Berberine is a herbal extract with a number of research-proven benefits to metabolism. It is especially beneficial for type 2 diabetics. Studies have shown berberine can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol, and it even makes weight loss easier.

Berberine is a natural plant extract, found in several different herbs. Examples include Goldenseal, barberry, oregon grape and phellodendron. It has a long tradition of use in Chinese Herbal Medicine. It is naturally yellow in color with an intensely bitter taste. Fortunately when taken in capsule form you can obtain all the benefits without having to experience the unpleasant taste.

An increasing amount of research is showing that berberine's blood sugar lowering and cholesterol lowering properties rival those of prescription drugs. In some instances berberine is at least as effective as some prescription drugs, but without harmful side effects. Berberine may make it easier for type 2 diabetics to control their blood sugar and their weight.

Effects of berberine on metabolism

Once berberine is absorbed into your bloodstream, one of its main actions is to activate an enzyme inside cells called AMP-activated protein kinase. This is a powerful enzyme with a number of important functions in your body.

These include:

  • Stimulating oxidation (breakdown) of fatty acids inside the liver
  • Stimulating the production of ketones (breakdown products of fat), to be used for energy
  • Inhibiting the production of cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Inhibiting lipogenesis (the creation of fat)
  • Increasing the utilization of glucose by skeletal muscle cells (thereby helping to reduce elevated blood sugar)
  • Regulating the production of insulin by beta cells in the pancreas, thus helping blood sugar control

These actions explain the enormous benefits berberine has for individuals with insulin resistance (syndrome X) and obesity.

Blood sugar control

Studies have shown that berberine can help to reduce elevated blood sugar in type 2 diabetics and is at least as effective as the prescription drug metformin (Glucophage, Diaformin). In one study, 116 patients with type 2 diabetes and elevated blood fats were given either one gram of berberine each day, or a placebo for three months. The group taking berberine experienced a 20 percent drop in their fasting blood sugar. It went from an average of 7.0 to 5.6 mmol/L (126 to 101 mg/dL). This means their blood sugar went from being diabetic to being in the normal range! The individuals taking berberine also experienced reductions in their cholesterol and triglycerides.

Berberine helps type 2 diabetics in a number of ways:

  • It improves insulin sensitivity. If the cells of your body are more sensitive to insulin, your pancreas won't have to produce as much and you should experience better blood sugar control. It also helps to lower elevated blood insulin levels, which is good for people trying to lose weight and for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
  • It reduces the amount of glucose that is produced inside your liver.
  • Berberine reduces intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and improves the composition of the gut microbiome (the bacteria and other organisms living in the intestines).

A large review of 14 different studies (called a meta-analysis) has shown that berberine is as effective as the most commonly prescribed drugs for type 2 diabetes: metformin,  rosiglitazone and glipizide.

Improvement in blood fats

Berberine can help to lower cholesterol and triglycerides if they are abnormally elevated. It does this by lowering an enzyme called PCSK9. This way, LDL cholesterol (which has traditionally been referred to as "bad cholesterol") can be removed from your bloodstream. This means cholesterol is less likely to accumulate on your artery walls and narrow them. Drugs that lower cholesterol by inhibiting the enzyme PCSK9 have only just received approval by the FDA. Some researchers believe they will be the next big thing after statins. Many people are forced to discontinue taking statins because of terrible side effects such as muscle pain, inflammation in the liver and impaired cognitive function. There is a lot of information about cholesterol in the book Cholesterol the Real Truth.

Studies have shown that berberine can also lower apolipoprotein B by between 13 and 15 percent. This is important because several studies have shown that elevated apolipoprotein B is a bigger risk factor for cardiovascular disease than elevated LDL cholesterol. It is said to be more atherogenic.

Making it easier to lose weight

Some of the most exciting studies done on berberine are those involving weight loss. People with type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure or polycystic ovarian syndrome are usually suffering with insulin resistance. Being insulin resistant makes it extremely difficult to lose weight. Elevated blood insulin inhibits the action of the body's fat burning enzymes. This means that despite following a healthy diet and exercising, weight loss can be elusive. Berberine improves insulin sensitivity, therefore helps to turn around this metabolic problem. For best results, diabetics can combine it with the eating plan in the book Diabetes Type 2: You Can Reverse It.

A study published in the journal Phytomedicine showed that when obese individuals were given 500 mg of berberine three times each day for 12 weeks, they lost an average of 5 pounds. They also lost an average of 3.6 percent of body fat. In another study conducted on 37 people with insulin resistance, the recruits were given 300mg of berberine three times daily for three months. The study subjects experienced an average drop in Body Mass Index (BMI) from 31.5 to 27.4. That's quite a remarkable shift in only three months.

Herbs that contain berberine have been used in traditional herbal medicine for generations. It is great to see modern research investigating its benefits for today’s health problems.

Please do not discontinue taking any prescription medication without prior discussion with your doctor.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.