Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Suppversity Excerpt: Berberine Supplements (Names Included) on the US Market Contain More/Less Berberine Than the Label Says

SuppVersity - Nutrition and Exercise Science for Everyone: 9/15 Berberine Supps (Names Included) on the US Ma...: Berberine is a yellow-colored alkaloid compound found in several different plants, including European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Or...

Health threat? Isn't that an exaggeration? Well, it depends. For the average consumer, it probably ain't a problem. With the ever-increasing number of studies that show that berberine could be used instead of metformin and/or on top of medical treatments for high blood glucose and/or lipids, some consumers may end with lower/higher levels of glucose or lipids in the blood when they (a) switch from one 500mg product to the other or (b) simply start a new bottle that was produced by the same manufacturer, but contains more/less of the active ingredient (note: I personally was afraid that the deviations from the label may be much larger and am relatively happy with the results, but I guess that's my personal disillusionment).

The last-mentioned possibility that the potency varies not just between products, but also from batch to batch, is also why I wouldn't rely too much on the data from the study at hand.  The next batch of supplement #9, the "best" supplement in this study, of which the authors rightly point out that it was limited "[p]rimarily" by the fact that they "analyzed the berberine content of one individual bottle from each manufacturer" (Funk 2017), may well contain significantly lower amounts of berberine than the one that was tested by Funk et al. for the study at hand. As previously hinted at, this is a general problem with dietary supplements. It's a problem you should know about, and one that disqualifies them as 1:1 replacement for medications, but not one that should make you shy away from supplements altogether, in my humble opinion.


  • Funk, R.S. et al. "Variability in Potency Among Commercial Preparations of Berberine." J Diet Suppl. 2017 Aug 9:1-9. doi: 10.1080/19390211.2017.1347227. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Brown, Paula N., and Mark C. Roman. "Determination of hydrastine and berberine in goldenseal raw materials, extracts, and dietary supplements by high-performance liquid chromatography with UV: Collaborative study." Journal of AOAC International 91.4 (2008): 694-701.
  • Dong, Hui, et al. "Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2012).
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  • Edwards, David J., and Emily J. Draper. "Variations in alkaloid content of herbal products containing goldenseal." Journal of the American Pharmacists Association 43.3 (2003): 419-423.
  • Gershwin, M. Eric, et al. "Public safety and dietary supplementation." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1190.1 (2010): 104-117.
  • Sarma, Nandakumara, Gabriel Giancaspro, and Jaap Venema. "Dietary supplements quality analysis tools from the United States Pharmacopeia." Drug testing and analysis 8.3-4 (2016): 418-423.
  • Sun, Yiyi, et al. "A systematic review of the anticancer properties of berberine, a natural product from Chinese herbs." Anti-cancer drugs 20.9 (2009): 757-769.
  • Ye, Minzhong, et al. "Neuropharmacological and pharmacokinetic properties of berberine: a review of recent research." Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 61.7 (2009): 831-837.