Berberine, an active ingredient in several plants, shows good effects in managing high blood sugar and excess body weight, plus lower risk of colorectal cancer.

How do experts use berberine?

Both medical groups and integrative experts provide recommendations for berberine in treating people with cancer. Learn more about the approaches and meanings of recommendations: Integrative Oncology Programs and Expert Guidelines ›

Clinical practice guidelines

In this 2018 review, berberine is listed as shown to lower glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) by at least 0.5% in randomized controlled trials lasting at least 3 months.

Published protocols, programs, and approaches

These protocolsa package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care, programs, and approaches by leaders in integrative cancer care use or recommend this therapy or practice.

We do not recommend specific integrative protocols or programs but provide information for you to evaluate with your healthcare team.

Keith Block, MD

Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.

The integrative Block Program has recommendations to people who are at different places along the cancer continuum:

  • Those who’ve been recently diagnosed
  • Those in treatment
  • Those who’ve concluded treatment and need to remain vigilant to prevent recurrence

Berberine is used for blood sugar (glycemic) support.

Gerald M. Lemole, MD; Pallav K. Mehta, MD; and Dwight L. McKee, MD

Lemole GM, Mehta PK, McKee DL. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.

These doctors present easy-to-incorporate lifestyle changes to help you “turn on” hundreds of genes that fight cancer, and “turn off” the ones that encourage cancer, while recommending lifestyle approaches to address each type.

Berberine is used for multiple myeloma and renal cancer.

Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc

MacDonald B. The Breast Cancer Companion—A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition. Self-published. 2016.

Naturopathic physician Barbara MacDonald provides information about breast cancer, its conventional treatment, and natural approaches to enhancing treatment, managing side effects, reducing risk of recurrence, and healthy living after cancer treatment is completed.

Dr. Barbara MacDonald recommends against taking berberine during taxol treatment; see Safety and precautions ›

Neil McKinney, BSc, ND

McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.

This book includes descriptions and uses of many natural and complementary protocols for cancer in general and for specific cancers. It also includes information on integrative support during conventional cancer treatment.

Anticancer effects:

  • Promotes apoptosisprogrammed cell death, a normal process of all cells in our bodies. Cancer cells can evade this process and live longer than normal. Therapies that promote apoptosis get cancer cells to die their normal death
  • Promotes autophagyconsumption of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process occurring in fasting, starvation and certain diseases; cellular self-cleansing  
  • Induces differentiation 
  • Antimutagenic 
  • Stem cell modulation
  • Antiviral regarding cancers linked to viruses 
  • Antimetastatic

Treatment enhancement:

  • Synergistic with carmustine (BCNU)
  • Increase efficacy of radiation therapy by inhibiting TGFbeta

Managing side effects during radiotherapy:

  • Constipation
  • Anorexiaabnormal loss of appetite, often leading to weight loss, nausea, and fatigue associated with intestinal and pelvic radiation
  • Radiation pneumonitis
  • Protection of bowel and bladder from injury during pelvic radiation
  • Proctitis

Managing side effects during chemotherapy

  • Cardiomyopathy from anthracyclines such as Adriamycin/doxorubicin
  • Support mitochondrial recovery

Terrain support:

  • Lower insulin
  • Modulate hormones

Specific cancer protocols:

  • Brain cancer
  • Leukemia, except not with stem cell transplant
  • Liver and gallbladder cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Sarcomas
  • Stomach cancer

Dr. McKinney recommends against using berberine around the time of stem cell transplant due to its suppression of the immune system.

Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO, and Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO

Parmar G, Kaczor T. Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology: A Desktop Guide of Integrative Cancer Care. 1st edition. Medicatrix Holdings Ltd. 2020.

This book provides information on the treatment of 24 cancers, plus the most effective treatments of the most common symptoms affecting cancer patients while they undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

Berberine is used in the lung cancer protocol during radiation to reduce radiation-induced lung injury.

Traditional medicine

Berberine is an active ingredient in many herbal extracts and treatments used commonly in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

Learn more about traditional medicine and how to find practitioners: Finding Integrative Oncologists and Other Practitioners ›


See these resources for information on dosing:

McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.

General information about dosing

Find general dosing guidelines regarding natural products and supplements in Dosing Guidelines ›

Keep reading about berberine


Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher and writer for CancerChoices and also served as the first program manager. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher


Laura Pole, MSN, RN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, MSN, RN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: May 8, 2024

Last full literature review: February 2023

We are grateful for research assistance from Adriana Rocio Gutierrez Galvis.

CancerChoices provides information about integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care, and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocialtherapy, and acupuncture therapies and self carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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