Berberis vulgaris, commonly known as barberry, is a shrub that grows tart, red berries.
While the plant is native to parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia, it can now be found all over the world.
Its berries have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat digestive issues, infections, and skin conditions.
They contain several beneficial compounds, most notably berberine, which acts as an antioxidant and may help manage conditions like diabetes, fight dental infections, and treat acne (1).
Here are 9 impressive benefits of barberries.
Barberries are highly nutritious. They are rich in carbs, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals.
In particular, the berries are an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that may help protect against cellular damage, which can lead to heart disease and cancer (2).
A 1/4-cup (28-gram) serving of dried barberries contains (3):
Barberries are rich in berberine, a unique plant compound that may be associated with several health benefits.
Studies have shown that it acts as a powerful antioxidant, combating cell damage caused by reactive molecules called free radicals (11).
What’s more, barberries contain other compounds that may have health benefits, such as other alkaloids and organic acids. Yet, most research has focused on berberine (12).
Summary Barberries contain a high concentration of berberine, a therapeutic compound with antioxidant activity that may provide several health benefits.
Barberries — and in particular their berberine content — may play a role in managing diabetes, which is a chronic disease marked by high blood sugar levels.
Specifically, berberine has been shown to improve how your cells respond to the hormone insulin, which regulates the amount of sugar in your blood. In turn, this may help lower your blood sugar levels (14, 15).
One 3-month study in 36 adults with type 2 diabetes found that taking 1.5 grams of berberine per day led to a significant 2% reduction in hemoglobin A1c — a measure of your average blood sugar control over the past 3 months — compared with baseline values (16).
In fact, researchers found that the beneficial effects of berberine on blood sugar and hemoglobin-A1c were comparable to those of the traditional diabetes drug Metformin (16).
Another 8-week study in 30 people with type 2 diabetes found that those who took 2 mg of dried barberry fruit extract daily had reduced hemoglobin A1c levels and significantly lower blood sugar levels, compared with a placebo group (17).
However, these studies focused on supplemental berberine and barberry extract. It’s unclear if consuming fresh or dried barberries would have comparable effects on your blood sugar control.
Summary Studies suggest that supplemental berberine and barberry extract can lower your blood sugar levels and may help treat diabetes.
Barberries have been used to treat diarrhea for centuries.
In fact, one of the oldest human studies on berberine found that it was effective at treating diarrhea caused by infections from certain bacteria, including E. coli (21).
Furthermore, one study in 196 adults with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D) found taking 800 mg of berberine hydrochloride per day significantly decreased the frequency of diarrhea and the urgent need to defecate, compared with a placebo (22).
While these results are interesting, more human research is needed to better understand how berberine and barberries may help treat diarrhea.
Summary Berberine may prevent diarrhea by slowing transit time in the gut. Thus, eating berberine-rich barberries might help treat diarrhea. However, more studies are needed.
Eating barberries may help prevent metabolic syndrome, which is marked by a cluster of risk factors that increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
In particular, barberries may protect against obesity and high blood sugar, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood pressure levels — all of which are risk factors for this syndrome (23).
One 8-week study in 46 patients with type 2 diabetes found that drinking around 7 ounces (200 ml) of barberry juice per day significantly reduced blood pressure, triglyceride, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, compared with a placebo (24).
In addition to improving the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, barberries may help decrease oxidative stress in those who already have the condition.
Oxidative stress results from underlying cell damage caused by reactive molecules called free radicals. Having too much oxidative stress — and not enough antioxidants to fight it — can lead to heart disease and other health issues (25).
A 6-week study in 106 people with metabolic syndrome showed taking 600 mg of dried barberry per day significantly decreased oxidative stress compared with a placebo (25).
Based on these results, eating the berries may help decrease your risk factors for metabolic syndrome, as well as reduce oxidative stress associated with it. Nevertheless, more research is needed.
Summary Barberries have been shown to improve your risk factors for metabolic syndrome and decrease oxidative stress associated with it.
Test-tube studies have shown that barberry extract can fight inflammation.
This is likely because berberine acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent (12).
Therefore, it may help treat inflammatory dental diseases like gingivitis, which is marked by plaque build-up, swelling, and irritation of the gums (26).
One study in 45 boys between the ages of 11 and 12 found that applying barberry dental gel for 21 days reduced plaque and gingivitis significantly more than a placebo (27).
The study also found that the barberry gel was more effective than traditional anti-plaque toothpaste, but the results were not significant (27).
These results suggest that barberry treatments may promote good dental health, but more research is needed.
Summary Given that berberine is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, dental gels containing barberry may help fight gingivitis and related inflammation of the mouth. However, research is still limited.
There are several different ways in which barberries may exert anticancer effects, all of which are related to berberine.
Since berberine acts as an antioxidant, it may help fight underlying oxidative damage associated with cancer development (28).
Additionally, berberine may cause cancer cell death, prevent cancer cell replication, and inhibit enzymes involved in the life cycle of cancer cells (28).
However, research is limited to test-tube studies, and more research is needed to better understand the potential role of barberries in cancer treatment and prevention.
Summary Berberine may help protect against cancer through different mechanisms and has been shown to slow cancer progression in test-tube studies.
Barberries may play a role in treating acne, a skin condition characterized by inflamed bumps and pimples.
Specifically, berberine and other compounds in barberries may help fight inflammation and infections associated with acne (33).
One study in adolescents with moderate to severe acne found that taking 600 mg of dried barberry extract per day for 4 weeks significantly reduced the average number of lesions compared with a placebo (33).
The study concluded that extract from this berry may be a safe and effective treatment option for teenagers with acne, but more extensive research is needed.
Summary Limited research suggests that barberry extract is effective at treating acne and decreasing pimples, but more studies are needed.
Barberries are known to have a tart, slightly sweet flavor and can be eaten raw, in jam, or as a component of rice dishes and salads. They can also be juiced or used to make tea.
Supplemental forms of barberry include dried capsules, liquid extracts, and ointments or gels made from whole berries or berberine extract. However, due to the limited research in humans, there is no recommended dosage for barberry or berberine supplements.
What’s more, there is no research on the effects of barberries in children or pregnant or lactating women. Therefore, barberry or berberine supplements should be avoided in these populations (34).
To reap the possible health benefits of barberries, try using whole, fresh berries in your cooking.
If you are interested in taking a barberry or berberine supplement, consult your healthcare provider first and look for a supplement that has been tested for quality by a third party.
Summary Whole barberries are versatile and can be added to jams, salads, and used to make tea. Barberry supplements come in different forms and should be used with caution, especially in high doses and for certain populations like children and pregnant women.
Barberries are the tart, red berries of the Berberis vulgaris plant.
They contain a unique compound called berberine, which acts as an antioxidant. It may help improve blood sugar control, fight inflammation related to dental infections and acne, and treat diarrhea.
Adding barberries to your diet may help you reap some health benefits, but be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking supplemental barberry or berberine.