Berberine and Acne


Let’s talk about a very promising natural acne-fighter, berberine, and how it helped me go from this:

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To this:


Berberine is an alkaloid compound that is isolated from plants such as Barberry, Goldenseal and Oregon Grape. It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine going back centuries and is currently making a resurgence as an herbal treatment for type-II diabetes, poly cystic ovarian syndrome, high cholesterol and acne.

Berberine has anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory effects and is able to reduce glucose production in the liver:

“Berberine targets a very basic and ancient regulator of metabolism present in all animals and plants called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). AMPK stimulates the uptake of glucose into the cells, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces glucose production in the liver, which is in overdrive in patients with diabetes. It slows the release of free fatty acids, which lowers lipid levels and prevents harmful fat deposition, and boosts fat burning in the mitochondria. It also stimulates the release of nitric oxide (NO), a signaling molecule that relaxes the arteries, increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, and protects against atherosclerosis.” source:

In addition to the properties described above, berberine is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and androgen-inhibiting. It suppresses acne by inhibiting the skin-cell processes that form comedones, killing the acne-causing bacteria P. acnes, suppressing sebum production and improving intestinal permeability. One clinical study has shown a 45% reduction in acne following one month of treatment.

Looking for more information on berberine? Read my Berberine Q&A here.

My experience with berberine 

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I am just finishing up a second course of berberine. I started the herb in September, after my naturopath recommended it to improve my digestion and gut and help my acne. She started me on 1,000 mg twice daily of Thorne Research Berberine.  It’s one of the cheaper herbs I’ve taken – $28 CDN for 60 pills purchased through my naturopath.  

I only took this dose for 10 days as I started feeling as though I was hungover all the time – likely a detox reaction. I went down to 500 mg a day for the remainder of September. I was still getting frequent breakouts, possibly because I hadn’t changed my diet at the time. One side effect I did notice  was that I dropped about five pounds within a week of starting the supplement. This is likely initial water weight loss says my naturopath. 

I started another course of berberine again at the end of November, in the middle of my gluten-free/sugar free diet. 500 mg twice daily transitioning to 500 mg once daily for the last two weeks of the month. Again, I dropped about 5-7 pounds right off the bat (I had regained the weight I lost earlier in the fall). 

A few words of caution – I’d recommend starting slow with this herb as it is powerful stuff. When I was beginning this second course of berberine I took 1,000 mg on the first day (two pills at the same time) and within an hour felt extremely nauseated and could barely stop myself from throwing up. I had to high tail it home from work and immediately go to bed. I felt better within a few hours, but it was scary.  Due to it’s intense anti-microbial properties, you should also up your probiotic intake, and not take the herb for more than two months at a time. I’ve been drinking raw goat’s milk kefir and taking probiotic supplements as well. It should also be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women as it is toxic to the fetus and breastfeeding infant

How has my skin been during this second course of berberine? Great! I’m sure it is largely due to the diet I’m on, but as I’ve started reintroducing sugar and gluten, my skin has remained excellent – smooth and fairly clear. It’s hard to say, but I’d attribute it in part to the berberine. I have two pills left, and will be taking a break from berberine for the next month. I will likely start taking the herb again in February. 

The bottom line

If you’re suffering from acne and have been trying to heal your gut through diet and supplements, berberine may be the next step to clear skin. It’s worth a shot.

Looking for more information on berberine? Read my Berberine Q&A here.

February 2015 update: After talking to my naturopath about my longer term plan with berberine, she suggested I stick to one pill a day (500mg) for several months as that may be the minimal dose I need to continuing seeing the positive effects. She said another option is to take the herb for the first two weeks of my cycle and then take a two week break. This would definitely be the route to take if you are trying to conceive as you do not want to be taking this herb while pregnant. My plan is to continue taking 500 mg a day until the end of April, while still taking lots of probiotics and kefir.

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