Berberine: A Powerful Supplement for Diabetes?

For some reason or another, berberine doesn’t appear to be a trendy or often talked about supplement.

This is shocking when you think about all the ways berberine can be beneficial to your health.

Considering the effects that berberine has, it’s incredible more people don’t know about it.

Berberine is also helpful across a range of different health conditions.

One of these is diabetes mellitus. Diabetes can affect the nerves, the kidneys, and metabolism.

Berberine can help with these diabetic complications as well. Berberine is helpful with diabetes itself. But it can actually help to manage some of its resulting complications.

Berberine has many effects that are comparable to those of metformin. Metformin is an often prescribed medication for the management of diabetes.

Let’s learn more about the beauty of berberine together. Berberine benefits are aplenty, so let’s dive in.

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What Is Berberine?

Berberine is an ammonium salt from a group of compounds called isoquinoline alkaloids.

It is often available in the form of berberine sulfate or berberine HCL. It is found in the roots, rhizome, stem, and bark of certain plants. These plants include:

  • Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape)

  • Berberis vulgaris (Barberry)

  • Berberis aristate (Tree turmeric)

  • Hydrastis Canadensis (Goldenseal)

  • Xanthorhiza simplicissima (Yellowroot)

  • Phellodendron amurense (Amur corktree)

  • Coptis chinensis, also referred to as Coptidis rhizoma (Chinese goldthread)

  • Tinospora cordifolia

  • Argemone Mexicana (Prickly poppy)

  • Eschscholzia californica (California poppy)

How Does Berberine Work?

After taking berberine, it undergoes extensive metabolism in the body. This results in low exposure of berberine in the blood. The metabolites of berberine that contribute to many of its pharmacological effects.

Molecules called non-coding RNAs are regulators of the anti-diabetic effects of berberine. This involves several complex signal pathways.

Berberine works against oxidative stress and inflammation. These are two things that help in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Berberine helps to change levels of proinflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress markers.

Researchers have noticed that berberine suppresses oxidative stress and inflammation in tissues. These include kidney tissue, fat tissue, liver tissue, pancreatic tissue, and others.

Berberine uses enzymes and signaling pathways in its mechanism.

Berberine helps to lower blood sugar by regulating the intestinal microflora and metabolism. One scientific study found that rats with type 2 diabetes had the following:

  • Disorders of glucose metabolism

  • Disorders of lipid metabolism

  • Abnormal intestinal bacteria

  • An overgrowth of bad types of bacteria

  • Larger numbers of disease-causing bacteria

  • Inflammation of tissue throughout their bodies

  • Helps improve fatty liver disease

Treatment with berberine improved metabolic disorder to a significant degree. Berberine increased the populations of the following beneficial bacteria:

  • Bacteroidetes

  • Clostridia

  • Lactobacillales

  • Prevotellaceae

  • Alloprevotella

Berberine was also able to reduce oxidative stress. This improved the metabolism of glucose.

Berberine is used in Western naturopathic medicine. But it has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In Chinese medicine, berberine helps diabetes. It does this by clearing internal fire and removing damp heat.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Berberine For Diabetes?

1) Lower blood sugar levels

One study evaluated berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. It included 36 adults with a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes mellitus. They were assigned to treatment with berberine or metformin at 0.5 grams, three times per day.

This was a three month-long trial. The results? They noticed the blood sugar lowering effect of berberine was like that of metformin.

Berberine led to significant decreases in hemoglobin a1c, from 9.5% to 7.5%. Berberine lowered fasting blood glucose from 10.6 mmol/L to 6.9 mmol/L. Berberine lowered postprandial blood glucose from 19.8 mmol/L to 11.1 mmol/L.

Another study looked at 48 adults with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus. Researchers treated these patients with berberine for three months. Berberine lowered both fasting blood sugar and after-meal blood glucose. This occurred during the very first week of the trial until the end of the third month. Berberine was also able to lower hemoglobin A1c from 8.1% to 7.3%.

2) May promote weight loss

Olanzapine is a medication that is often used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Yet it is also one of the antipsychotic drugs that have the highest risk of weight gain.

One study looked at the effects of berberine treatment for two weeks. It was able to prevent the weight gain and fat accumulation in rats given olanzapine.

The berberine did not change the amount of food the rats ate, even though it did reduce weight gain. Even if the rats were consuming a high-fat diet, they didn’t gain weight as they would without berberine.

Gene expression analysis showed that berberine was able to change gene expression. These genes control the burning of calories in the rats’ bodies.

Another study found that berberine increases the burning of calories in obese mice. It also limits weight gain and enhances fat tissue activity in obese mice. It does all this by increasing the expression of thermogenic genes in fat tissue, such as UCP1. It also stimulates expression of enzymes called AMPK and PGC-1 alpha.

This whole mechanism sounds complicated. But it showed researchers that berberine regulates energy balance. This means that berberine can be helpful in patients with obesity. Levels of free fatty acids in the blood often result from uncontrolled blood sugar.

3) PCOS

An article looked at nine studies that involved berberine in women with PCOS. Berberine was as effective as metformin. It was able to ease insulin resistance and improve fat metabolism. It was also able to improve reproductive hormone conditions. This increases fertility. Infertility is quite often a problem that women with polycystic ovary syndrome face.

Also, a medication called cyproterone acetate has increased effects when combined with berberine. This is especially true for its ability to improve reproductive hormone test results.

Berberine is also helpful when combined with other Chinese herbs. Researchers concluded that berberine is a promising prospect in patients with PCOS.

A different research study looked at female rats with insulin-resistant PCOS. They were treated with berberine for 28 days. Researchers found that berberine restored homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR).

It was also able to restore insulin sensitivity index values to normal levels. Normal anatomy and physiology of the ovaries were also restored with berberine treatment. Scientists found that berberine has the potential to reduce symptoms of PCOS. It also helped with insulin resistance. This is helpful because women with PCOS often have insulin resistance.

One study looked at infertile women with PCOS undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment. These patients were randomized to receive either berberine, metformin, or placebo tablets. This took place for three months before ovarian stimulation.

The metformin and berberine groups demonstrated reductions in testosterone and free androgen index. They also had lower fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and HOMA-IR.

Berberine and metformin also helped to increase the pregnancy rate. They also reduced the incidence of severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This is something that can occur in vitro fertilization treatments.

It seems as if berberine and metformin had all the same benefits. But berberine actually resulted in extra benefits to metformin. Berberine had greater decreases in body mass index and cholesterol. It also had a lower total need for follicular stimulating hormone. Those treated with berberine had more live births and less gastrointestinal side effects.

Researchers concluded that both berberine and metformin treatments before IVF improved pregnancy outcome. Berberine and metformin help normalize clinical, hormonal, and metabolic values.

Berberine still came out on top when considering the amount of live births and side effects. Berberine also had a more pronounced therapeutic effect than even metformin did.

4) May improve cardiovascular health

An analytical study looked at 16 other studies, with a total of 2147 patients included. They found that berberine is able to reduce total cholesterol levels by 0.47 mmol/L to a significant degree.

Berberine lowers LDL by 0.38 mmol/L. Berberine upregulates LDL receptors. It reduces triglycerides by 0.28 mmol/L. Berberine increases good cholesterol (HDL) by 0.08 mmol/L.

One study looked at 116 patients with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. They were given one gram daily of berberine. The results showed that berberine was able to decrease triglycerides from 2.51 to 1.61.

It was also able to lower total cholesterol from 5.31 to 4.35. Berberine also lowered bad cholesterol (LDL) from 3.23 to 2.55. High blood lipids are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

What Other Health Benefits Does Berberine Offer?

  • Anti-inflammatory: Berberine can reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It inhibits the infiltration of macrophages and neutrophils (inflammatory markers).

  • Antioxidant: Berberine inhibits the actions of an enzyme called aldose reductase.

  • Protects nerves

  • Anticancer activities: Berberine is cytotoxic against cancer cells. Inflammation is a risk factor for cancer. Berberine is anti-inflammatory, so you can see how berberine would help here. Berberine helps suppress tumor growth of the following types of cancers: melanoma, skin cancer, liver cancer, oral cancer, glioblastoma, prostate cancer, stomach cancer, and gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Prevents obesity: Berberine is helpful in weight loss.

  • Helpful in congestive heart failure.

  • Helpful in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington disease: A major risk factor is excessive production of reactive oxygen species. Since berberine is a powerful antioxidant, it helps to mitigate this risk.

  • Therapeutic in rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune condition. Berberine can be helpful here because it is anti-inflammatory in nature.
  • Antimicrobial: Berberine fights against various microbial pathogens throughout the body.

  • Antibacterial: Berberine helps to clear bacterial pathogens from the body.

  • Antifungal: Berberine works against fungal infections in the body.

  • Antidiarrheal: Berberine downregulates beta-catenin signaling. This prevents the growth of intestinal polyps.

  • Protective effect on kidney cells: Berberine can protect the kidney cells from damage. This is important in diabetes. That’s because these patients are at higher risk of kidney disease.

  • Helps prevent acute pancreatitis: Berberine reduces the activity of an enzyme called myeloperoxidase. This is an indicator of inflammation in the pancreas.

  • Helps to prevent acetaminophen toxicity in the liver: Berberine prevents increases in enzymes called aminotransferases. It also prevents DNA fragmentation caused by acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol). It prevents oxidative stress and liver cell death. It also prevents inflammatory responses that acetaminophen can induce to cause liver toxicity.

  • Improves liver health: Berberine recovers the liver from antioxidant imbalance. It also helps the liver to recover from inflammation and cell death.

  • Improves leaky gut: Berberine regulates intestinal bacteria and intestinal hormone release. It also protects the intestinal walls and eliminates inflammation of the intestines.

  • Helps improve metabolic syndrome: This involves having high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, high blood sugar levels, and excess body fat around the waist.

Berberine Dosage And Side Effects

Berberine has very low toxicity in usual doses. Berberine leads to clinical benefits without major side effects.

Some studies have reported mild gastrointestinal discomfort in some patients, but that’s all. In one study, only five subjects out of more than 80 people got constipation after taking berberine.

A standard dose of berberine can range from 500 milligrams to 2000 milligrams.

Other Supplements That Lower Blood Sugar

  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon lowers fasting blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c, and insulin in patients with type 2 diabetes.

  • Vitamin D: Low vitamin D levels are associated with high fasting blood glucose and high HOMA-IR. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to help with this.

  • Zinc: Treatment with zinc is able to lower fasting blood glucose, two-hour glucose levels in an oral glucose tolerance test, and HOMA-IR.

  • Myo-inositol: One study found that Myo-inositol was able to lower glucose levels in the first few days after the treatment was started. Myo-inositol is also effective at reducing glucose variability.

  • Magnesium: Reduces fasting plasma glucose in patients with diabetes. Magnesium helps to lower plasma glucose levels after a two-hour oral glucose tolerance test. It also lowered HOMA-IR in this population. Magnesium seems to improve glucose levels in people with diabetes. It also improves insulin sensitivity values in people at high risk of diabetes.

  • L-serine: This supplement can reduce blood sugar levels, lower HOMA-IR, and improve results on an oral glucose tolerance test.

  • Chromium: Research has shown that chromium supplementation lowers fasting blood sugar levels.

  • Probiotics and prebiotics: Gut bacteria are involved in the progression from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes. Probiotics and prebiotics help to change the gut microbial community. Probiotics are able to reduce markers of inflammation. They also reduce intestinal permeability and lower oxidative stress.

  • Red yeast rice

Conclusion

Now, do you see why it’s so shocking that berberine isn’t used more often?

By now, you should be aware of what berberine is and how it works in the body.

You know berberine lowers blood sugar levels, promotes weight loss, helps with PCOS, and decreases your risk of heart disease.

You also know all about the various other health benefits that berberine can offer.

We’ve also gone over the typical dosage and side effects to expect when taking a berberine supplement.

We’ve even offered up ideas of other hypoglycemic agents aside from berberine that can also help to lower blood sugar.

Berberine is a Chinese herb that has been used to treat diabetics for many years. You can purchase these as pills to take as a supplement.

Chromium and magnesium have both been proven to lower blood sugar. You can get both of these minerals from your food, but you may need to supplement if you cannot get enough in your diet. Cinnamon extract is another supplement that has been shown to lower blood sugar.

These powerful herbs are synergistically combined in Ben’s Glyco-Optimizer. This all-natural supplement is packed full of powerful herbs, minerals, vitamins, and nutrients – each of which has been proven in double-blind, independent scientific studies to help lower blood sugar levels.

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Alternative Text

Dr. Corina Kibsey

Dr. Corina is a naturopath in the GTA, working out of various locations of Triangle Physiotherapy. Dr. Corina struggled with digestive health for most of her life, to the point where she couldn’t remember what normal digestion felt like. It wasn’t until she discovered natural treatments for digestive problems that she was able to realize how strong and healthy she could really feel. Dr. Corina is now passionate about bringing this knowledge to others, so that they don’t have to suffer like she did. She wants to help people feel like the best version of themselves.

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