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Berberine: the power of color and bitter flavor

By Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, CNW, CDSP, CGP

How often do we connect flavor, color, and historical use of foods and herbs to wellness? Our choices are frequently unconscious, reflexive and based on convenience. For centuries, cultures have utilized natural compounds daily or seasonally for wellness. In Asian gastronomy, the selection of spices and foods involves far more color and flavors Westerners shy away from – bitter, dry and astringent.

Current science is expanding our understanding of traditional foods, herbs and gastronomy. Each year, more research supports what American Indian elders from the Pacific Northwest Nations have known about Oregon Grape’s health benefits for generations. Equally, the power of the Asian cultural herb turmeric and spices has been repeatedly documented in PubMed for an expansive list of health challenges. What do these two herbs have in common?

In the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon grape, a prickly low shrub, has been used in native gastronomy for over a millennium. From the pioneer’s perspective, the dark purple berries with a rich grape flavor were the only edible portion of the plant. High quantities of sugar were used to mask the astringency of the juice, which, like elderberry juice, contains high levels of polyphenols, vitamin C, tannins, and cyanidins. In contrast, for First Peoples, the bright yellow flowers, root, layer just under the bark and the bitter compounds of the leaves and flowers provided the actual value. Native Americans used concoctions, decoctions, and infusions of Oregon grape plant parts to treat a wide variety of human ailments, including syphilis, arthritis, and itchy eyes.  Oregon grape is a medicinal herb from the Berberidaceae plant family. It has a long history of use for skin irritations, indigestion, arthritis, and stomach ulcers from h.Pylori. Oregon grape, European Barberry, Goldenseal, Chinese Goldthread and Turmeric share a significant bioactive compound called berberine. This natural plant extract gives the Oregon grape and Turmeric its yellow color and anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.

Common foods containing berberine are barley, oats, wheat, barberry, and cranberries. Cooking or processing berberine-containing edible foods reduces their berberine content. For the most berberine benefit, consume in raw or minimally processed forms.

Berberine is an isoquinoline alkaloid with many pharmacological activities. Berberine is a bitter-tasting and yellow-colored chemical. Traditionally used to strengthen the heartbeat, kill bacteria, regulate blood glucose, and help reduce swelling. Berberine supplements are commonly used for diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver (metabolic syndrome), and high blood pressure.[1]  Berberine has been a part of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.[2] Traditionally, berberine-containing herbs have been used for burns, canker sores, and liver disease.

Berberine is particularly interesting because of its antidiabetic and antioxidant activities based on multiple biochemical pathways.[3]  Studies of berberine show growing efficacy in treating several metabolic health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, heart problems, and gut health.[4] Metabolic disorder is the most common cause of chronic diseases worldwide. There are more than 415 million people with diabetes in the world, and the number is expected to increase to 642 million by 2040.[5],[6]


The most notable benefits include:

  • Lowering blood sugar levels: Berberine has been shown to be effective in reducing blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It works by increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing glucose production in the liver.
  • Neuroprotective: There is evidence that berberine is a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.[7],[8]
  • Reducing inflammation: Berberine has anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful in treating conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and skin disorders.[9],[10]
  • Fighting infections: Berberine has potent antimicrobial properties, making it effective against a wide-range of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. It has been used to treat various infections, including respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, and skin infections.[11],[12]
  • Improving heart health: Berberine has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, hypertension and the risk of heart disease.[13],[14] It also has a protective effect on the heart by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • Hormone Imbalances: Metabolic Syndrome and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) involve hormone imbalances and enlarged ovaries with cysts (PCOS). Berberine reduces testosterone levels and lowers the waist-to-hip ratio in people with PCOS.


An increase in the production of synthetic berberine. This compound is created in a laboratory and is chemically identical to the natural form found in plants. Synthetic berberine is often used in supplements and medications due to its lower cost and higher purity compared with natural sources. Herbal experts contend that synthetic berberine is not as effective as the natural form with its many synergistic compounds.

Berberine supplements are available through a wide selection of holistic providers and health food stores in 500mg capsules. Consumers can use up to 1,500mg daily, taken throughout the day. A certified or licensed holistic or herbalist provider should be consulted before use. Results show that using berberine for blood sugar support and weight control usually takes 2-3 months.[15]


Drug interactions with Berberine:

According to WebMD,[16] the following medications should not be taken with berberine.

  • Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune) interacts with berberine.

WebMD Use with Caution

  • Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4), P450 2C9 (CYP2C9), P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) substrates).
  • Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs).
  • Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetic drugs). Berberine might lower blood sugar levels. Taking berberine along with diabetes medications might cause blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely.
  • Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs) Taking berberine along with medications that lower blood pressure might cause blood pressure to go too low. Monitor your blood pressure closely.
  • Berberine might decrease how quickly the body breaks down dextromethorphan, which could increase its effects and side effects.
  • Losartan (Cozaar) Berberine might decrease how quickly the body activates it, which might decrease the effects of losartan.
  • Midazolam (Versed) This might increase midazolam’s effects and side effects.

    Our Journey With Food - Third Edition book cover

  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal) Taking berberine with pentobarbital might cause too much sleepiness.
  • Tacrolimus (Prograf) This might increase tacrolimus’s effects and side effects.
  • Metformin (Glucophage) Taking berberine and metformin simultaneously doesn’t appear to increase the amount of metformin in the body.


Additional information on Oregon Grape, Berberine and Tumeric can be found in Our Journey with Food 3rd edition (2023) and Our Journey with Food Cookery Book 2nd edition (2022), Available in eBook and Print 



[2] Funk, R. S., Singh, R. K., Winefield, R. D., Kandel, S. E., Ruisinger, J. F., Moriarty, P. M., & Backes, J. M. (2018). Variability in Potency Among Commercial Preparations of Berberine. Journal of dietary supplements, 15(3), 343–351.

[3] Purwaningsih, I., Maksum, I. P., Sumiarsa, D., & Sriwidodo, S. (2023). A Review of Fibraurea tinctoria and Its Component, Berberine, as an Antidiabetic and Antioxidant. Molecules, 28(3).

[4] Pacyga, K., Pacyga, P., Topola, E., Viscardi, S., & Duda-Madej, A. (2024). Bioactive Compounds from Plant Origin as Natural Antimicrobial Agents for the Treatment of Wound Infections. International journal of molecular sciences, 25(4), 2100.

[5] Yaping Liang, Xiaojia Xu, Mingjuan Yin, Yan Zhang, Lingfeng Huang, Ruoling Chen, Jindong Ni, Effects of berberine on blood glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic literature review and a meta-analysis, Endocrine Journal, 2019, Volume 66, Issue 1, Pages 51-63,

[6] Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors for Chronic Diseases Collaboration (2014) Cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes mortality burden of cardiometabolic risk factors from 1980 to 2010: a comparative risk assessment. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 2: 634–647.

[7] Akbar, M., Shabbir, A., Rehman, K., Akash, M. S. H., & Shah, M. A. (2021). Neuroprotective potential of berberine in modulating Alzheimer’s disease via multiple signaling pathways. Journal of food biochemistry, 45(10), e13936.

[8] Akash, M. S. H., Akbar, M., Rehman, K., Shah, M. A., Panichayupakaranant, P., Imran, M., & Assiri, M. A. (2023). Biochemical profiling of berberine-enriched extract in aluminum chloride induced oxidative damage and neuroinflammation. Environmental science and pollution research international, 30(36), 85263–85275.

[9] Naz, I., Masoud, M. S., Chauhdary, Z., Shah, M. A., & Panichayupakaranant, P. (2022). Anti-inflammatory potential of berberine-rich extract via modulation of inflammation biomarkers. Journal of food biochemistry, 46(12), e14389.

[10] Shakeri, F., Kiani, S., Rahimi, G., & Boskabady, M. H. (2024). Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory effects of Berberis vulgaris and its constituent berberine, experimental and clinical, a review. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 38(4), 1882–1902.

[11] Zhang, C., Li, Z., Pan, Q., Fan, L., Pan, T., Zhu, F., Pan, Q., Shan, L., & Zhao, L. (2022). Berberine at sub-inhibitory concentration inhibits biofilm dispersal in Staphylococcus aureus. Microbiology (Reading, England), 168(9), 10.1099/mic.0.001243.

[12] Xiao, Y., Wan, C., Wu, X., Xu, Y., Chen, Y., Rao, L., Wang, B., Shen, L., Han, W., Zhao, H., Shi, J., Zhang, J., Song, Z., & Yu, F. (2024). Novel small-molecule compound YH7 inhibits the biofilm formation of Staphylococcus aureus in a sarX-dependent manner. mSphere, 9(1), e0056423.

[13] Wang, H., Zhu, C., Ying, Y., Luo, L., Huang, D., & Luo, Z. (2017). Metformin and berberine, two versatile drugs in treatment of common metabolic diseases. Oncotarget, 9(11), 10135–10146.

[14] Lan, J., Zhao, Y., Dong, F., Yan, Z., Zheng, W., Fan, J., & Sun, G. (2015). Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 161, 69-81.