Antidiabetic properties of berberine: from cellular pharmacology to clinical effects

Hosp Pract (1995). 2012 Apr;40(2):56-63. doi: 10.3810/hp.2012.04.970.


Berberine is an alkaloid that is highly concentrated in the roots, rhizomes, and stem bark of various plants. It affects glucose metabolism, increasing insulin secretion, stimulating glycolysis, suppressing adipogenesis, inhibiting mitochondrial function, activating the 5' adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) pathway, and increasing glycokinase activity. Berberine also increases glucose transporter-4 (GLUT-4) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) levels. On GLP-1 receptor activation, adenylyl cyclase is activated, and cyclic adenosine monophosphate is generated, leading to activation of second messenger pathways and closure of adenosine triphosphate-dependent potassium channels. Increased intracellular potassium causes depolarization, and calcium influx through the voltage-dependent calcium channels occurs. This intracellular calcium increase stimulates the migration and exocytosis of the insulin granules. In glucose-consuming tissues, such as adipose, or liver or muscle cells, berberine affects both GLUT-4 and retinol-binding protein-4 in favor of glucose uptake into cells; stimulates glycolysis by AMPK activation; and has effects on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ molecular targets and on the phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1, finally resulting in decreased insulin resistance. Moreover, recent studies suggest that berberine could have a direct action on carbohydrate metabolism in the intestine. The antidiabetic and insulin-sensitizing effect of berberine has also been confirmed in a few relatively small, short-term clinical trials. The tolerability is high for low dosages, with some gastrointestinal complaints appearing to be associated with use of high dosages.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Berberine / chemistry
  • Berberine / pharmacology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / chemistry
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Molecular Structure


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Berberine