Toxicity and Berberine HCL Supplements

Berberine hydrochloride, also known as berberine HCL, is a dietary supplement that contains the natural plant substance berberine. Used frequently in non-traditional medical systems like Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, berberine has shown to be effective for treating a variety of conditions. A safety and efficacy study published in the July 2003 issue of the “American Journal of Cardiology” determined the supplement helped to improve the quality of life of patients with congestive heart failure with no apparent side effects or toxicity 2.

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Berberine is a naturally occurring alkaloid chemical found in the roots and barks of certain herbs. The ancient Chinese herb Coptis chinensis French contains berberine. Barberry, an herb used by Indian folk medicine for more than 2,500 years also contains berberine. Other herbs known to contain berberine include goldenseal, Oregon grape, phellodendron amurense and yerba mansa.


The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that berberine exhibits antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, sedative and anti-convulsive effects. Some patients take berberine HCL to treat or prevent fungal, parasitic, yeast, bacterial or viral infections. Although originally used to treat infections of the digestive tract that cause diarrhea, in 1980 researchers discovered that berberine lowers blood sugar levels, as reported by a study published in the October 2007 issue of the “American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism.” Berberine may also lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure according to information provided by Dr. Ray Sahelian, author and herbal product formulator 1.


Berberine can relieve diarrhea by fighting off the infection causing the bacteria. Berberine helps regulate blood sugar by increasing sensitivity to insulin – the hormone required for cells to uptake and use the glucose for energy. Berberine HCL supplements also affect blood glucose levels by increasing the process of glycolysis in which the body converts glucose into pyruvate to produce energy. Berberine helps lower blood cholesterol levels by stabilizing the LDL cholesterol receptors on liver cells and inhibiting the production of cholesterol in the liver.


Because berberine HCL is a dietary supplement, it is not regulated as by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a pharmaceutical. Studies, like the one published in the “American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism,” tested the effects of berberine in rats and found that it was not toxic to cells 1. A study conducted using human subjects and published in “American Journal of Cardiology” confirms that berberine does induce physiologic benefits in humans without producing negative side effects 3. Despite these positive results, before taking any dietary supplement, consult your doctor.