products are made with a focus on quality, but one in particular might be useful.
The brand founded by Dr. Whitaker is considered to be a reliable source of berberine. He is a doctor with a great reputation and recommends users purchase berberine with a focus on safety and reliability. This would be our recommendation for buying berberine for long-term usage.
Online there are plenty of berberine reviews suggesting that this might be one of the next “miracle drugs” with a panacea of benefits (Kurtis Frank’s words). While it might seem that way, Frank and others are quick to point out the downsides including plenty of contraindications.
If you are reading berberine reviews on forums like Longecity or Reddit, keep in mind that these are individual experiences and hard to measure. It is best for you to take these with a grain of salt and then decide whether or not the scientific evidence is also in favor of whatever you are trying to achieve.
Selected Community Experiences
“I’ve used berberine for a time as a supplement. In that supplement there was also banaba leaf. I’ve had some fairly bad indigestion/ nausea from this supplement. It’s been a long time since i’ve taken it but any effects i may have felt were acute. It also tastes like death. I would not put it under my tongue unless I wanted to lose my appetite and my lunch at the same time.”  – beastlymelon
“I do not believe that Berberine is safe for chronic use, it is potentially carcinogenic and definitely genotoxic.”  – genetastic