Berberine is a quaternary ammonium salt from the protoberberine group of isoquinoline alkaloids found in such plants as gender Berberis. Berberine is recognised to improve glucose and lipid metabolism disorders and preliminary clinical evidences suggest the ability of berberine to reduce endothelial inflammation improving vascular health, even in patients already affected by cardiovascular diseases, suggesting a possible interesting role of berberine and its metabolites in clinical practice. However, its physicochemical properties, pharmacokinetic, and metabolism are not fully elucidated and contradictory data have been reported.
This review provides a summary regarding the pharmacological and biological features of berberine, with a focus on berberine as well as their pharmacologically active metabolites and the different mechanisms underlying their activities in order to clarify the correct use of berberine supplementation, alone or in association with other nutraceuticals, for the management of metabolic disorders associated to increased cardiovascular disease risk. A particular attention has also been given to the available clinical trials assessing its short- and middle- term use tolerability, safety and efficacy in various conditions, such as dyslipidaemia, impaired fasting glucose, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.