Berberine versus placebo for the prevention of recurrence of colorectal adenoma: a multicentre, double-blinded, randomised controlled study

Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020 Mar;5(3):267-275. doi: 10.1016/S2468-1253(19)30409-1. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Background: Chemoprevention of colorectal adenoma and colorectal cancer remains an important public health goal. The present study aimed to investigate the clinical potential and safety of berberine for prevention of colorectal adenoma recurrence.

Methods: This double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial was done in seven hospital centres across six provinces in China. Individuals aged 18-75 years who had at least one but no more than six histologically confirmed colorectal adenomas that had undergone complete polypectomy within the 6 months before recruitment were recruited and randomly assigned (1:1) to receive berberine (0·3 g twice daily) or placebo tablets via block randomisation (block size of six). Participants were to undergo a first follow-up colonoscopy 1 year after enrolment, and if no colorectal adenomas were detected, a second follow-up colonoscopy at 2 years was planned. The study continued until the last enrolled participant reached the 2-year follow-up point. All participants, investigators, endoscopists, and pathologists were blinded to treatment assignment. The primary efficacy endpoint was the recurrence of adenomas at any follow-up colonoscopy. Analysis was based on modified intention-to-treat, with the full analysis set including all randomised participants who received at least one dose of study medication and who had available efficacy data. The study is registered with, number NCT02226185; the trial has ended and this report represents the final analysis.

Findings: Between Nov 14, 2014, and Dec 30, 2016, 553 participants were randomly assigned to the berberine group and 555 to the placebo group. The full analysis set consisted of 429 participants in the berberine group and 462 in the placebo group. 155 (36%) participants in the berberine group and 216 (47%) in the placebo group were found to have recurrent adenoma during follow-up (unadjusted relative risk ratio for recurrence 0·77, 95% CI 0·66-0·91; p=0·001). No colorectal cancers were detected during follow-up. The most common adverse event was constipation (six [1%] of 446 patients in the berberine group vs one [<0·5%] of 478 in the placebo group). No serious adverse events were reported.

Interpretation: Berberine 0·3 g twice daily was safe and effective in reducing the risk of recurrence of colorectal adenoma and could be an option for chemoprevention after polypectomy.

Funding: National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / pathology
  • Adenoma / prevention & control*
  • Adenoma / surgery
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aftercare
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use*
  • Berberine / administration & dosage
  • Berberine / adverse effects
  • Berberine / therapeutic use*
  • Chemoprevention / methods
  • China / epidemiology
  • Colonoscopy / methods
  • Colonoscopy / statistics & numerical data
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Intention to Treat Analysis / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Placebos / administration & dosage
  • Plants, Medicinal / adverse effects
  • Recurrence
  • Safety
  • Young Adult


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Placebos
  • Berberine

Associated data